Descriptions of dreams here seem more like reality and the reality more like dreams, and together the effect is like an enchanted closet, an eye into a set of worlds somewhat akin to the innate privacy and incubating perspectives of Henry Darger and Emily Dickinson. It serves as a refreshing way to close a year, remembering how much pure weight can come from a single well-aimed fragment in a catalog of hell.
Burrowing into the pop-detritus archive somewhere between Ray Johnson’s mail art and Tom Phillips’s Humument project, Seydel’s Book of Ruth describes an allusive fantasy about his aunt and alter ego Ruth Greisman, her brother Saul, and their escapades with Joseph Cornell.
Artist and writer Robert Seydel often used various personas and fictional constructs in a vast and multi-layered body of work that incorporated collage, drawing, photography, narrative and lyric writing. His primary alter ego Ruth Greisman made hundreds of exquisite collages, a selection of which Seydel collected in the artist’s book Book of Ruth (Siglio, 2011). As Ruth, Seydel explores the boundaries between the salvaged and the lost, the unknown and the unknowable, art that is made and art that is found. A Picture Is Always a Book is a first-person, fictional archive, collecting over seventy of Ruth’s “journal pages,” luminescent and startlingly original writings—typed up on paper purloined from old photo albums, adorned with drawings in colored pencils, oil pens, white-out and ink stamps—that penetrate Ruth’s consciousness with visceral honesty and poetic precision.
With the acrobatics of her emblem the hare, Seydel’s Ruth makes leaps from the banalities of her daily life into an expansive, alchemical imagination that embraces the shape-shifting of meaning, the occult in letters, and the magical invocations of animals—domestic and hallucinatory. For Ruth, the creation of self is tenuous, the artistic impulse implacable, and the distance between the ecstatic and melancholic “infra-thin.” She writes, “I’ll invent who I am, against what is. My time and name: a Queens of the mind.”
A Picture Is Always a Book accompanies the exhibition “Robert Seydel: The Eye in Matter,” opening September 2 at the Neilson Library, Smith College and traveling to the Queens Museum of Art in 2015 and the Center for Paper and Book Arts at Columbia College Chicago in 2016.
A prolific artist and writer, Robert Seydel (1960-2011), left behind a multi-layered, highly original body of work marked by both an unrelenting sense of play and an extraordinary and eclectic body of knowledge. Seydel’s ongoing and interrelated series incorporated collage, drawing, photography, narrative and lyric writing, often using various personas and fictional constructs. Beginning in 2000, Seydel created a vast series of works using the alter ego Ruth Greisman, who was inspired by his aunt of the same name, including the “journal pages” collected in A Picture Is Always a Book (Siglio, 2014) and the works Seydel himself selected for Book of Ruth (Siglio, 2011). Other Seydel alter egos and invented personas include S., author of the Songs of S. (Siglio and Ugly Duckling Presse, 2014), Saul Greisman (“scholar of sewage”), Eckstein-Sousa (“sometimes lecturer and a kind of [failed] poet with Proustian leanings”), and R. Welch (a professor developing a theory of “the biochemical construction of Charismatic figures”), among others.
In addition to the exhibition “The Eye in Matter,” Seydel had a single solo show, curated by Peter Gizzi, at CUE Art Foundation in 2007 and his work was also exhibited, and “Five Contemporary Visual Poets” at the Wright Exhibition Space in Seattle curated by Joshua Beckman. A beloved professor at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts for more than a decade, he also served as curator at the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University for a number of years where he organized ambitious exhibitions and programs. Seydel also edited Several Gravities (Siglio, 2009), a volume of collages and poems by National Book Award-winning poet Keith Waldrop.