A Picture is Always a BookFurther Writings from Book of Ruth

Robert Seydel

Edited and with an essay by Lisa Pearson

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cloth 6 × 8.5 in.
112 pages, full color
published in 2014

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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.
—Blake Butler, VICE

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.”

This book was published on the occasion of the exhibition of “Robert Seydel: The Eye in Matter,” curated by Peter Gizzi, Richard Kraft, and Lisa Pearson that traveled from the Smith College Neilson Library to the Queens Museum in 2015. Siglio and Ugly Duckling Presse also copublished Songs of S..


the afterword by editor Lisa Pearson and an interview with Seydel by Sakina Velkova

about the author

A prolific artist and writer, Robert Seydel (1960-2011) created a multi-layered, highly original body of work marked by both an unrelenting sense of play and an extraordinary and eclectic body of knowledge. Book of Ruth was published in 2011; A Picture Is Always a Book: Further Writings from Book of Ruth and the poetry collection Songs of S. (copublished with Ugly Duckling Presse) were published posthumously in 2014 on the occasion of the solo exhibition “The Eye in Matter” at the Queens Museum and Smith College Library.


Often ecstatic, Ruth’s journal pages weave through lyrical, diaristic, surreal, narrative, and aphoristic modes, never settling long in one place. “Going,” Ruth writes, “is the only event.” In many of these texts, a rectangular passage is accompanied by lineated fragments, stamped stars, or child-like colored pencil drawings. No single element is more important than another. The textual is visual and the visual is textual … Possible meanings abound at every turn. “Here’s air.” The text itself is marshaled by freewheeling associative and aural movements. It traces consciousness in the process of catching itself in motion.
—Daniel Owen, Hyperallergic

The work of the genuinely hybrid artist Robert Seydel chips away at our biases about one art form always taking precedence over another … Image and text are permeable elements of a larger vision, but neither can simply be translated into the other as illustration or caption …  Most of Ruth’s journal-poems and diary entries were composed on individual pieces of paper. In Book of Ruth and A Picture Is Always a Book, these pages are presented in facsimile, as artworks rather than texts . . . [They] come across as precarious two-dimensional contraptions, mappings of mind and emotion that assume an order and a shape but won’t quite hold still. They, too, are assemblages of a sort—drawing not so much from the cut-and-paste mode of modernist collage as from outsider art, with its unselfconscious juxtapositions and fanciful embellishments.
—James Gibbons, Paris Review

check out reviews in Artcritical, Bookforum, Entropy, New York Times, and Otohime, too.

more about Robert Seydel

“Arranging One’s Books,” a photographic portrait of Seydel by Richard Kraft
“On the Art of Robert Seydel and the Construction of ‘Ruth,'” essay by Lisa Pearson
the Seydel Collection at the Hampshire College Library
“Robert: Seydel: A Short History of Portraiture” at Hampshire College Art Gallery

see also


On the Art of Robert Seydel and the Construction of “Ruth”Lisa Pearson


Robert Seydel: The Eye in Matter Queens Museum, July 19–September 27, 2015

Curated by Peter Gizzi, Richard Kraft and Lisa Pearson

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