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Cozy Classics, the brainchild of Canadian brothers Jack and Holman Wang, was born out of a desire to invigorate those infant primers from which we all learnt to read. “The usual themes like numbers and colours and shapes are important but they’re a bit tired,” says Holman, an artist and former middle-school teacher who, like his brother, an English professor in New York, has two children under four. “Instead, we thought, why not introduce the concept of narrative?”
The result was the first of a series of classic novels retold in just 12 key words and images. “Soldier, friends, girl, dance, goodbye, hug, horse, boom!, hurt, sleep, snow, love”: there you have it, War and Peace.
The characters are made by the traditional craft of needle felting: a painstaking process of repeatedly stabbing and moulding wool until the figure is sculpted. “We really wanted to avoid computer graphics because we didn’t think telling a classic in a graphic design way would really work. We wanted a more old-fashioned feel,” says Holman. They make all the figures by hand and then photograph them. No figure is reused – which means that a crowd of felt characters currently resides on Holman Wang’s office shelf.
The brothers see their books as an ideal way to introduce children to the world of narrative literature. “They’ll know them as these fuzzy characters but of course as they get older they will be led to this cultural well of stories that is out there,” Holman observes, who realises that the books serve as “ironic abridgments” for parents, too.
Jane Austen’s Emma is the latest addition to their list. It was, they say, their most enjoyable production, unlike the freezing mountain shoot they endured for War and Peace: a location they secured for a shot of Pierre Bezukhov strolling through the snow.
The brothers are keen to give further classics – Frankenstein, for instance – the felt treatment. Holman believes that story can be condensed perfectly for under-fives: “I think there’s a narrative thread there which is important for children – really, Frankenstein is just someone who is ostracised because he looks different.”
The twins Jack and Holman Wang from Vancouver have been writing and illustrating books together since they were eight years old
Line and emotion
To make her beautiful, large-scale drawings, German artist Jorinde Voigt develops strict codes and systems in order to give visual expression to factual and sensory data, writes Liz Jobey.
Among the phenomena she has documented in the past are the flight-paths of eagles, two people kissing and electrical currents. More recently she made a series of drawings in response to reading Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, a collection of pieces which, in themselves, are responses – both quotations and Barthes’ own thoughts – on the subject of love.
For a new book to be published in September she has made a series of drawings which represent the 32-part cycle of Beethoven’s piano sonatas. The complex web of sinuous lines and parabolas offers an aesthetic counterpoint to the experience of listening to the music which represents a visceral response.
Her aim, Voigt has explained, was to develop “a method of notation capable of extracting the emotional range that is inscribed in Beethoven’s music”.
‘Ludwig van Beethoven Sonata 1-32’ will be published by Hatje Cantz in September