When my friend and letterpress printing colleague Jason (of Three Bats’ Press) announced a couple years ago that he was seeking artists to illustrate an upcoming project, naturally I took interest. He had taken the text from an early New England primer designed to teach children their letters by infusing the little tykes with a healthy fear of God, or in other words, scaring the holy snot out of them. Artists could choose a letter and with the associated rhyme for the letter. For example: A = “In Adam’s Fall / We sinned all.” Or this for J: “Job feels the Rod / Yet blesses God.” Or Y: “Youth forward slips / Death soonest nips.”
Cheery, is it not! Jason was clear in saying that he wanted a “re-interpretation” of these poems, and by handing off to a bunch of recalcitrant artists, I’m thinking he’ll get his way.
I chose F: “The idle Fool / Is Whip’d at School” out of a sense of personal irony (as a student I was neither devout nor studious) and envisaged a period engraving showing the enraged schoolmaster, a la Dickens, taking his fury out on some hapless kid. But as I thought more, the extreme violence and fear overtly suggested in the statement and insinuated in the other quotes, and the religious extremism implied in the the whole primer, I conjured the impersonal image of great big meat-hook hands clenching a heavy barbed-studded leather strap, with all the menace of impending violence that seems to go hand in hand with extremist ideals. I may go that route, or I may throw it back in the puritans’ faces and do something associated with that odd cast of kink enthusiasts who have an entirely different attitude toward the whole question of whipping. With all the popular fervour for Fifty Shades of Gray and similar works, called “accessible erotica” or less generously, “mommy-porn”, that might be the right choice.
A first attempt at turning the quote on its head, so to speak, played with the curve of a back to create a lower case ‘f’ from a whip and a belt for the cross-stroke. It had the uncomfortable look and feel of something out spiny out of Predator. Another quick effort incorporated a similar stylized letter ‘f’. I’m really not entirely sure about pursuing this route.
Perhaps my discomfort comes from a certain reserved nature, but it also has to do with the violence implied for the woman in the picture. Making it a male back, or elongating the drawing to show the woman holding the whip would certainly change the dynamic.
No matter what, there will be a stylized letter “F” formed from the coils of a whip.
Jason tells me that he is expecting some very extreme submissions for some of these puritanical aphorisms, so perhaps I’m worrying needlessly.