The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

Chris Ware: An Everyday Genius

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The September/October issue of Intelligent Life includes an extensive profile of cartoonist Chris Ware by Simon Willis:

As he worked on “Building Stories”, [Ware] decided he needed a form that allowed the past and the present to co-exist in a jumble, as in our own heads. “Like something you’d see in a dream.” A book wouldn’t do. The answer came to him: lots of little books, in a box.

Ware is not the first artist to use a box to explore memory. The writer B.S. Johnson, “the great lost British novelist of the 1960s” in Jonathan Coe’s view, published a novel, “The Unfortunates”, in 27 fragments of prose about the memories that assail a sports reporter at a football match. But the biggest influence on Ware was the American artist Joseph Cornell, who made artworks out of found objects arranged in small cabinets. Ware fell in love with his work in 1989, and when he got to Chicago he discovered the Bergman collection at the Art Institute, which has several of Cornell’s boxes. One of them, “Ann— In Memory” (1954), contains a few faded photographs and ads for hotels. The box is a physical and metaphorical container. “It’s certainly a good image of the way we recall things,” Ware says. “It has an organisation to it, but also a sort of chaos.”

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