Monday, 8 June 2020

The Vortex of Agnes Miller-Parker

The title was a trick, this is actually a review of the book 'The Wood Engravings of Agnes Miller-Parker' but I knew if I said the words 'wood-engravings' and 'review' then you probably wouldn't click. 

But now there is art to look at so you don't need to think. Just scan onwards.

Some of you may remember her from one of my 'Artists of the Faerie Queene' posts, as that is where I encountered her. She was an artist working mainly in wood engraving book illustration and largely in the inter-war years for private presses in the UK.

This is my review of a rather fancy and quite large book of her work.

This was published in 2005, written by Ian Rogerson.

Its a brave effort and a good book. Rogerson has discretion and sensitivity but sadly lacks vividness and imagination, which leads his assessment of quality to be totally utterly wrong. 

Nevertheless, these are only the faults of his class and neurotype and can be easily amended by me, now, so we should award him at least the silver for effort and intention.

And I did find his brief view into the history of Private Press publishing in inter-war Britain fascinating. Thank Christ for the internet, the old ways seem specifically designed to annihilate artists and creators in order to fatten a managerial class. What a terrible waste.

The only thing Rogerson and I can agree on is that AMP's Aesops Fables pictures are really good.

Scan quality is imperfect but look at that frog!

Beyond that, her best images are for The Forest Giant and the Faerie Queene. These are also the images where AMP's vorticist leanings collide most energetically with nature and form.

Rogerson likes the boring images, made with skill and a medium emotional range but fundamentally AMP was a genre illustrator, the more intense and gothic the situation the better she generally does.

Rogerson John Clare is a fair shout. I am not super-familiar with his poetry but AMP being more obsessed with the hyperreality of objects than their symbolic meanings makes perfect sense. More precisely - shes really really interested in focusing on the object in particular, in the beauty of that precise form, and because everything is black and white, light and shadow and shape are all there is.

Vortex Mole

Beasts Rotating

AMP really likes animals. Aven a poor AMP animal is usually pretty good.

From Welsh Folk tales

These animals often appear in pairs or groups, usually crossing each other in the image, facing slightly different directions, with different sides and dimensions and aspects showing. I get the sense that these are in a way, all the same animal, (though there are a few cases where they are clearly not), but, in the way that animals in heraldry are flattened and invisibly twisted so more of the animal 'presents' to the viewer than would ever naturally be seen from one point of view and in the same way that cubism fractures the view of something so that, in a different way, you see it from multiple directions and multiple fragments of it at once.

So these are post-vortcist animals maybe? Done in a naturalistic way. Not that she was trying to save time or cheating but that she was so totally absorbed by the animal as a living breathing object-form-being, that she was looking for some way to hyper-represent the creature but without going into modernist techniques. So we get these pairs and crowds of animals moving around each other showing different sides, different aspects of movement and in-sense.

Shadowed Faces

I do know know why AMP was so much into shadowed faces. Faces turned away. It is as if she was uncomfortable with faces somehow. She can do them, and pulls them off a handful of times, but in almost every case if there is some possibility that she can occlude a face, she does.

Storms, Water, Light, Forest, Hills

What is a storm but a dangerous series of sky-things
about to fall upon you like the toys from a shelftop box?

The wonderful thing about light, weather, forests and anything in the background of a good AMP image is that it is a field of forms.

I think Scot McCloud said US superhero comics were like a cornucopia of objects, and AMP makes a world, not necessarily of mere objects, because her objects live powerfully,life is central to her work, but or forms.

I feel as if I could reach into the image and run my hands across the hills, pick up clusters of buildings like lego blocks, smooth my fingertips across billows of wind like fine clay and grasp crystal shards of light.

Our old friend MVTABILITY

Tubular Clothes

Apparently there were some complaints that her clothes for poverty stricken characters weren't ragged enough? Thats because her clothes were tubes, shapes before they were textures or material.

Floral Explosions

These are pretty great.

The really great thing about AMP is how she smashed together the world of forms and that of living breathing emotion to produce an intense hyperreality.

From 'The Forest Giant'

That is not best shown in her later works which are merely literary.

She should have been given more weird shit to do, and should have been paid a lot more.


  1. Thank you for sharing these. The images are wonderful.

  2. Hell, some of it reminds me of Blake. Or maybe Frieda Harris a little. Really great stuff.

  3. These are strangely disquieting to me.