Simon Moreton: Where?
Simon Moreton (author & artist)
Published by Little Toller book, Jun 2021
A few years back, I worked on an EU-funded project designed to develop the Creative & Arts sector within the West of England region. Simon was one of the academics managing the project, and I never knew that all the while he was publishing his own zines. Beyond that project, this is our true common ground, as I grew up during the pre-internet zine culture and in many ways that has formed much of my subsequent work. I can never get away from the idea that whatever I make – a drawing or a painting – it won’t achieve full manifestation until it’s been printed, either as a cover or as an illustration, within a book or zine of some kind. The kind of zines we used to make were photocopied sheets of A3 or A4, folded, stapled and trimmed by hand, sold at comic conventions and small press fairs, distributed by post and shared with other creators. It was an exciting environment to work in, as there were no editors, so no filter, and what you often got was pure id on paper and was probably a better indicator of where the culture was at at that moment than anything getting published in LunDun and promoted through the broadsheets weekend supplements. With the advent of the internet, a lot of that energy was redirected online, and many a title and its creators went away, but in recent times I’ve noted a resurgence of this kind of publication, driven in part by a disenchantment with the insubstantiality of the digital realm. Print on demand and better software means that these zines – once as raw and roughly-constructed as the early punk singles – now look as good as anything churned out by “proper” publishers, and often have more interesting content, with something more vital to say beyond the narrow and prescribed agendas of the mainstream.
Which brings me to Where? Originally published as installments within Simon’s ongoing Minor Leagues zine, this collection brings it all together as a single volume and is presented with the same exemplary production values as any overpriced high art monograph that sits unsold in your local branch of Waterstones.
The art style collides quickly-rendered broad brush ink drawings – created in such a fervor that they resemble Brion Gysin’s automatic writing experiments, though to my eyes they most closely resemble the style of zine veteran Ed Pinsent – with a more delicate and subtle line work that is evocative of David Jones, together with a found image collage that in its black and white starkness is reminiscent of peak-era 70’s punk. It shouldn’t work, but he makes it work through the sheer confidence in his vision, and it establishes a mood in which we experience the English landscape – specifically the wilder margins of Shropshire – through a kind of England’s Hidden Reverse, where the Rude Man of Cerne and the White Horse of Huffington coexist with Austin Osman Spare’s sidereal visions, Blake’s terrible ecstasies, all wrapped up and stained with ink from the pages of Sniffin’ Glue.
Grief is one of the canonized sources for great art, and the book accepts that but expresses better than most the confusion that comes with grief. This is achieved through the combination of the imagery and the text, where the present and past are entwined, the polaroids of memory are scorched in the fires of raw emotion, and the ashes are scattered by the winds of change as things assumed as immutable, like the presence of your parents, are torn down by the cruel bastard that is time.
Look at that cover, a pastoral Golgotha, with a stark silhouette of a tree as a stand-in for the cross, sending out echoes of Paul Nash’s shattered crucifixes in his renowned war paintings. It lets you know what you’re in for, but then subverts those expectations in unique ways. Some passages are utterly wordless, and rely on the reader’s intuition to discern what’s being depicted. The art style sometimes reduces down to child’s drawings, which is appropriate given that the author is using shards of memory from his own childhood. In other places, it’s highly expressionist, and in some of the landscapes I see traces of Graham Sutherland’s “unfinished world” and John Piper’s stark and eerie churches and hills. These are presented alongside photographs, screenshots and clippings, and taken as a whole they function as a cut-up in the Burroughs/Gysin sense, in that they defy a clear and distinct narrative through-line and operate much closer to how our own shaken kaleidoscopes of memory operate. It’s an approach that exudes confidence and a conviction that this was the only way to do it. Any attempt to compress this down to purely a book of text would have been a compromise that fails the artistic aspirations on display.
Once again, Little Toller are to be commended for pushing against the boundaries of what ‘nature writing’ can be. They’ve established a solid tradition for writers as diverse as Iain Sinclair, Richard Skelton, Adam Thorpe and Charles Foster (see my review of The Screaming Sky here) to express their personal visions, and this book sits comfortably alongside those other titles, but also opens up new possibilities through the extensive visual component, demonstrating that some stories require more than words, and sometimes a wild scrawl has more to “say” than a thousand carefully-constructed sentences.