In the Book of Hours, award-winning wood engraver George A. Walker creates a modern-day, secular devotional that captures in narrative imagery what is too devastating for words: the individual moments of innocence and routine life that ended with the onslaught of 9/11.
The idea that all art is a reflection of reality as interpreted and expressed by its creator or creators is a truism for many reasons. After all, even the most reactionary art bears the dim but discernable negative imprint of the very thing that it strives to destroy, ignore or reject.
Another, lesser known truth about art is that it generally works through an act of accretion. Basically, the steady accumulation and layering of information art generates interacts with its audience's consciousness and willing suspension of disbelief. This, in turn, leads to a miraculous transformation of that most insubstantial ofsubstances, our dreams, into reality -- even if it's only for a moment, even if it's only within the vaults of our imaginations.
Given that, how does an artist portray something that is, to its very core, a negation of the most cruel and final kind? How to capture artistically an event so horrific, so Apocalyptic, that quite literally it signaled the end of life as we knew it?
How do you make art about 9-11? Hell, how can you even make art after that terrible September morn?
George A. Walker's response is the Book of Hours, and it is eloquent, moving, and powerful. Over the course of 99 wood engravings, Walker tracks the mundane activities of a small cast as they go about their daily routines in the 24 hours before they meet their untimely ends when those two towers fell. And then, just when we've experienced enough to seeourselves in these poor, doomed shadows, they're taken from us. Essentially, Walker uses the very nature of how we understand art todrive home the true cost of that awful day in a visceral, personal manner.
Thus we're faced with not just the end of all these people's lives, but also of our collective world -- real and imagined. It's a realization that only heightens the bittersweet impact of Book of Hours.
Walker's silent howl is an extended visual elegy delicately and boldly carved into the page by a sure, steady and skillful hand. It's a dirgefor a way of life and a mindset destroyed in the most public and profound of ways. Book of Hours deserves a place next to art spiegelman's brilliantly faulted In the Shadow of No Towers, Rick Veitch's sublimely surreal Can't Get No, and other worthy titles which explore the meaning, impact, and ramifications of September 11th, 2001.
'Defiantly contemporary, his art also acknowledges the dense and rich tradition from which it emerges, honouring its antecedents, referencing precedent, convention and formal structures refined by past masters. The rationalism and linearity of its making frequently gives way to the irrational, terror, madness, paranoia and fear. Depictions of such banal subjects as making coffee, photocopying a page, and gossiping are complex glyphs that voice profound loss and longing, and, most of all, contained anger at inequity, abuse of power, social injustice and carnality. There is a requirement -- an expectation even -- that his images be read, that they express an ancient, fundamental human pictographic alphabet that can be known and understood by everyone, and put down in book form....
'More than a collection of images, the book charts the lives of the people who worked in the twin towers performing seemingly unimportant daily rituals that mark the passage of time. Yet, beneath the quotidian, Walker imbues the work with the spectre of horror that the reader knew would disrupt the lives of those they were ''reading'', and forever alter the course of world events in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. In this sense, Book of Hours is primarily an elegiac visual narrative, mourning the loss of the individual souls, and also the innocence of the society that was destroyed by the events. Book of Hours is the story of a vanished age and time, held in amber, documented as engravings and interpreted as a wordless novel. Moreover, given its artistic lineage through Ward, Hyde, Patri, Nuckel to Masereel, Book of Hours is also a work of social protest, an expression of outrage at the fact that, as Walker stated, ''the attacks of 9/11 destroyed our faith in Western security.'' '
'George Walker's ''Book of Hours'', a wordless narrative brought to life by 99 intricate wood engravings, delivers with grace and a respectful sense of solemnity the stories of those who perished in the World Trade Centre attack ... It is the artist's subtlety -- which resembles restraint -- that so insistently contrasts against other depictions and reports of recent terrorist activity.'
'Walker reveals a society in which people follow their everyday routine, showing us small moments of normal life in the irretrievable time before terrorist attacks were considered possible on our own shores. The images are elegant, with a cumulative sense of active life, individuals captured in one moment of a full and personal existence. Rather than the story of one person, it accumulates the weight of narrative due to the reader's foreknowledge of what is to come. Each page adds another life that is going to be forever changed.
'This results in a striking book, with an overhanging sense of doom to the images of casual daily life, all those people just going about an ordinary day completely unaware of what was coming. Even in the form of fairly straightforward, uncluttered images, often of a single person who isn't doing much at all -- sometimes gazing at a computer, sometimes lying in bed -- there is a sensation of alarm that grew stronger as I neared the end of the book. I didn't want to see what I knew what about to happen. It was surprisingly affecting, powerful in its simplicity.'
'It is a monument not just to an event but to the enduring power of traditional craft to capture experience.'
[Walker's] curiosity and innovation, matched with a strong sense of social responsibility and common cause with his artistic forebears, led him to create his first wordless narrative entitled Book of Hours as a limited-edition portfolio of 99 painstakingly carved wood engravings examining the Sept. 11 attacks. It was released by Canadian publisher Porcupine's Quill in 2010.Porcupine's Quill is establishing itself as the prime Canadian centre for the publication and dissemination of wordless books, just as Montreal's Drawn and Quarterly and Nova Scotia's Conundrum Press and Invisible Publishing position themselves as the same for graphic novels. [...] The book art form Walker embraces gives him a wider vocabulary to tell readers about silence, the shapes of sounds, the elasticity of time and the nuances and shadings of mood - any phenomenon not easily visualized except in the unique nomenclature of a sequence of pictures.
'Walker has summoned the retrospective tension that exists for many after greeting the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 without a specific regard to personal safety, terrorism, or the rupture of simple daily ritual.'
'The woodcut artist George A. Walker's print shop is a relic from another time. Housed in a converted garage behind his house in Toronto's Leslieville neighbourhood, he moved it out of his basement after his wife complained about the smell. It is cramped but cozy, with everything required to release his artisanal books into the world....
'It was here he hand-carved Book of Hours, his new wordless novel. Taking place on Sept. 10, 2001, Walker's 99 wood engravings focus on those who worked in the Twin Towers -- from their homes to their offices, lives extraordinary only in their ordinariness. The book ends on Sept. 11 at 9:02 a.m., the minute the second plane hit....
'Each image begins as a block of Canadian Maple. After inking on an illustration, he then uses an assortment of engraving tools to carve it out. He then places the block on his workhorse, a Vandercook SP15 proof press he bought years ago for $350, which he hand-cranks to produce each page. Time consuming, yes, but the process is part of the allure.
' ''Why bother making woodcuts when I can make photocopies? Maybe put ink on a piece of paper and get a reproduction. What's the difference? Why bother? Why bother to carve out of a piece of wood and make it such a long process? But it's about the process, it's about the journey, it's about the immediacy, and it's about that idea about the connection between the viewer and the actual element.'' '