Thursday, 19 February 2015


Dear Readers,

Many of you will be aware that we run an Adopt-a-Book scheme at the Library, which gives anyone the opportunity to make a donation covering the price of repair for a chosen book. In return for sponsorship, a permanent bookplate is placed in the volume, recording the name of the sponsor, the date and any specific dedication.

Of course, The Portico Library is a strong proponent of the printed word and of the salvation of our cultures' printed volumes. Books are of great importance, both as historic documents and as objects imbued with memory and meaning. People adopt books for different reasons, but most often it is because a particular book has some special significance in their own life-story and to play a part in the preservation of that text is a way of sustaining a history that is important to them. In keeping with this, we have asked some of the individuals who have adopted books from our collection to tell us something about the books they have selected and what it was that led them to make that choice.

So, our first testimonial is offered to you here. We hope it will be the first of many to bring you some enjoyment, as well as further insight into our collection.

Title: Journal of researches into the natural history of geology of the countries visited during the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle round the world, under the command of Capt. Fitz Roy, RN

“When my daughter told me that she would be dedicating the rebinding of a Portico book to me for my birthday, I was pleased to have the opportunity to choose the volume that I would like to see repaired. There were several factors that influenced my choice of book. The first thing to come to mind was Manchester’s position at the centre of the Industrial Revolution, making it an important place in world history as a location of working class struggle and in the development of socialism. So originally I thought I would like to see a book by Karl Marx restored. I then found that, as yet, the Portico’s collection of political books is not yet fully catalogued online, so I would need to choose a book from a different sphere.

Last year I was taken by a cousin to visit Down House - Charles Darwin’s family home and the place where he wrote many of his works. In a gallery in the house I saw a copy of this letter from Karl Marx to Darwin:

Dear Sir:
I thank you for the honour which you have done me by sending me your great work on Capital; & I heartily wish that I was more worthy to receive it, by understanding more of the deep and important subject of political Economy. Though our studies have been so different, I believe that we both earnestly desire the extension of Knowledge, & that this is in the long run sure to add to the happiness of Mankind.
I remain, Dear Sir
Yours faithfully,
Charles Darwin
Letter from Charles Darwin to Karl Marx
October, 1873

To my mind, Darwin and Marx are the two most important thinkers and writers of the last two centuries. I was delighted with Darwin’s friendly letter to Karl Marx, even though Darwin says he could not fully understand Capital [Das Kapital].  Marx, in his turn, found Darwin’s work “crude, in the English style” but still part of the foundation of “the natural history for our (communist) views.

In the absence of a work by Marx, I chose Darwin’s “Voyage of the Beagle” in which Darwin documents the observations he made on his amazing voyage around the southern hemisphere (1831-1836), including the visit to the Galapagos Islands.   This work underpinned Darwin’s theory of evolution.

I was very much delighted to have had something to do with the restoration of this wonderful book, held in the Portico library.  I hope that its poor condition, before restoration, was due to heavy-duty hands-on reading, and I hope that before too long it is again worn out with use and with leafing over, and in need of restoration, again.”

This volume was beautifully rebound in grey cloth and brown leather and is ready to be read to the brink of disintegration once again! The Portico Library is very grateful for the sponsorship of this book.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

An interview with the artist Stefanie Trow

Stefanie Trow - a South Yorkshire painter living in Manchester - plays with textures and colours. Her paintings convey the fascination she has for human form, and explores both her own and other peoples perception of beauty. It is with tremendous enthusiasm that the Portico Gallery welcome Stefanies impressive portraits for a month in February 2015, alongside the works of David Earle and Ian Mood.

When did you start being interested in painting? How did you know you wanted to be an artist?

From about 12. That is when I seriously thought about what I wanted to do. I remember discovering - thanks to my art teacher - Jenny Saville. And I remember thinking: that is what I want to do. I loved how she conveyed messages and ideas through the use of paint, and this always resonated with me.
I started painting more during my A-Levels. My art teacher made me paint! He would not allow me to use pencils anymore in an attempt to force me to paint. It was a strained relationship but it worked. I clicked with the medium and realised I was quite good at it. Before, I was too scared to paint. From that moment, I started to paint more than I drew. I realised you could do more with paint and colour. Through university I just carried on and never really looked back.

Can you tell us more about your style and what you want to convey through your work?

I have always tended to make portraits and figurative works, from a young age. I guess I have always been interested in people and peoples faces, mixing paints and emulating skin color. With the paintings displayed, I wanted to move away from conventional portraits. I took the images from fashion magazines. I used photographs as a reference, but I didnt want to rely on them. The purpose was that I wanted to take an image of a women that has been highly photoshopped, and I wanted to take that away from that context, to deconstructed it, and deface it. My aim was to show that you dont have to photoshop any images to still be beautiful. I think we are surrounded by images that are photoshopped, as if everything had to be perfect. Some of the paintings are a bit unnerving, and not exactly beautiful, I am pushing towards that. I was trying to show flaws within the images, that is why I used bold broken brushstrokes.

Talking about technique, how do you work?  

I use all different sized paint brushes. At the beginning, I sketch out the image, working from the one that I have found. I then build it with the acrylic paints. When these are dry, I use oil paints, because acrylics dry quicker than oils. I obtain this visual effect from several layers of paints. I have to keep waiting for them to dry and so I usually have a number of works on the go: whilst one is drying, it will take a couple of days, I work on another one during that time. As an example, this series took me about two to three months.

 How did you learn to paint?

My parents also painted, so I learnt the basics from my dad. We would talk about stuff at school, and then I would go home and talk to my dad about it, asking how do you do this, and that? So both from school and from my parents. But my technique is something I have developed. I have never had someone tell me: this what you need to do to have this effect.

Who are your main references?

I would say Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, and Jenny Saville to name a few.

 How does this work compare to your previous work? Is this series a rupture or a continuation?  
 The last ten years I have worked on a lot of commissioned portraits. I have never really been able to do my own work, my own style. This is a clear step in the direction I want to go and produce my own work.

 Any plans?

I am working on new works. I am pushing forward my style of painting. As an example, there are two pieces in the exhibition that are quite photo-realistic: Attraction and Deflection. They are quite realistic, whereas I think my next work will carry along with a more expressive approach. There will still be a realistic and figurative element, but I want to push the expressive style and concepts surrounding the female form.

Interviewed by Mathilde Armantier