There are many ways to express a deep love for books. You can (obviously) read them, but you can also buy them, hold them, smell them, list them, stalk them in a bookshop, covet them online and photograph them for others to admire. If you’re lucky enough to come across Melbourne artist Jodi Wiley, you can also hang beautiful watercolour paintings of them on your wall.
I discovered Jodi’s paintings thanks to a remarkable bookshop in Port Fairy (a small town on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria) called Blarney Books + Art. It’s the kind of bookshop that has comfy couches, new and second hand books and even a piano. Already the perfect bookshop, right? It also celebrates ‘biblio-art’ and when I was there last, it was exhibiting Jodi Wiley’s Marginalia series.
I recently chatted with Jodi about the inspiration for her book stacks and why the books she’s painted are special to her.
My first question to Jodi was an obvious one, but I was curious to know how she came to paint Marginalia. Jodi answers quickly, ‘Books have always played an important role in my life, I loved them as a child, but as an adult my life most of my working life has revolved around books. I used to work in a children’s team and do story time at libraries and outreach visits to kindergartens. Then I became an English teacher. I’ve always been a huge reader and loved writing too’.
Like all of us, Jodi has faced the issue of owning far too many books, but she approached this problem in a more artistic way than some of us might. ‘I wanted to cull my books, as I had too many of them. I thought if I paint them then I’ll be able to let some of them go. But paradoxically, I can’t let those ones go now, as I’ve added a layer of meaning to them!’. It’s somewhat comforting to know that no matter how you approach it, book culling is almost impossible.
She continues, ‘The physical book isn’t going anywhere. For me, these mark periods of my life and I have memories linked to these books. You develop an emotional attachment to certain books…. The books that I paint are all mine, or belong to people in my family, and all have a particular memory attached’.
Jodi’s deep love of art, as well as books, is clearly evident in the way she talks about her work: ‘I really enjoy painting stacks of books. I love the details in the spines, the lettering; they’re just a joy to paint’.
A joy to paint; a joy to behold. Here are four of Jodi’s favourite book stacks….
‘Once Upon A Time’
‘These are all classic books that people recognise; some of them are my favourites and some of them are my children’s favourites. We recently re-read together Charlotte’s Web; I read it aloud to them at bedtime and it’s just a classic book that holds up. It’s a really great read and has a lot of depth to it too. I find that some modern books written for children can lack that kind of depth sometimes, but that one is a beautiful book.
Everyone knows and loves Where the Wild Things Are and Oh the Places You’ll Go! This is one of those stacks that everyone has a connection to at least a few of the books’.
‘The top book, To Kill a Mockingbird, is obviously a classic but I have a particular connection to it as I taught it as a teacher. It was a such a great experience to teach that book to a bunch of Year 9s. Apart from being a beautiful, amazing book, there’s so much discussion that comes from it. It was a powerful teaching experience.
Where The Side Walk Ends is my husband’s copy from when he was a kid, so that’s got a special meaning. The Hobbit is my copy from when I was a kid. The other two, The Catcher in the Rye and The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe are two of my favourite all time books’.
‘Mix It Up’
‘This stack is of favourite books in our house. There’s quite a few new-ish books in here, that aren’t so much classics but are still great books, like I Want My Hat Back. Some of my favourite picture book illustrators and authors are included, like Jane Godwin and Anna Walker. One of our family’s all time favourites is Mannie and the Long Brave Day by Martine Murray and Sally Rippin.
I loved this painting so much I actually decided to keep the original; it’s on my wall!’.
‘This Classics Collection has been the most popular of my book stacks so far.
These are all classics directly pulled from my bookshelf; I know some of them better than others. I taught To Kill A Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye and Nineteen Eighty Four when I was an English teacher – the way you get to know a book when you have to teach it gives you so much more insight into the themes and appreciation of the skills of the writer – so those books are real favourites of mine. A few of these I studied at uni, although The Grapes of Wrath stands out as memorable because the essay I wrote about it in second year Arts gave me my worse mark of my whole degree! I did like the book though but, funnily enough, have never been tempted to re-read it. Shamefully, I haven’t read Great Expectations – maybe one day! It will continue to sit on my bookshelf, taunting me’.
I tentatively ask whether there’s a chance for another classics stack, this time highlighting books by Victorian women writers. ‘That’s a great one’, she says. ‘I was going to do a stack of just Austens. I have them all and some of them in multiples because I loved the covers so much – crazy, I know!… I have an exhibition booked next year – this time in Melbourne – and I am doing a new series of book stacks for that. You may just see Victorian women writers in there’. Oh my; I’d be first in the queue for one of those paintings.
I finish up our conversation by asking about tea; what tea features in this artist’s life?
Jodi takes a deep breath and I know instantly what’s coming. ‘I’m a coffee person’, she laughs warmly. ‘However, I do enjoy a cup of peppermint tea at night. Peppermint tea is my preference and then I’d go green tea second’. She adds quickly, ‘I don’t want to disappoint you!’.
This time it’s my turn to laugh. I think Jodi Wiley can rest easy that she’s not likely to disappoint.
“It is with the reading of books the same as with looking at pictures; one must, without doubt, without hesitations, with assurance, admire what is beautiful.”
― Vincent van Gogh