Book Reviews

Various reviews of Andrew’s work.

Rowley Books (in general)

The marriage of the cerebral and the practical in the composition and production of these books is a rare thing today, but such integration of tasks does not signal an unwillingness to divide up, delegate or contract out, it is really in keeping with the entire spirit of the Art-Fi series. All five books so far have been about separating out elements of life, about warring dichotomies, and the need for things to split and re-combine in a universe that is continually oscillating between the fractured and the connected. Chris Ridgway

Andrew Lanyon’s ‘Literary Constructions’ combine a scurrilous humour with serious intent, united by a dextrous manipulation of materials. Annie Roxburgh

Lanyon has long had a foot, not to mention hand and eye as well, in both literary and artistic fields … unique creations that cross more than one frontier of art, having the weight and substance of sculpture while possessing the satisfying textual and enquiring nature of a printed book. Without exception these are objets d’art in every way – assembled with the precision of a Swiss watchmaker. While he may work on a small scale, the issues he handles are at once gigantic and timeless. Frank Ruhrmund, St Ives Times and Echo

I keep the books nearby when I am reading. They are remarkable for both thought and beauty. I have rarely seen anything with such depth and so many layers of meaning. Doris Johnson, Professor Emeritus

Endless works of fun and darkness. Paddy Summerfield

It has been a revelation to find you and your work. I love your writing. Alan Davie


The colours are spot on. I take it in when I teach. Jack Yates

This limited edition of the works of Walter Rowley makes available to the discriminating reader a wealth of material hitherto unsuspected. Words and images have rarely been more tastefully combined. Our gratitude to Mr Lanyon for seeing through the press a cornerstone of Cornish, not to say Western, aesthetics. William Feaver

It is a beautifully controlled pastiche of the idiocies produced by an exuberant and independent mind unchecked by common sense. Cathy Courtney, Art Monthly

If I am ever to re-edit my book ‘The Cult of Art’ I will make long quotations from what Rowley wrote. He and I share a considerable knowledge of the world of art and artists… Jean Gimpel

Andrew Lanyon’s absorbing book examines – in a poetically oblique way – the massive contribution of photography and the cinema to our insatiable appetite for images. Following a central thread of time, motion and direction, he examines the consequence of mass production by the photographic media in the ever-increasing multiplicity of artistic styles. More and more the artist, never to be undone, abandons the real and tangible world and turns inward, bent on a species of psychical exploration which, like Science and its hunt for neutrons, protons and quarks, finds ultimately in the infinitely small, a world of great voids and little substance.

The book is an enchanting work of art, a montage of gentle posited but provocative philosophical assertions brought into relief by the wit and irony of Lanyon’s intriguing illustrations. But who, really, is the mysterious iconoclast, Walter Rowley, whose presence in the book is so palpable? Dr Aaron Scharf

Moving images, in more than one sense. I love this book – a collector’s piece. Jessica Mann

For 2 days I’ve been opening the book at random – you will understand that astonishing things do not drop out of the sky every day – when I have got over my amazement, I shall be able to start feeling my gratitude. David Malarkey

I enjoy your Deadpan so much that I can’t bear to part with it when friends come to the house and ask to borrow it. The only solution to the problem is to have extra copies on hand. So, if you have not already sold them out, would you be kind enough to forward four more to me in Santa Fe? Paul Caponigro

It takes its place beside Piero and Cezanne on the bookshelf and beside Escher and Camus in the mind. Andrew Lawson

Since both Deadpan and the person I want to give it to are as near perfection as humanly possible, it seems cheap at the price (cheque enclosed). Cathy Courtney

Second Nature

The plot thickens to the point of incomprehensibility, but this hardly matters because Lanyon belongs to the genus of Hamlets who clown, stand-up parsons who joke in the pulpit, church organists who prefer pub pianos, poets who tap dance and art historians who nourish secret cravings to animate the Old Masters. Anna Adams, Apollo

It is a truly beautiful beautiful book. It not only amuses, it delights and enlightens. The text, like all good comic works, is full of deep truths and serious thoughts. Please express my appreciation to your colleagues and craftsmen who once again with their papermaking, printing and binding skills have made your volume such a pleasure to look at and handle. Jennifer Martyn

The Loose Connection

Ingenious, funny, entirely constructive too given the chaos theory. The other side of science whether serious or comic doesn’t stop me from appreciating its black humour nor taking aboard the three marvellous comic characters who are surely direct descendants of Alfred Jarry’s Dr Fausterol. My congratulations to the author, Walter, Mervyn and Vera. George Melly

No matter how high my expectations these books continue to surpass them. Jennifer Martyn

The world would be the poorer without the revelations that these books provide. Sir Alan Bowness

Cunning connections are made between words and things and art and life with rich humour and unheralded gaiety. Lanyon wears his learning lightly, all his disguises are a loose fit. As one has come to expect, this artist’s wit and visual resource are in inverse proportion to his renown –he is virtually unknown to the art world at large, which hymns economically imperial artists whose life’s work would not match a couple of these pregnant pages. Patrick Hughes

In his compulsive work, through strange juxtapositions of word and picture, Andrew Lanyon takes us beyond symbolism of the image into the Art of the Absurd, where significant peripherals make sense of a nothingness, or at most a slightness, experienced in two halves of the minds of three people. Here we witness, even through the binding, a show-down between verbal and spatial extremes, a final duel between intellect and emotion, print-out and paint-in. This is a subtle book that defies ordinary description. It may be experienced; by its nature it defies any verbal explanation. There is a terrible naturalness and honesty in Lanyon’s work. We are drawn into other realities through Nature, Figures in the landscape of St Ives, and a subtle, dark humour that is not wholly his, for it springs from the land. Myrna Combellack

So pleased to find the Loose Connection on the doorstep before Christmas. I have been cackling over it since and find I am torn between the text and the illustrations. While I am reading the text I want to be examining the illustrations and vice versa. Your work makes me laugh. So many times you hit a nerve. Patricia Maguire

The Unjustified Text

What an excellent book. I nearly died of enjoyment reading it! Jeremy Jessel

Rowley four is sheer delight. Jennifer Martyn

Thank you for yet another life-enhancing experience. The best of the four? I wonder. Brilliant text (justified or not) and super illustrations. Rodney Burt

Writing of The Unjustified Text the Director of the Imperial Stationery Office said: ‘The progress of the printing work was, as widely predicted, both infinitely slower and vastly more expensive than even the wildest estimates. However, on receiving copy No. 1 his Majesty pronounced it a bargain.’ Other comments: ‘Rounded’ – Max Ernst. ‘Urbane’ – Lewis Carroll. ‘I soon lost sight of him in the light.’ – Edward Gorey’. Christopher Logue

Very, very seldom had such exquisite pleasure from a book to beat the utter fascination of The Unjustified Text. Anything starting with the premise that the presenter has divided himself up into Reason and Feeling and the Feminine Instinctive MUST be interesting! But it hardly prepares you for such a fireworks of priceless speculation, wit, truths and delicious demolitions that follow. Lionel Miskin

Place St Ives to your ear like a sea shell and you will hear Andrew Lanyon’s voice muttering through the witty text and deeply satisfying paintings in this book. Soon streets in that town will be named after his mythic characters. An exciting, incorruptible vision defended by a great talent. Derrek Hines

Great humour on nearly every page. The reader-viewer cannot help but be entertained on many levels at once. A beautiful, intelligent and provocative volume. Dan Rose, Word and Image (Journal)

It’s like going to an exhibition for an hour when you really need all day. Andrew Lanyon is a flight of God’s fancy. Jean Stubbs

The Quick-Change Act

Quite in keeping with the nature of the book, The Quick-Change Act is the fifth volume of a planned trilogy in which the author invites us in-between his lines, offers us occupancy of his margins, a sometimes vertiginous vantage point above the ordinariness of habitual thought, from where we are able to track the performance of his binary protagonists. Science and Art, Walter and Mervyn, word and image wrestle for dominance, tussle for a privilege they are not allowed. A thoroughly subversive modern work from an artist/poet with the rare ability to be witty, humorous and serious simultaneously. John McDowall

A masterpiece. It is also an example of the book makers art at its finest – paper, printing, binding, the colour plates… Jennifer Martyn

A classic in the annals of Walter Rowley, extending the story into the afterlife, where it can go on for ever which would give subscribers continuing and untold pleasures. Andrew Lawson

The use of metaphor and simile is masterly in this lovely, lovely book. Rodney Burt

Amazed… handling a combination of both text and illustrations (and so many of them) seems to be tempting disaster, but I am shown that the exact opposite can be achieved. Ken Mellon

Andrew Lanyon stands convicted, as always of grievous bodily wit, of capital artistry, of grand irony. Des Hannigan

Andrew Lanyon’s invented art of vision and fun is again intricately and skilfully revealed in ‘The Quick-Change Act’. But the Rowley affair, I’m hugely relieved to say, in the end still has its mysteries. And with only a comma and Vera Rowley’s favourite word separating Walter, Mervyn and herself it is to be hoped that she will not be brought, yet, to a full stop. Roz Quillan Chandler

I am unable to take one of your books to work owing to the amount of tears that stream down my face. Perhaps they should come with a warning to vain women with painted faces – that reading them can cause untold damage to a carefully crafted face. Mo Enright

The speed of delivery is breathtaking. Very, very clever indeed. A stunning simplicity and directness. The idea of all these cloned artists gives me a most satisfying hysteria. Lionel Miskin

Room to Manoeuvre

Every new Rowley seems to surpass the last. Both in text and imagery sheer poetry. Jennifer Martyn

Lanyon the painter brilliantly reverses the conventions of the work of art as a sample of a form of reality to invent his fabulous character, Vera, who places parts of her personality into ‘real objects’. Deftly using Vera as a literary conceit Lanyon’s ‘Room to Manoeuvre’ is a profound work of fiction-philosophy-psychology rendered into his unique idiom, an invention if we will, the likes of which would please Vera. Christopher Bollas

More a compendium than a sequence, the book blurs the boundaries between philosophy and psychology, between linguistics and logistics, between poetry and hilarity. Each new thought comes embodied in its own drama from a gentle reverie on the way children bring the house into the garden and vice versa to a superbly comic turn placing the origins of language in the excuses of male hunters when they failed to bring home the bison.

Copious images serve and mock the narratives – old photographs, engravings, plates of Lanyon’s constructions and paintings. The most telling of these last have the fixity and hushed stillness of a de Chirico, the paradoxical solidity of the artist’s first love Piero della Francesca. However, both books also reflect Lanyon’s growing preoccupation with that most fluid and noisy modern medium, film. Jane Addams Allen

Those who are familiar with these works will be aware of the author’s ability to peel back what he shows us to be the thin layer of the known – the habitually usual, to expose the uncertain, the undecidedly mysterious. ‘Room to Manoeuvre’ is an enjoyable continuation, another long, entrancing episode of a work approaching the epic. John McDowall

A major work. Simon Frazer

One of the most satisfying objects and effective obliterators of ennui ever fabricated. Peter Blegvad

A distinctive achievement. Phil Bowen

Assuredly a work of genius. Nicols Fox

Dying for Eternity

Is this truly The End? With ‘Dying for Eternity’ Lanyon has concluded his master plan for the subverting of St. Artives. If there are parallel universes in which to reaffirm reality, then that of the Rowleys is one of the most persuasive. As always, you do not open a Lanyon book so much as step inside. Close the covers, quietly, behind you as you leave. Unlocked. Des Hannigan

Incandescent. Simon Frazer

Rough house in the time-continuum’s rubber pup tent. Walter, Mervyn and Vera toss each other around. Brilliant images appear on the outside where their flying bodies bulge the wall. AL at his unmissable best. Derrek Hines

Well worth the wait. Peter Dallas Ross

Magnificent. Patrick Hughes

The slanted humour –the elusive and allusive patterns. Jennifer Martyn

An exemplary title for a well-balanced book, centred around a wonderful object which bears the same name (p.120). ‘Two or more alternative meanings are fully resolved into one,’ as William Empson would have put it. Were that great critic still alive, he would certainly have put this clever word combination next to other ‘double grammars’ quoted from Chaucer, Shakespeare and Eliot in ‘Seven Types of Ambiguity’. Jan Starink

‘Dying for Eternity’ is … a festschrift for Vera and at the back of the book subscribers’ contributions clarify things a good deal, revealing much about the Rowleys that the author never knew.

The work as usual is funny, full of good humour and apparently endless invention. Text, co-joined with illustration to expose a gently risible view of our condition, and juxtaposed collaging, casts further doubts on the permanent, stable nature of our arrangements. The multi-directional Rowley narrative, as in previous volumes, provides the work with a rather rickety structure, but here they are, feisty as ever and surprises lie in wait. The lovely progenitrex Vera, along with cousin Walter and Uncle Mervyn, have undergone some fundamental relational change, but whatever their material status may now be strangely it  does not prevent them carousing together nightly in Rowley Hall. It is possible, of course, that in keeping with the provisional nature of the Rowley world, Andrew Lanyon has placed us into the charge of an unreliable narrator – another level of instability. There is, however, one constant in the kaleidoscopic mélange which constitutes the Rowleys – on opening one of their books you are always aware that you are keeping company with a visionary writer, a poetic humourist, an artist with a considerable gift. John McDowall

The Shadow Shop

Super sleuth Vera Rowley investigates this slippery and most continually self-transforming off-shoot of all illuminated objects and prods and teases it to reveal the mischievous range of its transformation. Unfailing wit. A book for artists and philosophers. An eye-opener. Not only a scream but a real delicacy. Lionel Miskin

Rollicking fun. Rodney Burt

A treasure. Nicols Fox

Absolutely enchanting. An intriguing and fascinating concept carried through to perfection. Jennifer Martyn

The Persistence of Visions

This is a multi-layered book with scant (perhaps ‘no’ would be better) interest in linear narrative but as all who are acquainted with the epic work know, we will be treated to further episodes from Rowley social and cerebral history. The humour is as fresh as ever and as always masks serious intent. Language and image, both separately and conflated, have been delicately manipulated to form unique combinations of sense (sometimes apparent) and poetic fancy which are increasingly mesmerising. Lanyon invariably fits his own definition ‘… poets are guardians of the groundless, last bastions for phantoms…’ and at his best achieves its conclusion ‘… striving to touch the immaterial lightly with their lips, they sear the sea’. John McDowall

I was at once gripped and read it avidly with growing delight and sensation of inspiration. John Michell

The Tower of Silence

A mature essay on language. Rodney Burt

After some exploration, delicately illustrated by our narrator and guide, a new language is created, not to communicate with but to think in and the vast edifice of the title, covered in defensive text, ‘the lower ramparts a profusion of abuse’ is raised in the grounds of Rowley Hall. This volume, as consistently poetic as the previous ones, will not disappoint fans, while for the uninitiated it is as good a place as any to begin the profound and hilarious journey onward or back. John McDowall

A Novel Solution

The art of camouflage refined to the finest degree. Jennifer Martyn

Yet another millstone in the history of Art. Vera Rowley

Circular Walks Around Rowley Hall

The latest unsolicited comments about this book have come from America:

‘It is the most original book I have ever read. I am not embarrassed to admit that it changed my life, the wonderful Vera in particular. I would like to own every book, if money were not an obstacle’. Bianca Stewart

A singular and captivating work. It’s enriched my reading life. Stephen Sparks, bookseller, San Francisco

The Palette and the Retort

Another book with the potential to transport me to a realm that, curiously, since it is so outrageously unrealistic, seems more genuine and real than the insanity we surround ourselves with. Nicols Fox

Bifurcated Thought

The illustrations are superb. I found it most fascinating to see thought from a completely new angle. Roz Quillan Chandler

‘A cross between essay and short story… the wind that pours down the chimney turns into a maid. Extended riffs on the idea of the chambers of the mind reanimate ways of thinking about the creative process that has been dormant for centuries.’ Architectural Space and the Imagination. Edited by Jane Griffiths and Adam Hanna

Stitches in the Kitchen at Rowley Hall

Never has the sight of things on fire made me smile so much. Michael Bird

The Only Non-Slip Dodo Mat in the World

In the artist Andrew Lanyon’s playful textual exploration of the creative process, The Only Non-Slip Dodo Mat in the World, his protagonist Ambrose Fortescue takes up residence in the heads of a series of public statues. He treats them like themed hotel rooms, literally looking out through their eyes, and choosing his hosts according to the direction he wants his writing to take:

His progress from one character to another was colouring his thinking as well as initiating new trains of thought […] A week spent inside Peter Pan was different from what it might have been had he not first spent a week in Sigmund Freud. Architectural Space and the Imagination. Edited by Jane Griffiths and Adam Hanna

Juggling Honey

Silence. I mean actual silence, not ‘Keep quiet!’ You don’t get so much of it these days, air traffic, lawnmowers, and those grinding, whining things people use, to do whatever it is they do with them. So it’s only natural that contact with the silent comrades of our past should require, as it were, an adventurer, explorer, definitely not a missionary, but perhaps an interpreter. There is much to be learned in this world (including the fact that ‘interpreter’ is more difficult to spell than I thought); then who better than A. Lanyon to meet and mingle with the hiding tribe of Teddy, Michael Mudge, Leaflet and Oliver. He returns with a rich ethnographic account, which, if you didn’t know better, might have been mined from his own fertile imagination.

For those who haven’t read any of the works of Mr Lanyon then I suggest you start with this one, unless he has others that are ‘slow movers’, as we reviewers call them. If you are already an addict, you will know that it will embody all those things for which he is so justly recommended to the reading public: you never know when the next shaft of wit will arrive, the plots are imaginative and the writing is, as usual, taut. Which is good. There are life lessons too. The epic Teddy and the Unexpected Guest, featuring a bear called ‘Foxby of the Bronx’, sounds like a true story, and is of value to all who have a spare room and live in Cornwall.

There are many pictures including photographs of the A-list human actors Bill Scott and Dave Slater, in their roles as Teddy and Michael Mudge. An impressive list of talented people is given under Acknowledgements and the Dedication is poignant.

I discussed several of the passages with some (semi-) literary friends of mine, the cat Bill Skittles (Mr) and his friend, a fox terrier named ‘Waggles’ (not his real name). They especially liked Teddy-door-to-door as it presented a cat and a dog working together in harmony. They (Bill and ‘Waggles’) were frightened by the word ‘anthropomorphism’ on the first page of the Preface but liked certain other words, in particular powwow, billows, weetabix and moat. They thought perhaps more full stops would help the younger reader and said they preferred to be called ‘woollen’ rather than ‘stuffed’.

If you are fortunate enough to have friends who, like Lanyon’s protagonists, can communicate with their human biographers, this is an ideal bedtime book to read to them. While the author frankly admits that Teddy is a bit of a rotter, so are people in nursery rhymes, where ghastly things happen all the time. Teddy and the Robin is worrying, dealing as it does with the loss of Teddy’s fur. However, there are also helpful practical tips: in Teddy and the Sumo Wrestler there are full instructions on how to set things on fire. Other reviewers might well suggest that this collection will get your wooden and woollen associates ‘into bad ways’. I say ‘this is life, let them get used to it.’ They will thank you for it when you are older. Keith Spurgin

Andrew Lanyon entices the reader through his lens into a world inhabited by two simple teddy bears, a plastic doll, and a stuffed cat. Here the simplicity ends. These underlying characters change our perspectives and perceptions of the control of thoughts and their outcomes. Lanyon’s complex humour is inventive, cynical and wise. In contrast to taking life too seriously, the fanciful and unconventional scenarios and humorous interchanges allow for reflection, sprinkled with delight and amusement. The reader’s responsibility is to respond to the flow of thoughts, without any possibility of successful anticipation.

If you want to predict how the stories play out, where the details direct the plot, and the context sets a predictable stage, STOP! The words, Juggling Honey, only appear in the title; there are no page numbers or traceable patterns; and rational connections are subtly hidden or non-existent. Take a chance and just enter wherever the doors open.

Andrew Lanyon’s father painted the air in the sky. His mother grew plants that were not present anywhere else on these islands, and this Lanyon paints and grows words to reveal his thought processes, seemingly directed without self-consciousness from outside his head. Paraphrasing Lanyon, ‘…words are placed side-by-side so that the eyes can gently scan and bounce off ….’. The results are his conjured up themes embedded with twisted details and consequences. What a wonderful, delightful, and unexpectedly gratifying ride…… particularly for control freaks, perfectionists, the overly organised, and the obsessively correct who will succeed in taking a chance with their own imaginations. Melinda Parrill, PhD

To Find a Fairy Queen

What a little bible of useful insights and satires – it has quickly become my favourite book – it’s so handy for the pocket, and for hiding inside hymn books at funerals and weddings – no matter how many times you open it you never find the same page twice. Bert Biscoe