Doing it for Ray

By Susan Kruse
photography by Kayleigh Bestwick
When I moved to Birmingham 7 years ago my neighbour, Ray asked me what I did for a living. When I told him I was an artist, we had a bit of a chat about what I do, which isn't painting. Like a lot of people Ray has assumed that art meant painting, and that contemporary or modern art was weird, difficult or just plain rubbish!

In 2011 when I began to curate this project, The Library of Lost Books, to celebrate the opening of the new Library of Birmingham, I thought about Ray and I began to concoct a plan. I would create an exhibition that Ray, and his wife Bettie, would really enjoy and when it was ready I'd tell them how Ray inspired me and invite them as guests of honor.

Because the project was always going to be displayed in the Library of Birmingham and Ray was a born and bred Brummie, I also thought about all the people who might pass through the Library and see the work, children, the elderly, musicians, plumbers, Mums and Dads, professors and school children and people from all sorts of countries and cultures. (When the exhibition was first discussed with LoB it was going to take place throughout the library with books on every floor, that plan was changed by the festival organisers in the intervening months)
When I selected the artists to take part in the project I deliberately selected people with very different ways of working. I wanted to do the maybe impossible and create an exhibition not only that Ray would enjoy, but that as many people as possible would love and be inspired by. When I sent out the call to artists, this is what I wrote:

     The finished exhibition will enchant the audience through the magic, beauty, wonder, humour and mystery of the works presented. Artists are encouraged to be as imaginative and playful as they can. Although the selected artists and printmakers can work with the book in any way they choose, successful work will exhibit at least one of the following:
     1. The work explores the book as an object of wonder, beauty and/or magic.
     2. The work is driven by a considered engagement with the book-as-object.
     3. The work is technically interesting or innovative
     4. The work engages with the book as an historical object.

Did I succeed? Well you will have to visit The Library of Lost Books yourself to judge that. Sadly, Ray won't be coming because he passed away just over a week ago. I wish with all my heart Ray could have seen what I have created because he was so much in my mind when I was doing it. In a few weeks, when the first raw grief is past for her, I'll tell finally Bettie about this project and hopefully she will be willing to visit as an honoured guest.
And as I work on the final preparations over these last eleven weeks, no matter how fraught or crazy it gets, I will remember that I'm doing it for Ray.

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