Published by Head of Zeus, October 2017.
In the Spectator, Claudia Massie began by saying “It takes a bold author to open his book about Guernica with a quotation from the Spanish artist Antonio Saura lamenting ‘the number of bad books that have been written and will be written’ about it. Fortunately, James Attlee’s study of Picasso’s superstar work of art is not a bad book and he builds on a solid cultural and historic understanding of the painting to collate 80 years of evolving reaction to it…” for the whole review click here
In the Literary Review, Nicholas Rankin (author of ‘Telegram from Guernica’) says the book is ‘clearly written and beautifully produced’ and ‘updates the tale and adds something to the mix… Guernica is so famous that it can sometimes feel almost banal. But Attlee’s book helps you appreciate its daring and resonance’.
The Sunday Times called the book ‘an impressive overview… (Attlee’s) book succeeds in showing how influential Guernica has been, and how it continues to be used as a reference point in political and military conflicts today’.
Mike Gonzalez reviewed the book for Review31 commenting that ‘Attlee’s… extensive knowledge of the world of art enables him to unearth connections and responses beyond the better-known remaking of Picasso’s images in other historical moments, from Hiroshima through Baghdad to Aleppo. He traces the “art historical tracks” to show how reactions and responses to Guernica have shaped the ideas and practices of artists as different as Jackson Pollock and Francis Bacon on the one hand, and the contemporary painting of India on the other’.
James was interviewed by Lucy Hocking about Guernica on GMT BBC World News
From the blurb:
James Attlee offers an illuminating account of the genesis, creation and complex afterlife of Picasso’s Guernica. He explores the historical and cultural context from which it sprang; analyses the painting itself and the meanings that art historians, museum curators, politicians and anti-war protestors have ascribed to it; traces its travels across Europe and the Americas from the late 1930s to its arrival in Spain in 1981; and speaks with key artists, art-world figures and cultural commentators about its continuing, all-pervasive presence.
In 1937, Guernica sounded a warning of what was to come: with Spain plunged once more into civil strife and demagogic politicians stalking the stage on both sides of the Atlantic, Attlee argues its message is just as relevant today.
Buy from your local independent bookstore
or online from Waterstones, Blackwell’s or Amazon
The two year Ambient Literature project, for which James was one of three commissioned writers, launched in June 2016. At the launch, James described himself as someone ‘with ink for blood’ but spoke of his excitement about ‘writing leaving the page and becoming something more akin to the immersive experience we have when walking down the street listening to music’. For the very different outcome to the one outlined at the launch, which went on to win the New Media Writing Prize, visit the ‘digital’ page of this site
STATION TO STATION
Station to Station is published by Guardian Books and was shortlisted for the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year Award 2017.
From the blurb: Part voyage of exploration, part history, part meditation on the nature of travel itself, Station to Station takes the reader on a journey into the psyche of a nation along one of its most iconic lines‘.
‘A “window gazer” for our times … Station to Station is the chronicle of a railway journey like no other – part personal odyssey, part history, part architectural guide, part reflection on the nature of travel, part investigation of the national psyche. If it can be categorised at all, here is Paul Theroux crossed with Bradshaw and Betjeman, spiced with a twist of Alain de Botton. Attlee is an extraordinary truffler of facts … No railway junction imaginable could match Attlee’s dazzling range of imaginative connections.’ Michael Williams, Independent
‘Captivating … splendidly stimulating … Attlee is fascinated by the mystical way in which the past concertinas into the present … Station to Station is packed full of fascinating bits and pieces … a wonderfully wide frame of reference … All human life is here, one ghost interweaving with another.’ Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday
‘Murderers, politicians, sex parties and dogs: all life is evoked in a magical history of the Great Western Railway … “God’s Wonderful Railway”, they used to call the link Isambard Kingdom Brunel forged between London and Bristol, and in Attlee’s hands the Great Western Line is indeed full of wonders, prompting passages on everything from infrared technology to resurrection as painted by Stanley Spencer in Cookham … Station to Station is partly an exploration of places and buildings on or just off the line; partly a collection of stories about people who have been associated with it, whether as planners, navvies, staff or passengers; and partly a rumination on the nature of travel.’ ***** Michael Kerr, Telegraph
‘James Attlee’s new book was a must-read for me. As he chugs along this iconic route, Attlee mines fascinating stories from the landscape, rattling off anecdotes about characters as diverse as Oscar Wilde, Diana Dors and T.E. Lawrence – tales that will keep me company on this journey forever more. As well as celebrating the golden age of rail travel, Attlee’s book offers an optimistic view of its role in the future.’ www.worldtravelguide.net
‘Engaging, with echoes in particular of Patrick Wright’s excavations of occult English histories, and of the subversive narratives of Patrick Keiller’s Robinson film travelogues…Take this distinctive book to read on the train and … untangle the stories along your own regular stretch of line’. Simon Bradley, Spectator
Read the full Independent review here. To read Craig Brown’s review in the Mail on Sunday, click here. Simon Bradley reviews in the Spectator here. Michael Kerr’s review in the Weekend Telegraph is here.
To watch a short trailer for the book, click here
The hardback is currently out of print but the e-book is available for the price of a pint of craft beer by clicking here. For readers on the move, this may be the ideal format…
Along with the book, James recorded an album called Orphan Train: to hear tracks or buy the album from iTunes or Amazon, follow links on the Music page of this site.
NOCTURNE: A JOURNEY IN SEARCH OF MOONLIGHT
For countless millennia mankind lived in step with the cycles of the moon, planting crops, setting out on journeys, wooing lovers and gathering harvests according to its celestial clockwork. It is little more than a century since this connection was decisively broken. Now more and more of us live in realms of perpetual day, in which twenty-four-hour illumination all but obliterates the majesty of the night sky. Nocturne is a journey in search of what has been lost.
That search leads from the streets of the author’s own neighborhood to a Buddhist temple near Kyoto and into the Arizona desert. The soundtrack to these wanderings is as diverse as their geography. The midnight song of a mockingbird in Brooklyn; the grumbling of a Japanese volcano at a steaming, sacred spring; a Beethoven sonata, bounced off the lunar surface. Most bizarrely of all, a haunting image of an elderly man standing in front of a map of the moon leads to a solitary prison cell in Berlin…
‘Nocturne is an inspiration.’ NEW YORK TIMES
‘Remarkably good writing…I know that I am going to keep this book by me for rereading and it seems likely that other readers will want to do the same.’ Diana Athill, LITERARY REVIEW ‘Attlee… writes beautifully and often thrillingly about the moon in all its – her? – aspects, and it will be a dull-minded reader who comes away from this book without a new or at least renewed regard for the extraordinary, silver satellite that is our world’s constant companion. GUARDIAN
For a review of Nocturne in The New York Times Review of Books click here. For John Banville in the Guardian, follow this link. The Sunday Telegraph carried a review by poet Adam O’Riordan. Here is the whole review. For the elegantly erudite Brian Dillon in the Irish Times click here…
ISOLARION: A DIFFERENT OXFORD JOURNEY
“Isolarion is a description of a journey down one particular street in my neighbourhood — a journey through physical space but also a journey through time and through literature. A voyage by way of digressions. Cowley Road connects the university city to the car factory at Cowley and is the heart of the ‘other’ Oxford you won’t find in the guidebooks. The central question Isolarion poses is: Why travel to the other side of the world when the world has come to you?” James Attlee
Praise for Isolarion:
‘He had me purring from the word go…unique and very special… What are the chances of work of this quality and originality being produced within the colleges for which the town is famous?’ GEOFF DYER, Guardian Review
‘A vivid account of daily life, fluid and unsettling…’ ECONOMIST
‘Attlee’s reading… is deep and wide and engagingly circuitous, and this book frequently provides the delights of discovery that make any adventure worth undertaking’. BOOKFORUM
You can read an extract from the book here. You can read Geoff Dyer’s review in the Guardian here. And here’s a Bookforum review by Rebecca Mead of The New Yorker and one in the Sydney Morning Herald .
The American artist Gordon Matta-Clark, who died in 1978, is probably best known for those works in which he sliced through and reconfigured buildings, using them as his raw material, transforming them into dizzying walk-through sculptures. These include seminal works such as Splitting and Conical Intersect. In recent years however, his photo-collages, drawings, films and enigmatic, aphoristic writings have perhaps come to have an even greater influence on successive generations of artists.
James first published on Matta-Clark in 2003: Gordon Matta-Clark: The Space Between, with Lisa Le Feuvre
Otherwise you can read a fully-illustrated paper James wrote entitled Towards Anarchitecture: Matta-Clark and Le Corbusier for Tate Papers by clicking the link here.
James contributed an essay to the catalogue for the Gordon Matta-Clark retrospective exhibition staged at the SMS Contemporanea in Siena in 2008. You can buy the catalogue here
NORTH SEA: A VISUAL ANTHOLOGY
James wrote the text for The North Sea: A Visual Anthology, featuring photographs of the North Sea, those who sail on it and its surrounding coastline, published by Thames & Hudson in 2017. French (Textuel), Dutch (Hannibal Publishers) and German (Prestel Verlag) editions came out at the same time.
James wrote the text for this survey of the life and career of British painter Graham Dean in 2016.
LIFE WRITING AND SPACE
James contributed a chapter to the collection Life Writing and Space, edited by Eveline Kilian and Hope Wolf (2016). According to one reviewer, the collection ‘brings together a mix of established names and up and coming talent who probe the narration of lives through the prism of space. Drawing on work ranging from cultural critics to hardcore (postmodern) theorists and philosophers, this ambitious volume carves out a new territory for scholars and students interested in the intricacies of (auto)biography’.