As Britain entered lockdown in the spring of 2020, drawings, paintings and messages proliferated in windows and gardens, signs of creativity, resilience and the continued desire to communicate as face-to-face contact became impossible. When the first lockdown lifted, James Attlee recorded the voices of those briefly emerging from isolation. Their words, Attlee’s pithy observations and 16 pages of his photographs make Under the Rainbow a unique record of an extraordinary year.
Read an excerpt here
‘In the doldrums of lockdown, James Attlee attended to messages, gestures, and signals in the streets, and invited neighbours’ stories and explanations. From them, he has assembled a searching portrait of the time of Covid and the toll it has taken’. Marina Warner, author of Inventory of a Life Mislaid
‘Full of warmth, wit and eloquence, and a rare, refreshing combination of modesty and conviction, Under the Rainbow is a supple investigation of familiar symbols. I loved the careful anthropological questioning of the complex world on our doorsteps’. Alexandra Harris, author of Weatherland
‘Attlee captures an intense moment of national self-reckoning by letting those who speak to him from their doorsteps really speak. The result is a carefully curated form of polyphony, sometimes interjected with personal support, but more often with real sympathy, that carries him back to reflections upon poetry and art’. Sally Bayley, author of No Boys Play Here
‘Under The Rainbow is a gem. It refracts the pandemic into a prism of colours, revealing it not just as a public health crisis but as one that touches issues from racial injustice to the climate emergency. Beyond the statistics and political statements, Attlee helps us make sense of living through the shared moments of a global catastrophe’. Roman Krznaric, author of The Good Ancestor: How to Think Long Term in a Short-Term World
GUERNICA: PAINTING THE END OF THE WORLD
Paperback released 2021
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.
In the Literary Review, Nicholas Rankin (author of ‘Telegram from Guernica’) says the ‘clearly written and beautifully produced’ book ‘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’.
“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”, Claudia Massie begins her review in the Spectator. “Fortunately, James Attlee’s study of Picasso’s superstar work of art… builds on a solid cultural and historic understanding of the painting to collate 80 years of evolving reaction to it.”
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’.
ISOLARION: A DIFFERENT OXFORD JOURNEY
New Edition, 2020
A new edition of Isolarion: A Different Oxford Journey (in print since 2007), came out in March 2020, published by And Other Stories. It has a new preface and an afterword by Geoff Dyer. If buying online, make sure to choose the latest edition.
Praise for Isolarion:
‘He had me purring from the word go…unique and very special… Residents of east Oxford can be proud to have this eccentric advocate and eloquent explorer in their midst.’ GEOFF DYER, GUARDIAN REVIEW
‘A gem. . . . James Attlee’s scholarly, reflective and sympathetic journey up the Cowley Road is one of the best travel books that has been written about Britain’s oldest university city. (Isolarion) blends a vivid account of daily life, fluid and unsettling, in a modern British town with powerful allegorical reflections on the connections between past and present, time and space, and high culture and the hard scrabble world that sustains it. …’ ECONOMIST
‘All the messy glories of Cowley Road—pubs and porn shops alike—come to life in this work, which becomes a meditation on home and the nature of pilgrimage”. NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER
‘Isolarion, despite its title, is about engagement. Attlee shows the hidden beauty of the plural society: ’To put it simply, this is what I love about the moment in history I inhabit.’” FINANCIAL TIMES
‘Attlee paints an iridescent picture of a new Oxford that no guide book has yet captured’. NEW YORK TIMES
‘Attlee’s encounters lead to thoughtful investigations of the human condition. . . . Through observation and comparison, of ritual, belief and family, (he) reinforces the common needs of humanity. . . . The end of our journey as humankind is not known, but Isolarion provides an invaluable guide to how to progress along the way’. THE TIMES
STATION TO STATION
Station to Station is published by Guardian Books and was shortlisted for the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year Award 2016.
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.
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… No railway junction imaginable could match Attlee’s dazzling range of imaginative connections.’ Michael Williams, Independent
‘Captivating … Attlee is fascinated by the mystical way in which the past concertinas into the present … 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. ***** 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.’ 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’. 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
From the blurb: 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.
‘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 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
‘(Attlee) is a stylist of amazing wit and skill. He’s as capable of beautifully condensed images, spotting a heron “with the gait of a preoccupied parson”, as of exploding with rage at New Age wind chimes in the desert: “Why aren’t we ever content to just shut the f**k up?” Nocturne is a compendious, moving and impassioned guide to the heavenly body that its author calls, in a perfect metaphor, the “Garbo of the skies”. IRISH TIMES
‘Attlee’s observations of the night sky take on a cumulative weight, forming a kind of guide for good living on Earth: late night walks, the pleasures of looking, the spectacular and forgotten thrills of natural phenomena, how we might find profound pleasure in the here and now we have overlooked’. SUNDAY TIMES
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 review by Brian Dillon in the Irish Times click here
To order Nocturne: A Journey in Search of Moonlight, outside North America, click here. To order inside North America, click here.
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
You can read an article on the book, along with the Phaidon monograph on Matta-Clark edited by Thomas Crow, in Art Forum here. 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 also contributed an essay to the catalogue for the Gordon Matta-Clark retrospective exhibition staged at the SMS Contemporanea in Siena in 2008.
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.
‘Move Over Felix: The Impact of the Domestic Cat’, which investigates the devastating effect of free roaming cats on wildlife and human health, for the book The Cabinet of Imaginary Laws (Routledge).
James published two essays linked to the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing in 1969.
‘Through the Lunar Lens’ for Photographing the Moon: 1840 to Now
‘The Moon is a World Like This’, for Fly Me to the Moon: The Moon Landing 50 Years On
‘What You Find in the River: Isolarion Ten Years On’ for the anthology Planned Violence: Post/Colonial Urban Infrastructure, Literature and Culture (Taylor & Francis). The essay revisits the sites of his earlier explorations in the light of gentrification, shifting demographics and the forces unleashed by the referendum of 2015.
James contributed a chapter to the collection Life Writing and Space (Ashgate) edited by Eveline Kilian and Hope Wolf, in which he examines his writing practice in light of movement through space as a method of generating material. ‘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’.