Editing Modernism in Canada


December 19, 2012

Michèle Rackham and P.K. Page

Michèle, a postdoctoral fellow at Trent University, is working on an art book and digital catalogue raisonné of the works of visual art by P.K. Irwin (a.k.a. P.K. Page). Ultimately, her project will be part of the Collected Works of P.K. Page and “The Digital Page.”

Michèle’s art book will examine the development of Irwin’s career as a visual artist, including her early interest in drawing as a child, her emergence as the artist P.K. Irwin in Brazil, her debut as an exhibiting artist while living in Mexico, and her experimentation with various modes and media throughout her career, as well as the many artists, poets, and artist-poets who inspired and challenged her vision. The digital catalogue raisonné will serve as a descriptive catalogue of Irwin’s oeuvre, establishing a reliable list of authentic works, their chronology, and bibliographic, provenance, and exhibition histories.

Thanks to Zailig Pollock, who has located and arranged photography of hundreds of Irwin’s paintings, Michèle and her colleagues have already compiled a working database of artwork. Currently, Michèle is researching the provenance and exhibition histories of these paintings, and also working on the book about Irwin — right now, she is writing about Irwin’s time in Mexico from 1960 to 1964.

One of Michèle’s main challenges so far has been locating extant works of art (works that exist on paper but for which there is no known location) and filling in the provenance history of works of art. Michèle also faces the challenge of creating a logical and flexible numbering system for the works of art in the catalogue raisonné. Most catalogues are numbered, but numbering systems vary from artist to artist because they need to take into account the unique attributes of an artist’s oeuvre to be useful and to accommodate the addition of new attributions to the catalogue.

At the moment, Michèle is planning to number Irwin’s works chronologically according to year completed — because in many cases the dates are no more specific than that — and then to arrange works based on medium or series within each year. Michèle has only just started experimenting with this system using a small sample of works, and it seems to be appropriate. However, with such a large number of works (over 900), and with new works being discovered regularly, the system may have to be altered to accommodate changes and additions.

At this point in her project, Michèle is concerned about how her art book and catalogue raisonné will connect with the other digital components of the Collected Works of P.K. Page and “The Digital Page.” Because Page-Irwin truly was a poet-artist, the link between her paintings and poems is in many cases direct, with some poems being responses to her works of art and vice versa. Michèle’s goal is to ensure that these connections can be represented seamlessly in a digital environment.

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