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Heart of Darkness revisited: Some lino prints

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While I was adding some more pictures to my gallery a couple of weeks ago, I came across a series of lino prints that I did for a local art project in 2017, based around Joseph Conrad’s book Heart of Darkness. https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/526

Heart of Darkness begins aboard the British ship, Nellie, which is anchored in the Thames, near Gravesend. As the crew wait for the weather to clear, one of the sailors, Marlow, tells the story of the time that he travelled in a steamboat up the River Congo. He describes his shock at the European traders’ treatment of the natives and how the experience of trading in Africa changes people. He relates what he has learnt about the darkness of the human heart, and the things of which that darkness is capable.

In Chapter One, Conrad describes the scene from the ship, Nellie, looking up the river towards London.

Chapman Light on the Thames features in Chapter 1 of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness
Chapman Light – limited edition lino print

The sun set; the dusk fell on the stream, and lights began to appear along the shore. The Chapman light-house, a three-legged thing erect on a mud-flat, shone strongly. Lights of ships moved in the fairway—a great stir of lights going up and going down. And farther west on the upper reaches the place of the monstrous town was still marked ominously on the sky, a brooding gloom in sunshine, a lurid glare under the stars.

I’ve done a lino print of the Chapman Lighthouse, separately from the Heart of Darkness project. https://duncangrantartist.com/product/chapman-light/

The 2017 Heart of Darkness art project, hosted by St Andrews Arts Centre in Gravesend, was organised by Terry Lane, who I used to work with back in the day.  It featured excerpts read from the book, accompanied by projected images and live music composed specially for the event . The bands involved were The Closer We are to Dying (Terry’s band) https://www.facebook.com/thecloserwearetodying/ Whthppnsfpshthtbttn?, The Bleak Industrialists and The Science Department, and the projections were produced by Mike and Romana from The Hot Tin www.the-hot-tin.co.uk through their company Routestock https://www.routestock.org/about?fbclid=IwAR3AQlfQ_wjB4IzGoxS2dLPqbWpEOEAAfR0_2GSOaJuRqSMiw7xaFjkVn6o

The boat anchored on the Thames at the start of Conrad's Heart of Darkness
Boat – limited edition lino print

Several local artists, including me, provided artwork, inspired by scenes from the book. Others involved were Matt Kilda, Jane Prangnell, Mark Wrangham and Nikki Price.

Mental health is a key theme in Heat of Darkness and the show was produced in association with North Kent MIND http://northkentmind.co.uk/, with all ticket money donated to them.

If you missed it, these You Tube clips give a flavour of the event.



If you’ve read the book you’ll know that, as well as being an adventure story, Heart of Darkness is bleak. It explores thenes of greed, cruelty and humanity, and raises troubling questions about imperialism. It is said that Conrad made the book deliberately hard to read. He wanted the reader to feel as though they were fighting through the jungle, just like Marlow did in search of the desperate and deranged ivory trader Kurtz.

My pictures, all lino cuts for the project, focused mainly on the weird and the macabre in the book, plus a couple of others on a maritime theme.

Maps and charts use for navigation up the Congo in Conrad's Heart of Darkness
Chart table – limited edition lino print

As a boy, Marlow, the storyteller in Heart of Darkness, was fascinated by maps and longed to be an explorer. After several years sailing in the Pacific he returns to London, and inspired by a map of Africa and the Congo River that he sees in a shop window, he takes a job as a steamboat pilot and sets off into Africa dreaming of adventure.

River Congo described as a snake in Conrad's Heart of Darkness
Snake – limited edition lino print

But Marlow’s comparison of the river to a coiled snake is a portent of the evil he would later encounter.

But there was in it one river especially, a mighty big river, that you could see on the map, resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land. And as I looked at the map of it in a shop-window, it fascinated me as a snake would a bird – a silly little bird.

Marlow soon realises that his employer, ‘the company’, is in the Congo for gain and to spread European ideals. ‘The company’ say they are ’emissaries of light’, but what Marlow sees are ‘groves of death’.

Images - Conrad's Heart of Darkness
Heads – Limited edition lino print
Death and decay in Conrad's Heart of Darkness
Skeletons – limited edition lino print

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heads on sicks at the climax of Conrad's Heart of Darkness
Heads on sticks – limited edition lino print

 

The heads on sticks appear at the end of the book and symbolise Kurtz, the ivory trader’s, excessive brutality and madness.

Now I had suddenly a nearer view, and its first result was to make me throw my head back as if before a blow. Then I went carefully from post to post with my glass, and I saw my mistake. These round knobs were not ornamental but symbolic; they were expressive and puzzling, striking and disturbing—food for thought and also for vultures if there had been any looking down from the sky; but at all events for such ants as were industrious enough to ascend the pole. They would have been even more impressive, those heads on the stakes, if their faces had not been turned to the house. Only one, the first I had made out, was facing my way. I was not so shocked as you may think. The start back I had given was really nothing but a movement of surprise. I had expected to see a knob of wood there, you know. I returned deliberately to the first I had seen—and there it was, black, dried, sunken, with closed eyelids—a head that seemed to sleep at the top of that pole, and, with the shrunken dry lips showing a narrow white line of the teeth, was smiling, too, smiling continuously at some endless and jocose dream of that eternal slumber.

I was interested to find out that the film Apocalypse Now  was based on the Heart of Darkness, but set in the jungles of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It explores the ways in which the ‘darkness’ of Vietnam caused an apocalypse in the hearts of those sent there to fight, just as the ‘darkness’ of the Congo revealed the darkness in the hearts of the European traders.

My Heart of Darkness  limited edition lino prints are available to buy in my gallery https://www.duncangrantartist.com/shop/

Boat – https://duncangrantartist.com/product/heart-of-darkness-series-boat/
Chart table – https://duncangrantartist.com/product/heart-of-darkness-series-chart-table/
Heads – https://duncangrantartist.com/product/heart-of-darkness-series-heads/
Skeletons – https://duncangrantartist.com/product/heart-of-darkness-series-skeletons/
Heads on sticks – https://duncangrantartist.com/product/heart-of-darkness-series-heads-on-sticks/