On my journeys through libraries and archives, I frequently discover books in secret nooks, in dusty corners or behind ropes that stand out because they are so unusual. I may be drawn by the fragility of a limp-bound volume, a spine damaged by fire, a vivid red silk binding with a tear, or edges with ribbons that hermetically seal the contents of the book.
I made one of my first discoveries in March 2009 in the Humanist Library in the Alsatian city of Sélestat. Quite well concealed on the bottom shelf of one of the bookcases at the back, lying flat in the beams of the midday sun and squeezed in between other tomes, there was a very special book. It had been on the shelf for such a long time that it had become bent and warped. One of the covers had already come away. The bands had been torn off on one side and were hanging down, the book block was split, all that remained of the binding was a scrap of light blue-green leather. The peeled spine seemed like tree bark. If you had taken this book off the shelf, it would have completely fallen apart without its neighbours to support it. That was the moment at which I had the idea of liberating this unusual book from its surroundings and portraying it larger than life using artistic means.
A few weeks later, the first human-sized painting was complete. The enlargement had made details such as damage, spots, tears and signature structures visible while clearly underlining the unique nature of the painted book-object. It is this uniqueness that gave the name to a whole series of pictures that I developed over the years that followed. „Solitaire series“. After this, I found myself constantly making exciting discoveries in many German and European libraries from St. Gallen and Weimar to Oxford.
The work „Solitaire – Bibliothek Leuven 1914“ was created in 2014 and refers directly to the great fire started in this Belgian university library by German troops on 25 August 1914. One of the charred books, of which only a few are still located in Leuven, served as the basis for my work. For this, I used soot pigments as well as watercolours and gouache. Firstly, soot yields a particularly deep shade of black, and secondly, the soot is also the element that connects the real, burnt book and the painted, imaginary book. The edges of the paper are burnt to soot and ashes, and soot in turn served me as a pigment for depicting the burnt pages.
© Hannes Möller