A title from The Old School Press 

Alchemy of the Planets

Images by Philip Hughes and poems by Carmen Boullosa, inspired by space missions past and present

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About the book

In print

My enthusiasm for all things space is shared by British artist Philip Hughes who contacted me in 2016 to ask if we would be interested in another collaboration with him and leading Mexican poet and novelist Carmen Boullosa. Of course! Our previous collaboration was the successful Jump of the Manta Ray.

Hughes's work has in the past been based mainly on landscape with a special interest in remote areas, archaeology, topography, and maps. To date his work has been terrestrial, but in his new book, his reach extends beyond Earth. Alchemy of the Planets has been inspired by the wealth of stunning and varied images from recent missions to planets and moons within our solar system. These include the New Horizons mission which in 2015 gave us our very first close-ups of Pluto, and in 2016 the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn (soon to end), and the probe Dawn to the dwarf planet Ceres between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

Philip has created a total of thirty-two works relating to twelve planetary bodies, derived from images selected from those sent back by planetary missions, as well as from the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station, images of distant landscapes that have provided the source inspiration for paintings, pastels, and digital collages.

He and Carmen have collaborated before on two artist’s books in which Philip illustrated Carmen's’s poems. This time it is Carmen who has been inspired by Philip's images, producing two poetic responses, a set of short poems – pies – and a further set of longer poems – cantos. In order to develop more clearly the association between the pictures of the planets and their moons and the names attributed to various celestial bodies, she researched into mythology, beginning by re-reading Hesiod’s Theogony and studying the rituals attached to their worship as described in his Orphic Hymns. In turn Psiche Hughes has worked closely with these texts to create an intimate translation. The Spanish and English texts sit together on the page, facing Philip’s image.

One of Philip Hughes's images from the book


About the edition

Philip’s images have been printed on an eight-colour Epson 3800, here at The Old School Press and by Philip's studio manager Amy Petra Woodward at his studio, onto 225gsm Somerset Enhanced Velvet which is then mounted on a stygian-black Vélin Arches Noir paper echoing the blackness of space. This is in turn is mounted on the inner right-hand side of a fold of 330gsm Somerset Velvet, the inner left-hand side carrying Carmen’s poetic response to the image in Spanish and English – pies and cantos. The texts have been hand-set in 18pt Hunt Roman and printed letterpress.

The folds for each planet or moon are connected to form a longer zigzag, each zigzag being held in a fold of translucent paper. A separate eight-page document brings together the title page, a text on the origins of the book, an introductory poem by Carmen (in Spanish and English), details of the interplanetary missions that were the sources of the images, and a colophon signed by the collaborators. All these items are then contained in a case bearing a screen-printed image by Philip on the lid. The case is formed from a lightweight aluminium/polypropylene sandwich and closes with a magnetic catch.

As some of the introductory text, as well as the large titles, could not be set in Hunt Roman, we have chosen to have them set in Spectrum which was the typeface for which Hermann Zapf designed Hunt Roman to act as a display face.

Philip has also prepared two etchings based on his images of Neptune and Pluto; buyers can enhance their copy of the book by selecting one of these for inclusion. Each etching is printed on a sheet of 300gsm Somerset Satin White to the same size as the zigzags, but allowing it to be framed separately if desired, and signed and numbered by Philip within its own edition of thirty. Additionally, buyers can select three of the thirty-two images in the book and receive prints of them, fifty per cent larger in each dimension, printed on 330gsm Somerset Enhanced Satin, signed by Philip, and ready for framing.

The edition is limited to sixty numbered copies, of which fifty are for sale at £1,900 each. Each copy is signed by all the collaborators. A paper prospectus is available on request.

Find out more about the book

View one of the images that Hughes has created for the book:

read about 'Alchemy of the Planets'

View a sequence of photos of the book:

read about 'Alchemy of the Planets'

View the two etchings also available with the book:

read about 'Alchemy of the Planets'

What others have said about the book

'an absolutely fantastic work', 'a splendid thing'

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