Editor Sophie Lévy Burton
Contributing Editors Catherine Coldstream Corinna Ferros
Editor-in-Spirit Cornelius Mattey
MONK has slowly, gently teased and evolved over the last two years when I have mulled over with friends, through the seasons, over much wine, whether or not it’s worth doing. I hope that this first issue with its wealth and variety of creative works, proves that it is.
I suppose if MONK asks anything it is about the nature of inspiration and creativity – first there is nothing, then there is something, how does that happen? We are fascinated by the narratives between our spiritual and creative selves and our interior worlds.
The response from artists has been wonderful – not least to the name MONK – an inspired choice whilst idling over a biography of Vincent Van Gogh and his obsession with Japanese Zen monks. I think there may be much common ground between the private often solitary, interior practice of art and the interior world of the monastery. In fact, and oddly, ten months ago I was at a sacred music concert of the chanting Gyuto monks of Tibet – now based in Dharamsala – touring in England. I’d literally just had printed the first promotional postcards for MONK – this in order to approach painters, poets et al, who didn’t know me from Adam. At the end of the concert – our blood and bones cleansed by these extraordinary sounds – a queue formed to meet the monks and have jewellery and watches blessed ( yes really, this was a market town in Wiltshire). I joined the queue and took up the only thing in that moment which was precious to me – and got MONK blessed by a monk. See grainy illustration.
The threads between the articles weave a strong narrative of creativity and soul and I just want to mention a few.
I first met photographer and writer Himanshu Vyas fifteen years ago when I lived in India, in Jaipur with my son. He was top of my wish list for contributors for MONK, and his beautiful, resonant essay on the photographic gaze and consciousness (‘Chhayachitr’ – written in Light) in a post-Instagram world is, simply put, very MONK. In our correspondence he loved the idea to pause and stay with “what is true, what is real… or simply what is…” For the first issue of MONK he chose three photographs, “cloaked in common colour, somber ochre… the colour of ascetics…since the idea of this colour originated from being as pure as a flame…” This is very Indian and I’m immensely glad to have a little bit of India in our first issue… it’s a country and culture I owe a great deal to. We have in fact taken Himanshu’s title as our new section on Photography – Chhayachitr…
AT ROCCA – inner worlds over coffee – will become a regular interview slot and aims to be a dusty portal into the soul and psyche of a creative – using their own narrative. I think artists are rightly shy to talk about their inner worlds and soul, so I am grateful indeed if they say yes to the invitation. Rocca is a hub of a cafe in South Kensington, roughly opposite Francis Bacon’s former studio. Look out for Ed Mirza’s poetic and obsessional conversation about the figurative line. I loved Rory Spowers’ rhythmic polemic on the spiritual power of walking which has sent me out into my local forests when I least felt like it, as well as Catherine Coldstream’s superbly teased interview with sacred music composer Francis Pott. He mentions Matisse saying of art, that all art should be made in “a condition of prayer…” If you can listen to MacGillivray’s beautiful reciting from her forthcoming book of poetry, The Gaelic Garden of the Dead then watch David Somerville’s intimate poetic visual film Somerset Days – you can see (if not feel) why we’ve called MONK an imaginarium…
This November issue is our first and as such it will probably go through various transformations whilst we settle into our new garments. Long, long ago I wrote for Alan Ross’s LONDON MAGAZINE. He was the first editor to publish me, took me out to a curry lunch in South Kensington, bought me a beer and asked so what was I going to be, a travel writer or novelist? For purposes of MONK I dug out every old copy of LM and have been astonished at the depth, intellect and creativity of those old editions, woven like a literary spider in his back shed web – with attendant labradors and Jane Rye, if I remember correctly. He was never dictatorial, or egotistic as an editor. He nurtured with some humour and compassion. Submissions were always answered with handwritten postcards, within weeks (see illustrations, thank you Andreas Smith for that). Whilst thinking about our submission guidelines for MONK I looked up the current LM – and read its prescriptions for submissions ‘to startle and entertain us.’ I got to wondering what Ross would make of it. Our own guidelines whilst firm about grammar are entirely loose about expression, non-prescriptive. We are an imaginarium. I did wonder about having a house style but how does that fit in with rolling out a vessel which celebrates creative expression and its origins. We are here to celebrate shades and shadows of the soul. If we’ve startled you in any form, I can only apologise.
We are also international. I’ve been wondering a lot what this really means in today’s world. I think, if I can strip it back, it just basically means I hope that the internet will allow us to reach creative communities across geographies. We very much hope to feature art from communities across our precious planet.
The next issue is out in May, and we are already taking submissions and preparing for interviews with Dr Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, and novelist Susan Howatch. Do see the submissions pages if you are interested in submitting. I’m writing this as it’s approaching the Christmas season and in that spirit, I thought I’d begin a new wish list. To some extent MONK is about dreaming dreams, metaphorically and literally. And again, to this extent, in my idling moments, I am currently dreaming… in 2019 to interview Frank Auerbach and David Hockney for MONK… and anyone who ever knew the legendary editors of arts mags gone by, Miron Grindea with Adam, and of course Alan Ross; also Martin Seymour-Smith. We would love to publish memoirs of them.
MONK came into being from my idle day-dreaming, soulful free-floating, and much what if-ing… a girl can dream can’t she?
Sophie Lévy Burton, Founder, Editor