Mary Ramsden

Mary Ramsden


Text : Louisa Elderton

What you’re holding now is a thing called a book. [1]

But for how much longer? Today, we move through a moment in history where we have one hand holding onto the pages of the past, and another poking people in the digital space of the present. Physical beings of flesh and bone, we remain compelled by the feeling of paper between our fingers, and yet we also exist as immaterial pixels floating around in cyberspace. The book will become obsolete, or so we are told, and perhaps this is confirmed as we look around trundling train carriages to see newspapers and books slowly depleting, replaced by Kindles.

The work of Mary Ramsden explores the intersection at this specific moment in time, where the digital world and the contents of this space affect our understanding of physical materiality. Primarily abstract, her paintings investigate how space is perceived now that computer screens provide constructed environments that can seduce us in equal measure to the physical world surrounding us. She layers quadrilaterals like overlapping windows or smears paint to suggest the smudgy finger marks that we leave on the surfaces of our iPads, iPhones and all things i. The often-luminous edges of her canvases – yellow, green, pink, blue – pulse on the wall leaving a seemingly electric light aura in the wake of their reflection.

The words of novelist Adam Thirlwell, which respond to Ramsden’s paintings, speak of a sexy digital space, one of self-obsessed sordid selfies and images of close up body parts. Here we see ourselves and the formulation of our sexuality as mediated by the reflective screen (perhaps we might need to rethink Freud’s mirror stage: who needs a mother when you have a phone that can define you and do everything for you?).

This, Ramsden’s first artist publication, RadioPaper, acknowledges the sensible tactility that is so intrinsic to the experience of reading a book – flicking through pages, assessing meaning as mediated by font and image and, equally, the way the object feels in our hands. French folds swell as you turn the pages of her book, letting air in momentarily to breathe life into sealed sections. Each cover is painted with unique marks – nothing here is cut and pasted or mass-produced, all is idiosyncratic. Yet the mark making speaks directly to a space that is trying to supersede our bodies and turn us into floating pixels; bold brushstrokes recall haphazard finger flicks or swipes which are then overlaid with layers of cropped content; surface scratches suggest the wear and tear that becomes embedded upon tablet screens; solid squares of harsh right-angle edges sit on top of fluid lines that delineate gestures or actions from Photoshop.

Abstraction meets figuration within these collaborative pages, as Ramsden’s marks are balanced by Thirlwell’s words to paint a space defined by surface flatness. Some words are hidden, ghostlike, and Ramsden’s painterly marks are similarly covered – perhaps suggesting how we might reveal or conceal whatever we like within the space of Web 2.0, seemingly straightforward but actually defined by manipulation.

Having collaborated on past projects, including Ramsden painting a response to a novel by Thirlwell, the two share titles – one is Lurid & Cute while another describes ###em/em###(his words weave an image of someone glistening and wet, a wetness that would have made her space glitch, spark and die).

The book’s title derives from the material used in Kindles and other electronic tablets, different from the back-lit liquid crystal display unit, as described here by writer Andrew Hultkrans: ‘an invention called “RadioPaper” … tiny balls are electronically pulled down from and allowed to rise up to the surface of the virtual page, creating letters on an opaque field, somewhat like the fortune-inscribed polyhedron die that floated up from the dark liquid … on the Magic 8 Ball. [2] This account creates a sense of physical instability in relation to these surfaces; not quite knowing what there is to come, never settling, always in flux and defined by changeability.

In her current exhibition at Tate Britain, Vanilla & Concrete (9 November 2015 – 19 June 2016), the relationship between language and its material manifestation can be felt upon the walls. In White Wrap 1 & 2, two panels are installed up high, opposite one another at the edge of a room. They appear as the two sides of a book, a silky satin finish and pale aqua hues separated by an invisible spine. Other works are installed in configurations that recall sentences, one symbol delineated after another, some reminiscent of parenthesis while others are like full stops – be sure to watch your grammar. We can read these images as a playful approach to redefining language, or the mode through which meaning can be given structure. These sentences draw themselves out as physical objects, imploring a visceral rather than intellectual response from the viewer.

The play between physical materiality versus digital intangibility defines RadioPaper (reminiscent of how contemporary words have appropriated historical phrases linked to reading and writing: ‘tablet’ and ‘scroll’ being two examples). Within this publication, words disappear before a sentence has finished, while cubes of candy colour cover one another as collaged windows. What prevails is the weight and texture of the object, underlining its physical durability and long-history of evolution. Writer Neil Gaiman once quoted fellow writer Douglas Adams in describing how ‘a physical book is like a shark … the reason there are still sharks around is that they are better at being sharks than anything else is. Physical books are tough, hard to destroy, bath-resistant, solar-operated, feel good in your hand: they are good at being books, and there will always be a place for them.’ [3] With RadioPaper, you can peak inside folds to glean glimpses of words, colour and form, impossible to delete, turn off or even ‘mystically’ shake away as with the Magic 8 ball materiality of the e-reader.

[1] A. Hultrkrans, 'The fire this time: Razing the book', in John Herschend & Will Roga (eds.) The Thing the book : A Monument to the Book as Object. (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2014), p70-75

[2] A. Hultrkrans, 'The fire this time: Razing the book', in John Herschend & Will Roga (eds.) The Thing the book : A Monument to the Book as Object. (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2014), p71-72

[3] Books Are Like Sharks,, accessed 14###sup December 2015:

Mary Ramsden


To enquire please contact

Book: 300mm x 400mm

Perspex slip-case: 439mm x 310mm x 23mm

All covers are hand painted and therefore unique.

The book is an edition of 30.

Authentication / Guarantee

The books are all signed by the artist.

Shipping and other information

We offer a range of shipping options or are happy accommodate a preferred method.