Painting BA (hons)

Tobias Francis


Folio of collages and drawings, paint, pencil and found materials

My collaged work re-appropriates neglected imagery. Renewal contextualises the main notion of transformation in Dante’s The Divine Comedy, where a man journeys from hell to paradise.

Renewal uses certain pages and the original front cover from a second-hand book. This acts as a framework to compile and inform my collages.

Each collaged page displays different materials and layering processes, which aims to heighten a contemplation and tactility when handling the book.  



Source material

Jan van der Straet, Dante: Illustrations to the Divine Comedy of Dante Executed by the Flemish Artist, Jo. Stradanus, 1587, and Reproduced in Phototype from the Originals Existing in the Laurentian Library of Florence, (London, 1892)
DiscoverEd URL

Shelf mark

Special Collections: AA.5.76

Tobias Francis

Portrait & interview

1. What was it about this project and brief that originally appealed to you?

The project provided an ongoing opportunity across the year to access some of the University’s oldest books and this is what initially appealed to me. To access these books meant using the Centre for Research Collections (CRC) facilities. This resourse was something I have been eager to utilise for a while and the Playfair library project provided a constructive framework to do so.

2. What was your approach in searching for material that you wanted to work with?

My approach relied on serendipity and open-mindedness. I knew the smallest detail, from a sentence in a book to the way it is bound, could provide the impetus for my own Artist’s book. I wanted to review as much material as possible and embrace a variety of book genres: mythology, History, short novels – anything that once belonged within the Playfair library and thus aligned with the brief’s parameters.

3. Did you find anything about the project challenging?

I found that trying to source a book that complemented my artistic interests proved most challenging. The books listed in the original Playfair library catalogues, were hard to decipher due to the catalogue’s font and formatting. Instead, I used DiscoverEd: its filtering systems to source material proved invaluable!

4. What unexpected discoveries did you make during your research?

I unexpectedly rediscovered and reconnected with my interests in French culture and language. It became apparent from loaning Playfair library books that many were in foreign languages- with Latin written books proving ubiquitous. Yet, it was Henry Murger’s book ‘Le Pays Latin’ (1851), on French bohemian culture of the time that really resonated with me.

5. How has this project had impact on your art practice?

The project has made me reconsider how imagery can hold different meanings, depending on how it’s formatted. The challenge of reconstituting imagery found within my Artist’s book, being intimate and interdependent on other pages, to large scale paintings, is something I want to explore further within my art practice.

6. Did your final output end up as you’d envisaged?

Broadly speaking, Yes. With my Artist’s book I wanted to facilitate a type of handling analogous to that of a Playfair library book. I wanted to focus on the more passive function of a Playfair library book today, residing under more controlled measures in the CRC, almost like an artefact. Thus, my Artist’s Book comprises of unbounded collaged pages/imagery made up of different materials and layering processes, to heighten a sense of tactility and contemplation when in use.

7. What advice would you give to someone doing this project next year?

As much as I hate clichés, I’d say that the more time you put into the project, the more you will get out of it. The CRC staff are more than helpful and are extremely knowledgeable. Draw everything you can out of them to keep things ticking. Most importantly, consider an eye test at the start of this endeavour; it may prove very wise!

Copyright & open licence

Copyright © Tobias Francis, The University of Edinburgh 2020 CC BY-SA

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

CC BY-SA license