Caught by the River

The Book Of Pebbles

13th March 2019

Frances Castle takes a look at Christopher Stocks & Angie Lewin’s ‘The Book of Pebbles’, just published by Random Spectacular. 

The Book of Pebbles is a beautiful little hardback book, published by Random Spectacular: an imprint of design collective and print gallery St Jude’s. Under this name they have published a number of books and journals by related artists, and also some notable audio projects on vinyl and CD.

The book is illustrated by Angie Lewin, who has incorporated pebbles into her prints and paintings for many years. It includes a wide range of images from across her career inspired by the British coastline, as well as brand new work created especially for the book. She is particularly good at capturing the liminal spaces of the beach; corners where thistles poke through shingle, and seagull feathers and weather-beaten grasses blow in the salt wind. From delicately painted watercolours to heavily stylised linocuts, the images work as more than just a companion to the words: they tell their own story while complimenting Stocks’ exploration of our relationship to pebbles.

Most of us see pebbles as being beautiful in their own right. The idea that we learn to see through artists might be a cliché, but the way we now perceive pebbles might just have developed in this way. In 1928 Picasso drew pebble forms into a series of beautiful pen and ink drawings made at Dinard in Brittany — he believed that stones and found objects may have inspired the very earliest art. Stocks also ponders the influence of the organic shape and form of pebbles on sculptors Henry Moore and Barbra Hepworth. In the 1930 issue of the Architectural Association Journal, Hepworth suggested that ‘if a pebble or an egg can be enjoyed for the shake of its shape only, it is one step towards a true appreciation of sculpture’. In the 1980s out on the shingle of Dungeness beach Derek Jarman collected stones with holes in them, threaded them onto string and hung them as garlands around the house and garden. On the beach he grew plants that could survive the salty winds and surrounded them with large flint pebbles. His friend Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys said: ‘We have Derek to blame for pebbles, really. If you go to a hotel and there are pebbles in a fucking jar, it’s basically Derek’.

As well as talking about the aesthetic quality of pebbles, the book goes into their geological makeup. It lists the type of pebbles from quartz to concrete that can be found in the British Isles, and a chapter is dedicated to some of the author’s favorite beaches for pebble collecting. Pebbles are difficult to identify in their natural state, because the greyish glaze that forms when they are in sea water obscures their structure – often the only way to tell what a stone is made of is to break it up. A pebble picked up by the waves and dashed into the shoreline is always getting smaller, its life span dependent on the hardness of its makeup, and its location, its sharp edges becoming worn down and smoothed off over tens of thousands of years.

Pick up a pebble from the beach, and take it home as a souvenir, a memory of a holiday, a day out, or just some time by the sea. After reading this book and enjoying the artwork you may never think about pebbles the same way again.

The Book of Pebbles is out now and available here, priced £14.99.