Marcus Rees Roberts’ artistic practice is inspired by literature (he majored in English at Cambridge before doing graduate work in film theory). These three prints are part of an ongoing series of work in a variety of mediums influenced by the Hungarian poet Miklós Radnóti.
Rees Roberts emphasizes that his images do not illustrate Radnóti’s work, nor are they portraits of the writer, though Radnóti’s biography clearly influenced the solemn nature of these prints. During the darkening 1930s, Radnóti believed it was the duty of a poet to confront the problems of the world in his work, and he published several books over the decade. In 1940, he served in forced labor battalions on the Ukrainian front and in 1944 he was deported to a compulsory labor camp in Bor, Yugoslavia. When the Nazis were in retreat from the Russian advance, the camp was evacuated and the internees were subjected to a death march. Radnóti wrote poems while on the march, and a soldier annoyed by his scribbling, beat him so badly that he was unable to walk. He was shot to death along with others who could not walk.
Each print in the set is split into two parts, invoking the open spread of a notebook or sketchbook. The image to the right is figural (a dark head in I and II, a prone body and stick figure skeleton in III), while the left is crammed with text (I), bodies (II) and a forest of tree trunks (III).
Rees Roberts wrote his thesis in film theory at the Slade on German Expressionist cinema, and its influence can be seen here in the distortions of form and the harsh shadows. As in much of Rees Roberts’ art, the color is limited to shades of grays, black, white and brown. Text also plays a role in each of the etchings. The words are written in English and do not quote Radnóti precisely, but their scrawled despair evokes his story.
The forms of Echo Song are not always clear and the words are difficult to read, but these are reasons to take time with these images. The darkness and density of Marcus Rees Roberts’ etchings are purposeful; they reflect the fall of inescapable night on the world of millions, of whom Miklós Radnóti was one.