Malicious Damage: The Defaced Library Books of Kenneth Halliwell and Joe Orton by Ilsa Colsell
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Publisher: Donlon Books
Condition: New, Out of Print title.
In 1962, a then unknown couple, John (Joe) Orton and Kenneth Halliwell, were tried at Old Street Magistrates Court, London, charged with, ‘larceny, malicious damage and wilful damage’, involving hundreds of Islington Library’s book stock. Over the previous three years the pair had been secretly stealing these books, removing what amounted to thousands of valuable art plates and either using them to create alternative dust jackets for other books, (which were then returned quietly to the library’s shelves for unsuspecting browsers to find), or pasting them directly into a large and uninterrupted collage spanning the interior walls of their one-roomed flat on nearby Noel Road. The pair would receive a six-month custodial sentence for these actions. The reconfigured dust jackets were part of a decade of often shared creative endeavour; the two had written, collaged and entertained themselves with the combined fragments of Arts history and contemporary culture. This small flat their studio and living space, and where they enacted a loving relationship at a time when homosexuality was forbidden by law ‘in public and in private’. Their arrest and trial would be an abrupt curtailment of this private idyll and a turning point in their lives, setting them separately (though never entirely separated) on a path which would lead John to become Joe Orton, one of the fashionable playwrights of sixties London. Halliwell pursued his own creative path with further collage — but did so without fully finding an audience for his artwork to match Orton’s rapid theatrical success. Their deaths at Noel Road five years later in 1967 became the sensationalised end to what had largely been a private, enclosed life together; Orton murdered by Halliwell who then took his own life. Now, fifty years after the trial, Malicious Damage looks closely at the collaged dust jackets still remaining within the archive at Islington Local History Centre and focuses on the early collaborative nature of Orton and Halliwell’s relationship. Using the changing collage that had consumed such a large part of their lives in Noel Road as its frame, Malicious Damage underlines the visual and performative nature of their collaborations, as well as using the process of collage itself to investigate Halliwell and his work in greater detail.