Books On Books Collection – Irma Boom

Colour — Based on Nature (2012)

Colour — Based on Nature (2012)
Irma Boom
Box holding softcover. H320 x W240 mm, 170 pages. Acquired from Amazon, 16 November 2020.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

This work of art in the form of a book explores and associates colors with 80 UNESCO World Heritage sites across the globe. On the exterior of each folio, all of them uncut, a single, solid color appears. As the folio is cut, the interior reveals striated variations on the exterior color.

The striations act like lines of rhymed and unrhymed verse. The whole volume could serve as a textbook on theory of colors, the destructive act needed to access the color reminding student and teacher of the fragility of the heritage sites being celebrated.

Irma Boom: The Architecture of the Book (2013)

Irma Boom: The Architecture of the Book (2013)
Irma Boom
Box holding miniature softcover. Box: H153 x W118 x D31 mm; Book: H55 x W44 x D30 mm; 800 pages. Acquired from Amazon, 3 June 2015.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

In and of itself, a legible miniature book astounds. Add to it the design genius of Irma Boom and the astounding becomes book art. Recording her books in reverse chronological order 2013-1986 (with reverse pagination as well), Irma Boom: The Architecture of the Book uses its structure and contents to make us think again and again about the reach of the book’s technology.

de Rijksmuseum (2012)

de Rijksmuseum (2013) Irma Boom Typeface Photo: Irma Boom Studios.

In 2013 the newly renovated Rijksmuseum opened with a new logo, new typeface design and publications design — all by Irma Boom and her studio. The new typeface — de Rijksmuseum — was developed by Paul van de Laan of Blue Monday under Boom’s artistic direction and appeared in museum signage and publications. The new typeface marks an interesting shift from DTL Documenta, the previous corporate font, designed by Frank E. Blokland. Blokland had studied with Gerrit Noordzij and later succeeded him at the Dutch Royal Academy of the Arts (The Hague). He founded the Dutch Type Library in the 1990s.

The previous style sheet leads with the serif version of DTL Documenta, while the de Rijksmuseum style sheet leads with the sans serif. Having applied to intern at Total Design in Amsterdam and been rejected by Wim Crouwel’s colleagues for her experimentalism, Boom must have especially enjoyed winning this commission. Just as much as the typographic differences, though, it is Boom’s roots in book design that differentiates the new from the old.

Guide Rijksmuseum (2013)
Eric Spaans (text), Irma Boom (design)
Softcover with multiple foldout maps. Acquired at the Rijksmuseum.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

James Jennifer Georgina (2010)

James Jennifer Georgina (2010)
Irma Boom
Box holding casebound book. Box: H220 x W140 x D100 mm. Book: H194 X W126 X D90 mm; 1198 pages. Edition of 999, of which this is #699. Acquired from Bubb Kuyper, 28 May 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

James Jennifer Georgina is book art as epic family portrait, created with the fronts and backs of 1136 postcards, spanning ten years of travel by the Butler family. At 1198 pages, it comes close to War and Peace, and in one theme, it comes close to Anna Karenina. Tolstoy writes at the beginning of the latter, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” After poring over JJG, I wonder if that should have been “each unhappy family thinks it is unhappy in its own way”. In the end, the family portrait is one of considerable privilege, culture, shame, pain and love. What distinguishes the Butler family’s unhappiness besides that context of privilege is its form of documentation and, above all, Boom’s transformation of it into this monument of book design. Its three-part spine especially developed to allow this nine centimeters-thick book to open effortlessly to any page .

Boom’s other outstandingly designed hefty works include SHV (1996) commissioned by Steenkolen Handelsvereeniging (SHV), Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor (2006) and Artist, Work, Lisson (2017) commissioned by the Lisson Gallery. They can be viewed here, here and here, respectively.

Strip: One Mile of Urban Housing in The Hague (2003)

Strip: One Mile of Urban Housing in The Hague (2003)
Marja van der Burgh, Kees Christiaanse, Gertjan Giele and Gerard van Otterloo (eds.); Design by Irma Boom and Sanne Beeren; Photography by Hans Werleman.
Paperback, perfect bound, H175 x W142 x D40 (spine) and D48 (fore edge)mm. 256 uncut folios. Acquired from Galileo Alby, 28 September 2020.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The primary purpose of Strip could not be further from that of Ed Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip; nevertheless, its title and design pay a sort of homage to that accordion book with one side of the Sunset Strip at the top and other at the bottom. With its Chinese-fold pages, Strip has the same problem with thickness that any single-sided accordion has. Of course the Chinese fold offers the same advantage offered by the accordion fold: note how the section titles and photos wrap over the uncut folios, foreshadowing the treatment of the Rijksmuseum Guide above. Also like the Guide but unlike Every Building, Boom’s book is a form of information sculpture.

In some ways, Strip has more in common with the first edition of Robert Venturi’s Learning from Las Vegas, designed by Muriel Cooper at MIT Press, than with Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip. Just as Learning from Las Vegas is intent on architectural and urban design theory, so too is Strip. Just as Cooper’s monumental design swamped the textual content (so much so that the authors successfully pressed for a reduced-size paperback), Boom’s design almost does the same to Strip‘s content. Almost, but not quite. Strip‘s blockiness, its rubbernecking around the corner of pages and its jumps in perspective match up with the authors’ intent — to document an environment and its residents.

Nederlandse Postzegels, Poststempels 87/88

Nederlandse Postzegels, Poststempels 87/88: Achtergronden, Emissiegegevens en Vormgeving (1988)
[“Dutch stamps, postmarks 87/88: background, issuance data and design”]
Irma Boom (design), Paul Hefting (text) and Piet Janmaat (photography)
Two softcover volumes. H250 x W188 mm, 228 pages combined. Acquired from Cornelis Verheij, 9 January 2022.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

This two-volume set accounts for Boom’s first published book design and her first book design award. It celebrates the special edition stamp designs commissioned by the Dutch PTT during 1987 and 1988 and features an index of the different postal cancellations used during those years.

Foreshadowing Strip, the interior pages are created in the Oriental style of single-fold folios bound with the fold at the fore edge. In Nederlandse Postzegels, however, printing occurs on both sides of the folios. The outer sides are printed with 4-color offset lithography, presenting images and text sometimes in portfolio and sometimes in landscape layout. Whether in portfolio or landscape, images will often run from the recto to verso page, wrapping around the fold. In the section on the designers and their designs, the main text shows in landscape and, like the images, runs over the fold at the fore edge.

The inner sides are printed single color — black — creating shadow images on the outer side. Only by cutting through each fold (as encouraged by the perforations in Colour Based on Nature) can the inner-side images be examined closely, but this would destroy the work and the intent. With the shadows from the inner side, the outer side takes on a collage-like appearance. The print on the inner side also often serves for communication. For example, in the illustrated historical survey of design with which the first volume opens, the roman numerals for numbering plates appear on the reverse side of the plates to which they are assigned. Of course, the roman numeral has to be printed in reverse on the inner side so that it reads aright on the outer side, which is especially appropriate for this section labelled — from behind, of course — ARTE ALLO SPECCHIO (“art in the mirror”).

Copyright page and Table of Contents (pages D and E); inner side of page D.

ARTE ALLO SPECCHIO (“Art in the Mirror”) printed on the inner sides of unpaginated pages I, J, K and L, with specchio running over the fold between K and L.

Clockwise: Unpaginated pages L and M; plate IV printed in reverse on inner side of page L (note on page L the interlinear caption for plate IV — pag IV Onbekende japanse kunstenaar, Hemelse muzikanten 8 eeuw [“plate IV, Unknown Japanese artist, Heavenly musicians 8th century”]); note image running over the fold between pages M and N; pages N and O.

Like all of Boom’s other works in this collection, Nederlandse Postzegels is not a quick read or easily navigated reference work. Its design demands from the reader an awareness that should translate into thoughtfulness about the accomplished designers and their designs, among whom are Anton Beeke, Henk Cornelissen, Wim Crouwel, Reynoud Homan, Cees de Jong, Frans van Lieshout, Karel Martens, Rick Vermeulen, Tessa van der Waals, Piet Zwart and many others.

The selected pages and their “inside surfaces” recount the separate efforts of Karel Martens and Reynoud Homan to design the Dutch stamp commemorating Australia’s bicentennial in 1988. Martens’ design conflicted with PTT requirements, so Homan stepped in. The descriptive text follows a landscape layout and reads over the fore edge fold, but page numbers and some of the illustrations follow a portfolio layout.

Pages 181-83.

Pages 186-87.

Top to bottom: Page 187’s text running over the fold to page 188; page 188 showing Karel Martens’ design of the coin commemorating William & Mary’s 300th anniversary of accession; inner side of page 188 cheekily showing the reverse side of the Martens coin.

Comparing herself to the kind of architect who produces social housing, Boom asserts, “books are industrially made and they need to be made very well. I am all for industrial production. I hate one-offs. On one book you can do anything, but if you do a print run, that is a challenge. It’s never art. Never, never, never.” But no less an institution than the Museum of Modern Art holds a copy of Nederlandse Postzegels. Display the book alongside the other five works above and the temptation to take Boom’s stance to be just as arch as that of Marcel Duchamp (“It’s art if I say so.”) is hard to resist. Nevertheless, ending with Nederlandse Postzegels, this entry defers to Boom and gives her the last word — at least on how the work came to be:

Since 1920, the PTT Art & Design Department had commissioned artists, architects and designers to design its services and products. To me, the whole idea of Dutch design comes from the design policy of PTT, especially in the 1970s and 80s when Ootje Oxenaar was head of the department.

Working at the Staatsdrukkerij meant enormous creative freedom. Those were the heydays of art-book publishing. If you made a book cover, they would encourage you to use foil or special printing techniques. The department was a springboard for young designers who would work there for one or two years and go on to something more exciting. After my internship, I went to Dumbar and the Dutch television (NOS) design department. After I graduated I went back to the Staatsdrukkerij, and ended up staying for five-and-a-half years. I learned a lot. In retrospect, it was a very productive and super-creative time.

I did jobs nobody else wanted, like the advertisements for the publishing department, which was – thinking of it now – a smart thing to do because I could experiment. Those assignments were completely under the radar but they were seen by Oxenaar. He invited the designer of the ‘crazy ads’ to do one of the most prestigious book jobs: the annual Dutch postage-stamp books.

Places like the Staatsdrukkerij don’t exist any more. When I started working there after graduation, I was immediately a designer (not a junior), and I quickly became a team leader. At that time I was very naive and fearless. I was not aware of an audience, and certainly not a critical audience! This vacuum is no longer possible for designers starting out today. I only became aware of the outside world after the prestigious postage-stamp yearbooks were published: hate mail from stamp collectors and design colleagues started to come in. But there was also fan mail.

The books polarised the design community. They won all the awards and a Best Book Award, my first one. In the jury report they mentioned ‘a brilliant failure’. Suddenly people knew who I was. I realised negative publicity has an enormous impact, more than positive publicity.” — Miltenburg, “Reputations: Irma Boom“.

Further Reading

Olafur Eliasson“. 17 May 2021. Books On Books Collection. Irma Boom designed the Eliasson catalogue called Contact, which is shown in that entry.

Irma Boom“. N.d. John M. Flaxman Library Resource Guide. Accessed 1 October 2018.

Boom, Irma. 26 November 2011. “Manifesto for the Book“. TEDxDelft. Accessed 2 October 2018. See especially for her comments on the two-volume Nederlandse Postzegels (1988), which foreshadows the Chinese-fold element of Strip, and also for Grafisch Nederland 2005: Kleur = Colour (2005), which foreshadows Colour — Based on Nature.

Boom, Irma, Julia Blume, and Günter Karl Bose. 2002. Irma Boom. Leipzig : Institut für Buchkunst.

Lehkoživová, Irena. 23 November 2016 –14 January 2017. “Irma Boom“. Vi Per Gallery, Prague, Czech Republic. Well-illustrated with photos by Peter Fabo.

Miltenburg, Anne. 2014. “Reputations: Irma Boom“. Eye, no. 88, vol. 22. Interview.

Nochlin, Linda. 30 May 2015. “From 1971: Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?ArtNews. Accessed 2 July 2021.

Rawsthorn, Alice. 14 March 2013. “Influences/Life in Design“. Frieze. Accessed 1 October 2018.

Zaborov, Victoria. “Reinventing the Book | Case Study: Irma Boom”. Medium. Accessed 2 July 2020.

Zaborov, Victoria. 2013. “The History of the Book | Case study: Irma Boom“. Thesis, Leiden University. Accessed 2 July 2020.

Books On Books Collection – Kathy Bruce

Valise for Mallarmé (1997)

Valise for Mallarmé (1997)
Kathy Bruce
Valise, altered book, X-ray film, wood, glass, die, collage. H8.5″ x W10.5″ x D5″. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 3 November 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

Any artist who flirts with surreality is likely to begin or end up carrying Marcel Duchamp‘s bags or bearing Joseph Cornell‘s boxes. Cornell himself was influenced by Duchamp. He assisted Duchamp with the latter’s Boîte-en-Valise series, 1935-41, and assembled a few of his own suitcase- or valise-based works, such as Untitled (The Life of Ludwig II of Bavaria), 1941-52, and Untitled (The Crystal Cage: Portrait of Berenice), 1934-67. Boxes though became his forté. Although Cornell sourced a substantial amount of collage material from books, he did not frequently use altered books (especially excavated ones) as an object within an object, a container of objects or object in itself. One excavation example is his Object (glass, dust and plastic spoon), 1939. Another, which however embodies all the permutations, is Untitled (To Marguerite Blachas), c.1939, a thorough-going alteration of the Journal d’Agriculture Practique (Volume 22, 1911). A variation with Volume 21 was discovered after his death in 1972.

So, since 1972, how to make anything not merely derivative? Hefting the influences lightly, Kathy Bruce takes Duchamp and Cornell in an original direction and replaces their mysterious surreality with the mysteries of Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard (1897) and with her own surreality arising from chance-found objects and chosen juxtaposition. Cornell remarked that his boxes “are life’s experiences aesthetically expressed”. Valise for Mallarmé and the four other of Bruce’s works described below are aesthetic expressions of her experiences of the poem that “made us modern”.

This Duchampian valise opens to show that it has been pressed into a Mallarméan voyage. In the deeper compartment sits a Cornellesque glass-covered wooden box. It contains a red die; collage of an engraving of penguins, a spouting whale, a ship under sail against towering glaciers and a flight of birds; scraps of paper marked with Chinese ideograms and handwritten numbers and symbols; and mechanical diagrams. A reflective, smoky blue sheet surrounds the glass-covered “raft”. It is a piece of X-ray film discarded from Gramercy Hospital in New York City. The film is face down and affixed to a sheet of paper that later developed ripples. The artist “liked the way it looked– like waves in the water, so it stayed” (correspondence with the artist, 11 December 2021).

On the shallow side of Valise for Mallarmé is an altered book, excavated to fit around the “raft” and show a passage from Un Coup de Dés pasted at the bottom of the excavation and covered with translucent paper. The book is John L. Stoddard’s Lectures (Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Supplementary Vol 1). Stoddard was a prolific writer (16 volumes in his lecture and photograph series) and prodigious traveller (26 countries and multiple states in the US visited). The lecture series appeared 1897 to 1898, haply coinciding with Mallarmé’s poem and death. Strangely enough, where Mallarmé ended his spiritual voyage from Catholicism to atheism, Stoddard ended his from atheism to Catholicism. The combination of coincidence and divergence from this found readymade no doubt confirmed it to Bruce as the right choice of color, shape and material to echo the poem’s last line — Toute pensée émet un Coup de Dés (All thought emits a roll of the dice).

Conmoción, Contución y Compresión Cerebrales (1998)

Conmoción, Contución y Compresión Cerebrales (1998)
Kathy Bruce
Framed, altered book, surrounded by white cloth and containing an embedded box containing another box with dice and collage. H15″ x W12″ x D3″. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 3 November 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

Were it not for the preceding work, the presence of dice and and the image of a ship pasted to the back of the glass-covered box embedded in the altered book framed here, we might miss that Mallarmé’s poem inspired Conmoción, Contución y Compresión Cerebrales. The altered book’s title, difficult to make out on the spine, is Patología y clínica quirúrgicas (1873), a medical manual by Joseph-Auguste Fort, a French contemporary of Mallarmé. Fort had travelled in Spain, voyaged to South America and studied medical education and practice in several countries there, hence the Spanish of his book.

The shredded book pages packed around the box within the box embedded in the medical manual could be compared to The Wasteland‘s “fragments I have shored against my ruins”, but T.S. Eliot’s fragments are snippets of civilisation (lines from a nursery rhyme, Dante’s Purgatorio, a Latin poem, etc.) that his speaker uses to shore against his contemporary wasteland. Bruce’s snippets come from that medical manual and serve a dual purpose. First, to provide the title of her work. Second, to insulate and secure the box containing the dice and print of the ships under sail. The title appears in the bottom space between the boxes and comes from a section heading in the book, a phrase that “speaks to the chaos and confusion of the wrecked ship at sea” (correspondence with the artist, 12 December 2021).

So, from what is the packing insulating that inner box? Loose in the tilted embedded box, the dice can still roll; tilted in the box, the ships are continually bound to founder. How can conmoción, contución y compresión cerebrales (cerebral concussion, contusion and compression) protect against chance that any roll of the dice can never abolish or against the “bookwreck” in which they are embedded? What surrounds the altered book implies that they cannot. The crumpled white cloth (from the poem’s velours chiffonné) evokes not only a fallen sail but also a coffin’s lining in which the book lies. How appropriate then that Mallarmé’s poem confronting le néant (nothingness) and inspiring this work of book art is here but not here.

Solitary Plume Lost (1998 or 2000)

Solitary Plume Lost (1998 or 2000)
Kathy Bruce
Small cigar box, feather, pine wood, collage, cloth. Closed H1.5″ x W6.5″ x D3.5″. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 3 November 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

Inside the box:

Lining the cigar box, a piece of white crumpled velvet, which refers to the poem’s velours chiffonné.

A scrap of stiff, dark blue, glittering felt, a kind from which a toque de minuit (a hat or cap the color of midnight) might be made.

A triangular block of pine wood on which three translated lines of the poem are pasted along the hypotenuse surface, a 1998 commemorative stamp with Mallarmé’s likeness is pasted on the top surface, an image of the Aquila constellation with its main stars Altair, Tarazed and Alshain is pasted on the bottom surface, and constellation markings for the hypergiant stars of Draco are pasted along the two remaining sides.

A white feather, which refers to (plume solitaire éperdue/solitary lost plume), attached to the inside surface of the box’s top.

Among the best known images of Mallarmé is the portrait by Edouard Manet in 1876. Cross-legged in an armchair, the poet leans toward his right hand resting on a side table and holding a cigar from which smoke curls. It is so well known that, after puzzling over the constellations and text on the other sides of the block, it is a surprise that the image on the stamp has not somehow changed into it.

Navigating the Abyss I (1998)

Navigating the Abyss I (1998)
Kathy Bruce
Altered book, wood, lenses, collage, thread. H7.5″ x W5″ x D3″. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 3 November 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

Bruce brings her sculpture outside any enclosure with Navigating the Abyss I. Rigging-like thread wraps around a copy of Intermediate Reader, a relic from a series of readers compiled between 1867 and 1927 for the Brothers of the Christian Schools, headquartered in Montreal, which recalls Mallarmé’s school-teaching days. Three triangles of wood panelling are attached to the book’s back cover, a deft choice of material for the sail-like seams and shape. A glossy piece of postcard or a cut from the cover of an art book depicting a gilded hand, open as if having just rolled the dice, occupies one corner of the cover. It’s impossible to say whether it is the lower or upper, left or right, as the book has been turned upside down and back to front in its altering (note the photos above). The three loose lenses add to this effect of shipwreck detritus, as does the convex lens embedded like a porthole in the book and revealing a torn page and part of a handwritten letter presumably left in the book. Across from the convex lens, the pasted-down diagram is a scaled drawing of a template for what appears to be a rigging pulley with a diameter of 9 and 3/4 inches. The collaged precision diagram alludes not only to the ship but also to the poem’s reference to anciens calculs. It adds to the artifice and abstraction of poem, book, ship and flotsam that Bruce has created.

The paragraph pasted on the book’s front cover (the artwork’s “back cover”) comes from the Intermediate Reader. The content is uncannily apt:

Far in the horizon, they thought they saw a beautiful lake, with branching palm-trees. They longed for the water and the cool shade; but their ____ guide told them there was no lake in the place where it seemed to be; that it was only the mirage — a seductive illusion floating in the air.

The small rectangle excised from this passage is pasted face down among the other detritus on the opposite side. It is another bit of controlled artifice that not only alludes to the use of empty space (les blancs) in Un Coup de Dés but contributes to the work’s surreality.

Navigating the Abyss II (1999)

Navigating the Abyss II (1999)
Kathy Bruce
Altered book, camera lens, collage, thread. H9″ x W7″ x D5″. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 3 November 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

A withdrawn library copy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s 18th century bestseller Julie, ou la nouvelle Heloïse, with one-sixth leather binding over marbled boards, provides Bruce with the raw “stone” for her second sculpted version of Navigating the Abyss. Headed for the graveyard of pulping or burying in landfills, this culled copy, stamped WITHDRAWN in black on all of its faded marbled edges, is destined never to be opened again, a point underscored by the tangle of black thread holding it closed. The inaccessible content is the epistolary tale of Julie d’Étange, an aristocrat who falls in love with her tutor Saint-Preux, is married off to the tolerant atheist Lord von Wolmar, becomes devout to overcome her attraction to Saint-Preux, and dies of hypothermia after plunging into water to save her child. The inauthenticity into which Rousseau throws religious belief makes Bruce’s choice of this marbled stone appropriate for paying homage to Mallarmé who chose to navigate the abyss without God.

Although both versions of Navigating the Abyss have a similarity, somehow this second version is bleaker than the first. Looked at on edge, the black lens and marbled book appear to be a funerary sculpture on a plinth. Unlike the embedded lens in the first version, a single Cyclopean camera lens sits atop the book into which a hole has been bored. The darkness at the lens’ center evokes the idea of an abyss or whirlpool, especially as the words and letters from the torn pages circle around the edges like detritus being pulled down. A black-and-white version of Goya’s Saturn Devouring his Son provides the ghostly image floating in the lens. While it isn’t necessary to know the source of the image or that the series from which Goya’s mural painting comes is called The Black Paintings, the details add to the funereality evoked by the black thread, the black stamp and decayed state of the book.

Further Reading

Bloch, R. Howard. 2017. One toss of the dice: the incredible story of how a poem made us modern. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W.W. Norton & Company.

Lloyd, Rosemary. 2000. “Mallarme at the Millennium“. The Free Library. 2000 Modern Humanities Research Association. Accessed 01 December 2021. 2021.

Solomon, Deborah, and Joseph Cornell. 1997. Utopia parkway: the life and work of Joseph Cornell. Boston: MFA Publications.

Books On Books Collection – Michel Lorand

Après Un Coup de Dés (2015)

Après Un Coup de Dés (2015)
Michel Lorand
Cover and gatherings, untrimmed and unbound, in glassine envelope. Cover: H362 x W260; gatherings: H362 x W256 mm; 32 unnumbered pages. Edition of 50, of which this is #19. Acquired from the artist, 22 October 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with the artist’s permission.

Since the 1960s when Ernest Fraenkel, Mario Diacono and Marcel Broodthaers blotted out the text of Mallarmé’s poem Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard (1897) to create their works of homage, numerous others have expanded on the technique: substituting images of sonograms (Sammy Engramer, 2009) or algorithmically generated abstractions (Eric Zboya, 2018, and Benjamin Lord, 2019), or excising the text (Michalis Pichler, 2008, and Cerith Wyn Evans, 2008) or algorithmically erasing it (Jérémie Bennequin, 2009) — just to name a few.

In Après Un Coup de Dés (2015), the only printed marks are the cover’s traditional black and red borders and the printer’s registration and gathering marks on the sheets. Wherever else Mallarmé’s text would have been printed has been excised. In reply to a question about the process involved, Lorand explains that he had asked the designer Filiep Tacq to create a layout that would cover in black exactly the blocks of text as it appears in the current Gallimard book edition of Mallarmé’s poem, including the front and back covers (correspondence with the artist, 1 November 2021). Lorand took a scalpel to the offset printed sheets, removed the blackened blocks, folded the sheets by hand into the four gatherings, assembled them in the correct order and laid them untrimmed and loose inside the cover. Each of fifty copies was placed inside its own handmade glassine envelope along with a flyer including introductory text by Jacques Sojcher (emeritus professor, University of Brussels) and the colophon for the work. It is a book that is not-yet a book.

Lorand’s and all of these other works of homage give us inverse ekphrasis. They are the visual, tactile and conceptual works of art that come after Mallarmé’s text. We are more used to ekphrasis where the object, painting or sculpture comes before the text — like Achilles’ shield before Homer’s description, or the Grecian urn before Keats’ ode, or Brueghel’s Fall of Icarus before Auden’s Musée des Beaux Arts. Homer, Keats and Auden vie with the art of the crafted object to put that object (and more) in front of us with words. With the inverse, the crafted objects vie without the words to put Mallarmé’s poem (and more — and sometimes less!) in front of us.

Many of the hommageurs hint at the “and more” with a subtitle to Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard. With Broodthaers, it is Image; with Pichler, Sculpture; with Engramer, Onde (Wave as in soundwave); and with Bennequin, Omage (as in hommage with the “h” and “m” missing). With Lorand, there is no subtitle. Instead, we have the word après prefacing the truncated title of the poem. But, “after” Mallarmé’s poem, what is Lorand proposing? An homage in the form of something that restates, reproduces the poem but without the words? An homage in the form of something else presented in the manner of Un Coup de Dés but without the words? Or something else that simply occurs after the poem’s roll of the dice? As it turns out, all that and more.

Paul Valèry was probably the first of Mallarmé’s circle to see and hear Un Coup de Dés. His reaction picks out one of the themes that make up Lorand’s “and more”:

It seemed to me that I was looking at the form and pattern of a thought, placed for the first time in a finite space. Here space itself truly spoke, dreamed, and gave birth to temporal forms. Expectancy, doubt, concentration, all were visible things. With my own eye I could see silences that had assumed bodily shapes. Inappreciable instants became clearly visible: the fraction of a second during which an idea flashes into being and dies away; atoms of time that serve as the germs of infinite consequences lasting through psychological centuries — at last these appeared as beings, each surrounded with a palpable emptiness…. there in the same void with them, like some new form of matter arranged in systems or masses or trailing lines, coexisted the Word! — Paul Valéry, Collected Works of Paul Valery, Volume 8: Leonardo, Poe, Mallarmé (1972).

Lorand writes:

My <<Après un Coup de Dés>> introduces a corpus of approaches to what might be “the movement” that constitutes speech: “A language that speaks” as Martin Heidegger calls it (Unterwegs zur Sprache, Verlag Günther Jeske, Pfullingen, FRG, 1959).

How can we think, how can we imagine this movement within language itself? What path to take to allow us to experience this movement, the one that constitutes the word itself. This word is sound. The object of all my work is the identification of what could be the image of this movement, of this word. This exploration attempts to approach the nature of this movement: a word beyond language when the latter is silent. (Correspondence with the artist, 1 November 2021.)

Like his others, Heidegger’s On the Way to Language is a dense book; more than the others, it is poetical, an invitation to experience language. In it is a series of lectures entitled “The Nature of Language” in which Heidegger uses two poems, one by Stefan George and one by Gottfried Benn, to question language about its nature. Although George’s poem is the one that Heidegger deeply explicates, Benn’s is the one that, echoing Valèry, sheds the most light on Lorand’s Après Un Coup de Dés — especially with its last two lines.

A Word

A word, a phrase –: from cyphers rise
Life recognized, a sudden sense,
The sun stands still, mute are the skies,
And compacts it, stark and dense.

A word — a gleam, a light, a spark,
A thrust of flames, a stellar trace —
And then again — immense — the dark
Round world and I in empty space.

Après Un Coup de Dés seems to be a wordless invitation to experience language. But in a sense, Mallarmé’s words have not disappeared, not entirely. Their shapes — embodied in the voids — move silently and rhythmically across the unfolded sheets; in the gatherings, they cascade over one another much as they do syntactically and typographically in print. And even though the text is not before (in front of) us, Lorand’s artwork delivers a wordless experience of a key paradox of language with which Mallarmé sought to imbue his poem: the language of the void or abyss — the void or abyss of language. One of the ways in which the poem presents this self-enveloping paradox is that it begins and ends with the words un coup de dés, the act that can never abolish chance and the act that all thought emits. Similarly, Après un Coup de Dés displays the presence of language by displaying the absence of language, or les blancs defined by and defining empty space.

Mallarmé’s invitation in Un Coup de Dés, however, beckons us to a slightly different concept of language than that articulated by Heidegger. For Mallarmé, chance plays a prominent role in what Heidegger would call the “neighborhood of poetry and thought”. But chance, hazard or a roll of the dice plays a much less prominent role for Heidegger, and in Lorand’s work of art, with its registration and gathering marks and glassine enclosure, there seems little allusion to it — perhaps naturally so since Lorand’s work comes after the dice have been rolled.

Even though it comes after Mallarmé’s completed poem and after the Gallimard book edition, Après presents as an unfinished work, a book not yet trimmed and bound, which reflects not only Mallarmé’s unfinished realization of the poem as a book but also his unfinished life’s pursuit: le Livre, the thing in which everything in the world would end up — the thing that, by virtue of a spacious mobility of typographic layout and the interplay of its elements, would be “the total expansion of the letter”. Lorand’s attention and manual precision in excising the blackened blocks where the text would otherwise appear evoke Mallarmé’s attention to the minute details of typeface, size and font shown in his handwritten mark-up of the proofs for the book edition he was planning before he died.

Après also comes after the efforts of Broodthaers and Pichler, both of whom organized exhibitions for their works of homage. In fact, Pichler paid homage to Broodthaers by naming his exhibition “Pichler: Exposition Littéraire autour de Mallarmé” (Milan, December 2016) after “Broodthaers: Exposition littéraire autour de Mallarmé” (Antwerp, December 1969). Pichler’s exhibition was also daring in its exposure of the works to the visitors.

In the 2018 display of Après Un Coup de Dés, the previously gathered but now unfolded sheets and cover lie side by side under glass. Often this is cause for complaint about the distanced display of artist books. In the case of Après Un Coup de Dés, the distance effectively draws point-blank attention to what the privileged reader gradually discovers in handling the work. The unprivileged reader may have to imagine the making, unmaking and remaking of the book but, confronted with the gestalt of the undone gatherings and their registration marks, that reader immediately sees/witnesses the void defined by a void.

Après Un Coup de Dés in the group exhibition Reading Hand Writing Bodies at Les Abattoirs de Bomel, Centre d’art de Namur, Belgium, 8 February – 11 March 2018. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

In relation to Broodthaer’s Image and Pichler’s Sculpture, Après comes both before and after. The positioning of the words après, image and sculpture vis à vis the poem’s title has been noted already. Of all three visual, tactile and conceptual works, Lorand’s stands as the chronologically “after” yet unfinished “before” to Broodthaers’ and Pichler’s finished works. In yet another “afterness” to Mallarmé’s poem, Lorand likens Après to a silent score of music or a piano roll (correspondence with the artist, 1 November 2021). This echoes — if that is not too perverse a verb — Mallarmé’s reference to “score” in his preface to Un Coup de Dés. In premonitory, if not coincidental, irony, Lorand’s piano-roll-like 2015 work precedes a work that Michalis Pichler created for his 2016 Milan exhibition: a piano roll playable on a foot-pumped pianola and entitled Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard: Musique (see video above).

The interplay of its philosophical roots with its mechanically produced print and its manual cuts makes Lorand’s Après Un Coup de Dés one of the more challenging works of homage to Mallarmé’s poem. To “hear” it side by side with the others in the Books On Books Collection (see below) is rewarding.

Further Reading

Derek Beaulieu“. Books On Books Collection. 19 June 2020.

Jérémie Bennequin“. Books On Books Collection. 15 December 2020.

Christopher Brennan“. Books On Books Collection. 28 February 2021.

Kathy Bruce“. Books On Books Collection. NYP.

Jeff Clark and Robert Bononno“. Books On Books Collection. 26 October 2020.

Jim Clinefelter“. Books On Books Collection. 17 July 2020.

David Dernie & Olivia Lang“. Books On Books Collection. 02 November 2020.

Klaus Detjen“. Books On Books Collection. 09 September 2020.

Chris Edwards“. Books On Books Collection. 28 February 2021.

Sammy Engramer“. Books On Books Collection. 01 June 2020.

Ernest Fraenkel“. Books On Books Collection. 30 October 2021.

Rodney Graham“. Books On Books Collection. 3 July 2020.

Nicolas Guyot“. Books On Books Collection. 20 May 2020.

Brian Larosche“. Books On Books Collection. 3 July 2020.

Benjamin Lord“. Books On Books Collection. 19 June 2020.

Michael Maranda“. Books On Books Collection. 22 August 2020.

André Masson“. Books On Books Collection. NYP.

Guido Molinari“. Books On Books Collection. 13 April 2020.

Reinhold Nasshan“. Books On Books Collection. 23 September 2021.

Aurélie Noury“. Books On Books Collection. 09 November 2020.

Michalis Pichler“. Books On Books Collection. 19 August 2020.

Mitsou Ronat & Tibor Papp“. Books On Books Collection. 16 November 2020.

Sam Sampson“. Books On Books Collection. NYP.

Ian Tyson and Neil Crawford“. Books On Books Collection. NYP.

Jacques Vernière“. Books On Books Collection. NYP.

Cerith Wyn Evans“. Books On Books Collection. 16 April 2020.

Eric Zboya“. Books On Books Collection. 01 June 2020.

Heidegger, Martin, and Peter D. Hertz, trans. 1959/2009. On the Way to Language. San Francisco: HarperOne. Reprint. “No matter how we put our questions to language about its nature, first of all it is needful that language vouchsafe itself to us. If it does, the nature of language becomes the grant of its essential being, that is, the being of language becomes the language of being” (p. 72).

Polt, Richard. 1999. Heidegger: An Introduction. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.

Books On Books Collection – Robert Cottingham

A-Z: Robert Cottingham: An American Alphabet (1997-2012)

A-Z: Robert Cottingham: An American Alphabet (1997-2012)
Robert Cottingham
Hardcover. H x W mm, pages. Edition of 100. Acquired from Tandem Press, 10 September 2021.
Photos of the book: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist and Tandem Press.

I had completed a number of canvases for AN AMERICAN ALPHABET and began to experience storage problems. The paintings were leaning against all available walls and were in danger of being damaged. For protection, I hung them as a group on one wall, stacking them four high by four across, … sixteen canvases that reached to the ceiling and formed a monumental mosaic of letterforms. This arrangement of tightly packed images created an energy I hadn’t anticipated. As I looked up at it for the first time from my studio floor, I was immediately transported back to those moments when my father and I ascended from the 42nd Street subway station. The sight lines in my studio matched the ones I’d experienced as a child looking up at the signs and lights of Times Square. (Cottingham, A-Z)

Cottingham’s time travel creates a longing in the viewer for travel in time and space. What that wall must have looked like. Those who might have enjoyed the 1996 show at the Forum Gallery in New York or the installation at the New York Print Fair in November 2011 or the Tandem Press exhibition at Madison, WI, in 2018 would have a limited idea (the images were not stacked four high). A-Z: An American Alphabet is as close as the rest of us will come to visualizing it. The artist book does have the advantage of letter by letter commentary from Cottingham.

Another plus in the book is Cottingham’s exploration of his process, tools and material:

The photograph is the starting point. Once I’ve chosen a specific image, I’ll do at least one preliminary sketch in black and white. This drawing familiarizes me with the image and allows me to make the first formal adjustments. The drawing acts as a value study — a sketch that helps determine the tonal range of the image, how dark or light the various elements should be. …/ Next comes the preliminary color study. This may be a watercolor or a gouache, sometimes handled loosely, sometimes treated as a more finished work. …/ I can now move on to the canvas. My preferred medium is oil. … The painting quickly takes on a life of its own, demanding further adjustments to color, tonal value, and form. But the preliminary work, like a map, guides me towards the new and always unexpected version of my original concept./ … / I consider printmaking an important adjunct to my painting. Many times, when I’ve completed a painting, I feel the need to do more work with the image — to dig deeper, exploring other aspects of its structure. Printmaking offers this opportunity. … / … An old world sensibility and craftsmanship is brought to the selection of paper (often hand-made), the mixing of inks, the preparation of plates or lithographic stones, and other steps in the process.

Cottingham also draws out the collaborative nature of printmaking, which in this case involved four Master Printers (Andy Rubin, Bruce Crownover, Joe Freye and, for the digital, Jason Ruhl) and, for the book design and layout, Linda Endlich. Another form of collaboration is influence, and Cottingham is generously open about his debts: Charles Demuth, Edward Hopper, René Magritte, Piet Mondrian and, of course, the design of the signs from which the letters come. Along with his contemporaries such as Chuck Close, Don Eddy, Richard Estes, Audrey Flack and John Salt, Cottingham represents the movement of Photo-Realism.

An American Alphabet also finds cousins in the Books On Books Collection. For found letters as objects, there is The Typographic Universe (2014), compiled by Steven Heller and Gail Anderson. For found letters recreated with pastels and watercolor, there is Stephen T. Johnson’s Alphabet City (1995). For color and form (albeit in totally different media), there are Karen Hanmer’s The Spectrum A-Z (2003) and Tara McLeod’s ABC (2015).

Left: The Typographic Universe (2014) by Steven Heller and Gail Anderson. Right: Alphabet City (1995) by Stephen T. Johnson.
Photos of the works: Books On Books Collection.

Left: The Spectrum A-Z (2003) by Karen Hanmer. Right: ABC (2015) by Tara McLeod.
Photos of the works: Books On Books Collection.

The artist and Tandem Press have been kind enough to provide images of the letters A and Z to compare with those in the book, a comparison that underscores the quality of the book and Cottingham’s art.

An American Alphabet: A (2001)
Robert Cottingham
Lithography, Edition of 40, 32 x 23 inches
Image courtesy of Robert Cottingham and Tandem Press

An American Alphabet: Z (2008)
Robert Cottingham
Lithography, Edition of 40, 30 1/2 x 23 inches
Image courtesy of Robert Cottingham and Tandem Press

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection. 31 March 2020.

Stephen T. Johnson“. Books On Books Collection. 30 November 2021.

Meisel, Louis K. 1993. Photorealism since 1980. New York: H.N. Abrams.

Meisel, Louis K., and Helene Zucker Seeman. 1989. Photo-Realism. New York: Abradale Press.

Books On Books Collection – Stephen T. Johnson

Alphabet City (1995)

Alphabet City (1995)
Stephen T. Johnson
Casebound, sewn and glued. H276 x W226 mm, 32 pages. Acquired from Blackwell’s, 17 August 2021.
Photos of the book: Books On Books Collection.

A Caldecott Honor Book and New York Times Best Illustrated Book in 1995, Alphabet City goes beyond the alphabet letters as found objects, a sub-genre documented by Steven Heller and Gail Anderson in The Typographic Universe (2014). Johnson transforms his found capital letters with pastels, watercolor, gouache and charcoal into photo-realistic pictures in varying but similar sizes; for example, 26.5 x 22.5 inches for the A and 25.25 x 21.5 inches for the Z. These appeared in an inaugural exhibition in 1997 at the Katonah Museum of Art in New York. Johnson’s works are held in numerous permanent collections (mostly in the US) and private ones (mainly US-based but increasingly Europe as well), but they are closely tied to his children’s books: Alphabet School (2015) and A is for Art (see below). Most impressive is how he lifts the alphabet book from ordinary trade status to artist book.

Along with Robert Cottingham, Johnson established the photo-realistic alphabet as its own sub-genre, which has been explored by other artists such as Stephen Magsig in The Urban Alphabet: Paintings from Postcards from Detroit and Simon Jennings in Outdoor Types: An Urban Alphabet (2010)

A is for Art (2008)

A is for Art: An Abstract Alphabet (2008)
Stephen T. Johnson
Perfect bound in case with doublures. H310 x 235 mm, 40 pages. Acquired from Amazon E.U., 4 September 2021.
Photos of the book: Books On Books Collection.

In his review in American Art, Philip Nel coins an apt name for Johnson’s art — “alphabet expressionism” — which, on closer examination of texture and technique, applies also to Alphabet City. Go back and look at the foreground of the letter A in Alphabet City.

A is for Art: An Abstract Alphabet has the feel of Moussorgski’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Although each movement “depicts” a different painting, the composer’s style comes through; although each letter alludes to different artists (for example, but not complete for each letter: A – François Dufrêne, Kurt Schwitters; B- Jim Dine, Willem de Kooning , C- Arman, Félix Gonzáles-Torres; D- Udomsak Krisanamis; W- Man Ray; X- Robert Rauschenberg; Y- Tom Wesselman, Robert Indiana; Z- Beatrice Mandelman, Mimmo Rotella), the artist’s vision comes through. To pull that off requires considerable versatility. Several of the images in A is for Art derive from sculptures and large-scale installations. Take a look, too, at his triptych of mosaics in the City Center Public Library of Lenexa, Kansas.

Also a New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year, A is for Art demonstrates two subgenres of alphabet books: the hidden and alliterative alphabet. An interesting, perhaps intentional, effect — even more so when the letters are difficult to find — is to make the viewer linger over the image longer than the museum goer’s average of less than 30 seconds per object. The ingenuity of Johnson’s alliterative sentences is almost as engaging as the images; even so, its main effect directs the eye back to the images. Here is the text for the letter A:

A a
Arrangement No. 1
Affixed across and around an angled letter A are an array of abstracted and assembled bits of advertisements, and apparent among them are apostrophes, ampersands, accents, and an asterisk.

If you spend only 13 minutes in this book (30 seconds per letter), you are missing out.

Music and numbers have also piqued Johnson’s creative curiosity, but another of his series works leads in a more intriguing, roundabout way back to A is for Art: the Kana Card series. On a trip through Japan, the artist acquired a set of Japanese flashcards for learning Katagana and Hiragana. Each 2 x 3 inch card becomes a canvas for paint and collage.

Alphabet School (2015)

Alphabet School (2015)
Stephen T. Johnson
Hardback. H286 x W236 mm, 32 pages. Acquired from Book Depository, 5 November 2021.
Photos of the book: Books On Books Collection.

Using monoprints on paper with digital enhancements, Johnson shifts technique yet again here. The photorealism yields to a graininess, but as with Alphabet City, the effect of making the reader look not just at the images but also at his or her environment remains.

Some letters are contrived (two bookends posed for the letter M). Most of the scenes, however, deliver an authentic sense of found letters (the C in the support of the globe atlas). Johnson has raised the bar on the hidden-letter theme, common in the genre of alphabet books, by several notches.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. 31 March 2020. Books On Books Collection.

Robert Cottingham“. Books On Books Collection.

Paul Cox“. Books On Books Collection.

Heller, Steven, and Gail Anderson“. 8 May 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Mackey, Bonnie, and Hedy Schiller Watson. 2017. Alphabet books: the K-12 educators’ power tool. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Nel, Philip. 2008. “The Fall and Rise of Children’s Literature.” American Art 22, no. 1: 23–27.

A Is for Art: Stephen T. Johnson’s Abstract Alphabet“. 31 August 2010. Nine Kinds of Pie.

Zerkin, Becca. 9 November 2008. “Alphabet City.” The New York Times Book Review. The review actually covers A is for Art.

Books On Books Collection – Clément Mériguet

ABCDead (2010)

ABCDead (2010)
Clément Mériguet
H170 x W140 mm, 56 unnumbered pages. Acquired from Chapitre Libraire, 10 September 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

An alphabet of sardonic commentary in words and images on death, human behavior, stupidity and fetishism. Starting with the skull for Avenir (“future”), Mériguet places his alphabet artist book squarely within the genres of the vanitas and still life. which in French is — appropriately — nature morte (“nature dead”). (In addition to the images below, the artist offers the images of an ivory carving to illustrate Éléphant, a tree stump for Oxygène and a dead bee for Pollen. With his medium being the computer, he clearly cannot resist compounding the punnery by describing his images as nature morte virtuelle.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection. 31 March 2020.

Books On Books Collection – Julien Gineste

Alphabet (2016)

Alphabet (2016)
Julien Gineste
Staple-bound pamphlet. H180 x W130 mm, 32 pages. Edition of 100. Acquired from ~zeug, 25 March 2020. Photos: Courtesy of the publisher, ~zeug.

These single-color risograph-printed photos of celebrities and literary figures are without labels. The reader’s ability to identify them depends on general, historical, literary and popular knowledge and some awareness of how the French pronounce the letters of the alphabet.

A clever piece to make us think about the relationship of text to image. If you can recognize the tennis legend Arthur Ashe, you have to know that the letter H is pronounced “aash” to make sense of his position in the booklet. No need to know there is no difference in saying “O”; you only need to know the face of Jackie O. Several of the personalities go by an initial that corresponds to their alphabetic position: Jay Z and Mister T, but did the French really call “Dubya”, the 43rd president of the US, “doobla-vay”?

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection. 31 March 2020.

Sciullo, Pierre di. L’Après-midi d’un phonème — The Afternoon of a Phoneme (Paris, FR: ~zeug, 2019). Another exercise in French/English punning — if only in the title’s play on Mallarmé’s poem and Débussy’s musical homage L’Après-midi d’un Faune. The book is a more complex affair, being both an accomplished artist book and interview by Sandra Chamaret and Julien Gieneste of di Sciullo.

Books On Books Collection – Claude Sarasas

The ABC’s of Origami (1964)

The ABC’s of Origami (1964)
Claude Sarasas
Paper on board, casebound with illustrated endpapers. H264 x W188 mm, 56 pages. Acquired from Thrift Books, 7 September 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Its blend of multilingual treatment, paper craft applied to the alphabet and collage of origami figures against scenes of Japanese landscapes recommended this book to the Books On Books Collection as a curiosity. The less-than-always-clear origami directions and the words’ lettering, however, altering between black and white and shadowed to tilt in different directions to distinguish the English, French and Japanese, dull the curiosity.

The ABC’s of Origami is now in its second edition (2012). Without question, Ms Sarasas has pointed the way for combining abecedaries with origami objects.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection. 31 March 2020.

Hasegawa, Taichiro. Magical origami alphabets and numerals (Japan: [publisher not identified], 1996).

Hwang, Joyce. Kirigami alphabet design 7: fun with paper folding and cutting (Union City, CA: Heian International, 1994).

Klein, Louis. Animals to fold: an illustrated cutout alphabet book on origami (London: B.T. Batsford, 1962).

Bookmarking Book Art – Diane Harries

Legacy (2018)

Legacy (2018)
Diane Harries
Venetian blind book. Monoprint, screenprint and collage. Closed: H107 x W233 x D25 mm; Open: H1000 mm. Unique.
Photos: Courtesy of the artist.

Look at the circular and triangular pieces making up the clasp for this work Legacy (2018) by Diane Harries. Don’t they appear to be made of marble or some other polished stone? They actually come from coconut husk, shaped, polished and dyed. The only indigenous plant from the palm family in New Zealand is the nīkau, and the coconut trees present on one of its islands were likely planted. “Some say that when Māori came to New Zealand, they looked in vain for a familiar tree and seeing the nīkau, compared it to the coconut tree of their Pacific homeland. One translation of ‘nīkau’ is ‘without nuts’, in remembrance of the coconut.”

The choice of material — this crafted seed — strikes a subtle note in a work inspired by Harries’ experience with the Gordon Park Scenic Reserve, a protected lowland forest once common to the Manawatu/Whanganui region of New Zealand. An expanse of land preserved by what threatened it in the first place.

As the thread unwinds from around the circular piece of seed pod and the triangular piece is laid aside, the subtle notes grow. The fashioned clasp is the same sort used to hold up or let fall a venetian blind. But here the clasp works in reverse from that for a venetian blind: the winding holds the book closed, the unwinding opens it. The thread winds around and through what appears at first to be an accordion book, but with the first turned page or panel, it is clear that this is venetian blind structure. A structure that modulates the movement of light and air. Our artifice can be deployed “to open or close” nature.

A collage of hand-printed images (monoprint and screenprint) sound the more obvious note that this work addresses our impact on nature. Images of leaves and a wire fence strung along posts. Alternating panels of living and dead trees — a healthy and exotic bunya pine and the native, dead kahikatea (white pine).

As the panels extend fully, other material and images come into play. Staves of musical notation appear — here on a panel with the living, there on a panel with the dead. Just as fickle as a pretty human artifact that in one context winds to close and in another winds to open.

Images of wandering thread contrast with the straight lines of real thread connecting the panels. Scraps of tarlatan with its loose weave constrast with densely woven rectangles of thread.

Did the venetian blind structure and seed-based material choose the images, or did the images choose the structure and material?The choice of material and structure can play an obvious or subtle role — or both, or none at all — in a work. When material, form, technique and metaphor play together like this, the work becomes art.

Artist’s Statement

The botanical history of Gordon Park Scenic Reserve provides a window on the social changes that have marked the region. European settlers cleared most of the native bush for farmland, but this tiny patch of swamp forest three kilometres east of Whanganui was saved by an enlightened landowner. Today as conservationists, we mourn the loss of native species everywhere.

The plants there today tell these stories of loss and invasion. Drainage of the area for pastureland has put native kahikatea (white pine) trees at risk during drought and some have died. Their bleached skeletons stand sentinel to this historically neglected status. Paradoxically, the exotic bunya pine (Australian native) nearby, is valued as a marker of the original homestead (now removed), and is officially recorded as Protected Tree #96. The stories are enmeshed in our history and changing values, indicated by the woven fabric in the book.

However, regardless of their social meaning, there is splendour in both of these trees, and the music is a whimsical appreciation of beauty in the face of mankind’s fickle imprints upon the earth.

Further Reading

Chinnery, Colin. “The Chinese pothi (fanjia zhuang)“. The International Dunhuang Project. Site last revised: September 2016. Accessed 30 October 2021. The venetian blind book structure derives from one of the earliest known methods of binding: the Indo-Chinese pothi or palm-leaf sutra.

Department of Conservation, New Zealand Government. Manawatu/Whanganui. Site last revised: N.D. Accessed 30 October 2021

Books On Books Collection – Ernest Fraenkel

Les Dessins Trans-conscients de Stéphane Mallarmé
à propos de la Typographie de Un Coup de Dés (1960)

Les Dessins Trans-conscients de Stéphane Mallarmé, à propos de la Typographie de Un Coup de Dés (1960)
Ernest Fraenkel
Paperback, stapled to fold-in sleeve. H245 x W160 mm, 44 pages bound with 68 pages on 8.5 uncut folded and gathered sheets. Acquired from À la Page, 12 October 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Ernest Fraenkel should have left it at visually mapping Un Coup de Dés and offered it up as simply an artistic response to the poem. Even if it is a mapping of the condensed single-paged Cosmopolis (1897) version of the poem, think of the various renderings in handset chapbook form printed on letterpress or as lithographs, or etchings on glass, or even sculptures. It could have been the “Prometheus bound” to the “Prometheus unbound” of those who paid homage by appropriating the more expansive double-page spread book version (1914) that Mallarmé intended. Instead, it lies tucked away with 44 pages de l’explication. Professor David W. Seaman (Georgia Southern University), who has engaged with Fraenkel’s analysis, puts it well:

It must be said in [Fraenkel’s] defense that the idea is tempting: to make wordless patterns of the pages of the poem in order to see the ideogrammatic shapes more clearly. In addition, Fraenkel has contributed some worthwhile insights into the use of space and text in the poem, … However, there are three major objections to his project. First, he used, for most of his research, the text of the Cosmopolis edition of the poem, an edition which nearly everyone agrees is far from the author’s intentions, especially insofar as the ideograms are concerned; the preface to that edition gives ample warning of this. … / The second objection is that Fraenkel strays too far from the text, preferring to keep in mind a general idea of the meaning of the poem, and then go off according to the feelings the designs give him. … In fact,  sometimes Fraenkel recommends turning the design on its side or upside-down to see what image may present itself! / The third objection is that these designs are then used more or less like Rohrschach ink blots. (Seaman, pp. 142-43)

In his nine sets of single-sided uncut sheets, Fraenkel offers seven different diagrammatic approaches to the poem as it appeared in Cosmopolis, whose editors could not allow the poem’s lines to cross over the gutter to the next page as Mallarmé imagined the layout. The opening pages of Fraenkel’s seven approaches are laid out below in sunlight and paired with the textual opening page.

Seven different diagrammatic renderings. The one at the lower right shows Fraenkel’s sideways view.

The first rendering (above, upper left) is closest to what Mario Diacono and Marcel Broodthaers would create later in the decade.

Left: a METRICA n’aboolira (1968) by Mario Diacono (1968). Right: Image: Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (1969) by Marcel Broodthaers (1969).

Fraenkel’s nine sets of sheets break down into eight of 8 pages and one of 4 pages. Below is the first set opened out.

The first set of eight pages

Compared with Diacono’s, Broodthaers’ and all the other works of homage to date, Fraenkel’s renderings retain a distinction and suggest other new directions not yet taken physically or digitally. Given the sculptural interpretations by Geraldo de Barros, Jorge Méndez Blake and Kathy Bruce, doesn’t Fraenkel’s first rendering call for a three-dimensional cantilevered homage constructed of slabs of blackened flotsam connected with brushed steel rods?

From the series Jogos de Dados (1986)
Geraldo de Barros
Photo: Julia Parpulov. Permission from Fabiana de Barros.

Biblioteca Mallarmé/Mallarmé Library (2011)
Jorge Méndez Blake
Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Navigating the Abyss (2014)
Kathy Bruce
Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Given the video created by Giulio Maffei transforming the 1914 book version into Broodthaers’ and the digital legerdemain of Karen ann Donnachie and Andy Simionato and Tayyib Yavuz, why not an animated digital transformation of the Cosmopolis version into the 1914 book version?

Le Vite dei Libri 26 – Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (2016)
Giulio Maffei
Permission from the artist.

Mallarmé’s Self-replicating Machine: A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance” (2018)
Karen ann Donnachie and Andy Simionato
Permission from the artists.

Experiment Book: “Un Coup de Dés”
Tayyib Yavuz
Permission from the artist.

And Professor Jed Rasula (University of Georgia), who has also explored Fraenkel’s work, suggests yet another medium:

Fraenkel’s sixty-eight seismographic and astral diagrams (or “stylizations”) practice a truly graphic mode of literary analysis. It was Fraenkel’s conviction that “a plastic text rests hidden in the extra-conscious layers of the poet, paralleling the verbal text of the poem” (9). … In their accentuation of the visual character of Un Coup de dés, Fraenkel’s designs are like watching a movie with the sound turned off, forced to rely on gesture rather than dialogue in order to follow the action.”

Except for the sound part, that could describe Man Ray’s Les Mystères du Château de Dés (1929).

Further Reading

Derek Beaulieu“. Books On Books Collection. 19 June 2020.

Raffaella della Olga“. Books On Books Collection. 8 December 2020.

Klaus Detjen“. Books On Books Collection. 9 September 2020.

Sammy Engramer“. Books On Books Collection. 1 June 2020.

Michalis Pichler“. Books On Books Collection. 19 August 2020.

Cerith Wyn Evans“. Books On Books Collection. 16 April 2020.

Eric Zboya“. Books On Books Collection. 1 June 2020.

Donnachie, Karen Ann, and Andy Siminiato. “Mallarmé’s Self-replicating Machine: A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance”. MATLIT: Materialities of Literature, [S.l.], v. 6, n. 1, p. 37-49, Aug. 2018. Date accessed: 23 March 2019.

Rasula, Jed. Modernism and Poetic Inspiration: The Shadow Mouth (London: Palgrave, 2009). Accessed via Electronic Poetry Center, University of Pennsylvania, n.d. Accessed 14 June 2020.

Seaman, David W.  Concrete poetry in France (Ann Arbor: Umi Research Press, 1981).

Books On Books Collection – Rutherford Witthus

Skip for Joy (2021)

Skip for Joy (2021)
Rutherford Witthus
Dragon-scale scroll bound to bamboo rod. H306 x W477 mm, 11 panels. Edition of 5, of which this is #1. Acquired from the artist, 18 August 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

Rutherford Witthus’ work is strong, quiet, broad and distinctive. It blends Eastern and Western traditions of the book arts. It joins the blackletter fonts of the Cistercian monks with the typography of Hermann Zapf. It joins John Cage’s chance-determined selection in the creation of art with a group of physicists’ fascination with the crumpling of paper. It experiments with abstract art and Japanese fore-edge illustration and binding. It offers a meditation on Gilles Deleuze’s The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque through an intricately folded reprinting. The artist’s eclectic appreciation of  the work of Sappho, Walt Whitman, St. Francis, Gilles Deleuze, Søren Kierkegaard, Ernst Haeckel, Robert Herrick, Miguel de Unamuno and others finds an impressive unity across his body of work. Skip for Joy is the first of his works to be added to the Books On Books Collection.

Compounding its compelling structure, Skip for Joy displays accumulating lines of text one by one until there are ten lines of text on the tenth panel. For each line, Witthus draws its words and expressions from an entry in Roget’s Thesaurus. As each panel grows in width to play its part in the dragon-scale binding, each line grows, too, repeating words and adding more synonyms from its entry in Roget’s. Compounding the scaling of structure and text, Witthus varies his lines in color and position. Starting with the phrase “skip for joy” in orange on the first panel, he then adds the phrase “grit one’s teeth” in violet on the second panel beneath the orange line; then “desire” in red on the third above the orange line; then “do up and do” in turquoise on the fourth; and so on.

Second panel

Third panel

Fourth panel

What does Roget’s Thesaurus have to do with dragon-scale binding? The scroll’s first phrase and title provide a clue: an imperative to play. Anyone interested in playing with the dragon-scale (or whirlwind) binding usually goes to the site of the International Dunhuang Project: The Silk Road Online. Among its descriptions so far of the forty thousand works found in the Buddhist cave library near China’s Dunhuang on the western edge of the Gobi desert in 1900, there is this passage:

Old Chinese accounts of whirlwind binding are very rare. However, there was a trail of clues left by a Tang dynasty (AD 618-907) rhyme dictionary called Kanmiu buque qieyun (Corrected rhymes), by Wang Renxu. … From the earliest accounts from the Song dynasty up to the Qing dynasty (AD 1644-1911), references to whirlwind bound books have always been connected with this text. … / Several examples of what is believed to be whirlwind binding have now been discovered in the Dunhuang collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the British Library. Most of these have not been rebound, so it is possible to get a clear impression how these manuscripts were bound and why they were bound in this manner. IDP

Where Western reference works are organized alphabetically, the Qièyùn rhyming dictionary is organized phonologically. But that phonological organization is complex: starting first by grouping characters according to the five tones, then grouping them into rhyming groups according to a character’s initial consonant, and then into groups according to the rhyme of a character’s final consonant. And determining those rhymes requires instructions — the fanqie method that explains via other characters how a character entry should be pronounced. In short, organization by phonological similarities — of tone, initial rhyming consonant and final rhyming consonant.

So to follow the lead of the dragon-scale bound Qièyùn, Witthus picks an English-language reference work whose entries offer plenty of content based on similarities — such as synonyms. Skip for Joy is playful art. Its “rhymes” are the repetitions and synonyms in a line of text. Its lines of text jump into the panels where they will and in whatever color that suits. In the tenth panel, the seventh line even breaks into a dragon-like undulation.

Tenth panel

As the dragon-scale scroll returns to its archival box, its colors and undulating line unite with the dragon in the box’s silk onlay.

Further Reading

Nif Hodgson“. Books On Books Collection. 27 October 2021.

Zhang Xiaodong“. Books On Books Collection. 1 December 2019.

Chinnery, Colin. “Whirlwind binding (xuanfeng zhuang)“. The International Dunhuang Project. Site last revised: September 2016. Accessed 21 October 2021.

Books On Books Collection – Nif Hodgson

Fluid Horizons (2021)

Fluid Horizons (2021)
Nif Hodgson
Slipcase. Modified dragon-scale concertina. Slipcase: H91 x W158 mm. Book: H90 x W156 mm, 20 panels. Variable edition of 10, of which this is #1. Acquired from 23 Sandy Gallery, 2 September 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with artist’s permission.

The opportunity to add another dragon-scale binding (see Rutherford Witthus and Zhang Xiaodong below) to the collection would have been incentive enough. The binding of Fluid Horizons is not, however, the usual dragon-scale binding as applied to multi-leaved scrolls. It comprises an effective accordion spine with leaves attached to the inside folds. What made Fluid Horizons irresistible is the effect the structure achieves with the unusual technique and material: screenprint and archival pigment ink on Arista II transparency film, Duralar polyester film and Lexan polycarbonate film.

Each book in an edition varies because its twenty images are selected from hundreds of photographs taken by Hodgson with the same horizon-dimension. Although not in sequence, each image influences the selection of the next, which creates a sense of progression. With the gradation of light and transparency across the selection, the sense of progression increases. But it is not a “film-like” progression of images, or snapshots taken one after another in sequence. Like memory and our sense of time, on which this work meditates, the progression is a fragile reconstruction. The transparent materials, expandable accordion spine and fluttering panels reflect the ephemeral, flexible and fragmentary way in which memory is shaped while also being affected by perception in the moment.

There is a further material ephemerality to the work. The panel surface is delicate, subject to dissolving from contact with moisture, smudging from fingers and scratching from grit. As Hodgson puts it, “the sensitive materials lightly wear with viewing and play, just as memory faintly fogs with time and recollection”. Fluid Horizons is a stunning union of form and metaphor.

Further Reading

Rutherford Witthus“. Books On Books Collection. 27 October 2021.

Zhang Xiaodong“. Books On Books Collection. 1 December 2019.

Chinnery, Colin. “Whirlwind binding (xuanfeng zhuang)“. The International Dunhuang Project. Site last revised: September 2016. Accessed 21 October 2021.

Books On Books Collection – Richard Price & Ronald King

little but often (2007)

little but often: a pop-up alphabet love poem (2007)
Richard Price (text), Ronald King (design)
Dos-à-dos accordion book. H165 x W110 mm, 28 double-panel spreads. Edition of 350. Acquired from the artist, 6 October 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Richard Price’s lines recall the inventiveness of Emily Dickinson‘s and compression of Samuel Menashe‘s. For Dickinson, we have the artistry of Jen Bervin; for Menashe, we have that of Julie Johnstone; and for Price, we have his full-on collaboration with Ron King.

Harking back to The Half-Year Letters (1983), little but often pairs King’s lowercase pop-up alphabet with Price’s verses, just as its predecessor paired the uppercase with Roy Fisher‘s alphabet-inspired evocations of the 26 weeks from April through September. Also like its predecessor, little but often plays on the 52 weeks of the year, this time with its front and back covers illustrated with a playing-card suit of hearts, “numbered” a-m and n-z, and with two pages allotted to each week, each letter and each brief poem — as the title says, little but often. While The Half-Year Letters explores the forward movement of the letters alongside the movement of the year, this is love poetry in a book of back and forth. Text and design converse — and not merely by the letter.

The last letter and lines in the book exemplify this to perfection.

Of the few other pairs of couplets in the book, none is as back and forth as the letter z’s. Paired against one another, rhyming ab ab, each line beginning alike with its N-z phrase, the two couplets echo the back-to-backness and balance of the dos-à-dos structure. The phrases self-righteous space and tender absence can be read as allusions to the cut-out space around the letters. Or vice versa. Again, back and forth. “Angry” and “tender” bat each other back and forth, just as the final phrase turns the dos-à-dos sweetly back on itself.

Together, Price and King make the concertina book “smile brighter”.†

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. 31 March 2020. Books On Books Collection.

Ronald King“. 1 March 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Clark, Caroline. 23 January 2013. “Clark on Price“. Eyewear, the blog.

†Dante Alighieri. 1320. Purgatorio (Canto XI, 82). Hollander, Robert, Stephen Campbell, and Simone Marchesi. 1988. Dartmouth Dante project. When Dante meets and praises the illuminator Oderisi da Gubbio in purgatory, Oderisi directs the praise to his pupil Franco Bolognese as the one who really made “the pages smile brighter”.

Price, Richard. 2018. Digital. Essence Press. Collaboration with Julie Johnstone.

___________. 2008. folded. Essence Press. Collaboration with Julie Johnstone.

Wheatley, David. 31 October 2009. “Rays by Richard Price and The Hundred Thousand Places by Thomas A Clark“. The Guardian.

Books On Books Collection – Jon Agee, Alethea Kontis & Bob Kolar, Sean Lamb & Mike Perry, Lou Kuenzler & Julia Woolf

Why does the alphabet begin with the letter A? The long-held speculation that its origin from a sign designating “ox” made it the first in line because of the ox’s meeting the first of our survival needs — food — seems a stretch. Beyond B for beth meaning “house” (shelter) and C for gimel meaning “hunting stick” (in case we run out of oxen), what needs do the other twenty-three letters represent? Especially the letter Z.

Z began its life in seventh place with the Phoenician and Greek alphabets. With Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” extending only to five levels in the twentieth century, Z has had no need to represent — even after the fact. In Phoenician and Hebrew, the letter’s name is zayin, in Greek, zeta, and both mean “seven”. Now there is a credible rationale for a letter’s position in the alphabetical order. But then came Spurius Carvilius Ruga, a Roman headmaster who came up with the letter G, displacing Z, and then Appius Claudius Caecus, the developer of the Appian Way and “censor” with the influence in 312 BC to decide that Latin had no need of Z and its sound anyway and so banished it. After the Romans conquered Greece and began importing Greek words like zephyros, the letter Z returned and settled meaninglessly into last place.

Until the twenty-first century.

Z Goes Home (2006)

Z Goes Home (2006)
Jon Agee
Casebound, paper pasted on boards, sewn. H320 x W223 mm, 30 Pages. Acquired from Amazon, 1 July 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

In this first of four imaginative books bringing Z to life, the letter begins to take on real character, quietly descending a ladder from its day job at the city zoo, making its way home across a Bridge, stopping for a Cake and Doughnut snack, admiring itself in a Mirror, and so on until reaching its home at the end.

AlphaOops: The Day Z Went First (2012)

AlphaOops: The Day Z Went First (2012)
Alethea Kontis & Bob Kolar
Paperback, sewn. H270 x W245 mm, 48 pages. Acquired from Altair Books, 1 July 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the author and artist.

Kontis and Kolar give the letter a zestier, feistier temperament in AlphaOops. Z and Zebra start off well enough, followed by Y and X, but then P and the Penguins show up out of order and Z finds that keeping everyone in reverse alphabetical order is harder than it looks.

Z Goes First (2018)

Z Goes First (2018)
Sean Lamb & Mike Perry
H286 x W205 mm, 26 pages. Acquired from Amazon, 1 July 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the author and artist.

Lamb and Perry introduce a generally milder Z, accompanied by a helpful Y always ready to ask why and why not when the other letters are less than cooperative with Z’s going first.

Not Yet Zebra! (2018)

Not Yet Zebra! (2018)
Lou Kuenzler & Julia Woolf
Hardback, paper pasted on board. H256 x W256 mm, 28 pages. Acquired from The Saint Bookstore, 1 August 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the author and artist.

Kuenzler and Woolf let Z’s inner Zebra loose on poor Annie who just wants to paint her alphabet in the right order.

What has taken Z so long to find its raizon d’être?

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. 31 March 2020. Books On Books Collection.

Davies, Lyn, and Berthold Baskerville. 2006. A is for ox: a short history of the alphabet. London: Folio Society.

Diringer, David. 1968. The alphabet: A key to the history of mankind. Third edition, volume 1. London: Hutchinson.

Fischer, Steven Roger. 2008. A history of writing. London: Reaktion Books.

Firmage, Richard A. 2001. The alphabet abecedarium: some notes on letters. London: Bloomsbury.

Flanders, Judith. 2020. A Place For Everything: the curious history of alphabetical order. New York: Basic Books.

Grout, James. n.d. “Appius Claudius Caecus and the Letter Z”. Encyclopaedia Romana. Last updated 17 May 2021. Accessed 17 August 2021.

Rosen, Michael. 2013. Alphabetical: how every letter tells a story. London: John Murray.

Books On Books Collection – Mark Cockram

The Trial of the Letter ϒ alias Y (1753)

The Trial of the Letter ϒ alias Y:
An Account of the Trial of the Letter ϒ [upsilo
n] alias Y (1753)
Thomas Edwards
Bound and boxed (2021) by Mark Cockram
Box: H220 x W138; Book: H202 x W120 mm, 16 pages.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Like the Hebrew fable in which the letters of the alphabet argue their cases for the position of first letter, this short eighteenth century fantasy has the English Commonwealth of Letters rounding on the letter y as a Greek interloper, usurping their brother i’s rightful position at the end and even middle and beginning of words. Why the letters choose Apollo to judge the case is an irony lost on all the characters. But this is no surprise. After Apollo rules in y’s favor, their witless lack of self-awareness explodes into the internecine warfare of a roomful of Brexiteers. The letters d and th come to blows over murder and murther; the letters ugh demand reinstatement at the end of tho and thro; the letters s and c row over defense/defence and pretense/pretence; and so on.

Thomas Edwards (1699-1757) was an English critic and poet. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, his friend the printer and novelist Samuel Richardson encouraged him to write a book on spelling, which resulted in An Account of the Trial of the Letter ϒ [Upsilon], alias Y. The silliness first appeared in 1753 in two forms: one in the fifth edition of Edwards’ Canons of Criticism printed for the bookseller C. Bathurst (over-against St. Dunstan’s Church in Fleetstreet) and the other as a pamphlet for the bookseller W. Owen (at Homer’s Head, in Fleet-Street, near Temple-Bar).

The quarrelsomeness among the letters reflects the same among the not-so-gentlemanly scholars of the period. Edwards’ Canons of Criticism sets out principles for editing in the guise of a stiff critique of William Warburton’s edition of Shakespeare’s plays. Priest and later bishop of Gloucester, Warburton replied ad hominem, and the feud was on. Even the pompous bully Samuel Johnson joined in, disparaging both (presumably with an eye on elevating his own judgement if not his future edition of Shakespeare):

Soon after Edwards’s ‘Canons of Criticism’ <1748> came out, Johnson was dining at Tonson the Bookseller’s, with Hayman the Painter and some more company. Hayman related to Sir Joshua Reynolds, that the conversation having turned upon Edwards’s book, the gentleman praised it much, and Johnson allowed its merit. But when they went farther, and appeared to put that authour upon a level with Warburton, ‘Nay, (said Johnson,) he has given him some smart hits to be sure; but there is no proportion between the two men; they must not be named together. A fly, Sir, may sting a stately horse and make him wince; but one is but an insect, and the other is a horse still.'” (Dussinger, “Johnson’s unacknowledged debt”)

The version in the Books On Books Collection is the pamphlet: ”First and only edition, vii, [1], 23, [1]pp., with half-title, disbound”, as it is described in the British Library’s English Short Title Catalogue. Human petulance aside, the letters’ speechifying and Edwards’ observations about the alphabet’s history place The Trial squarely in the collection between letterpress works and the more trade-oriented alphabet books. As can be seen in the “before” pictures, though, the pamphlet required some attention before joining. That attention, however, would have to suit the nature of the collection.


From a coincidental meeting at a Maggs Brothers exhibition in London, Mark Cockram sprang to mind, and his words here confirmed him as the right choice:

This brings us to the world of book arts. As I progress with my work and life I have begun to engage with this genre in the book making world. I admit that in the past I was a bit of a book snob. Though I produced a number of book works I was unable to cut free of the shackles of the finely bound book, working towards the mastering the complexity of the book… dare I say I was blinkered? In retrospect it is only over the last 15 or so years that I have been able to bring together the various disciplines of the book with the art of the book (though I am sure many who will argue I have neither) It has taken time for me to be able to engage and combine. However I feel that working in this way I am able to be honest with my work, to reflect the now as opposed to rebinding the past. It is a personal journey.
Please note there are other ways of doing things and opinions….. spelling and grammar. Please further note, the opinion of the author may change at any moment. This is due to having an open mind… of sorts.
(Mark Cockram, Studio 5 Book Arts, 30 December 2019. Accessed 4 January 2020.)


The paper-labelled cloth box has an unusual heft, implying weighty content but opening to reveal the humorously modest-sized pamphlet.

The artist’s binding solution involves two paper-covered boards. These additional “before and after” pictures show further how the artist’s “lay flat” binding solution preserves as full a view as possible of the original’s gutter.



Note also how, inside and out, the front and back boards comment on the contents. The pamphlet’s title is echoed by the enlarged letters Y and ϒ. The faint palimpsest-like printing on the front and back covers (see above and below) and the overprinted inside covers echo the sourcing, disbound from an original binding.

And there is no missing Cockram’s fine press touch in the handling of the end papers and the spine’s red inner backing echoing the interior of the storage box.

Further Reading

Special thanks to William Laywood of Forest Books ABA-ILAB for explaining the notation from the English Short Title Catalogue pointing me down the road to discovering the Canons of Criticism and Professor Dussinger’s insights.

Dussinger, John A. 23 September 2004. “Thomas Edwards“, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Accessed 9 October 2021.

Dussinger, John A. 1 January 2016. “Johnson’s unacknowledged debt to Thomas Edwards in the 1765 edition of Shakespeare.” Philological Quarterly. In The Free Library, University of Iowa.  Accessed 9 October 2021. Dussinger is quoting James Boswell’s Life of Johnson, ed. G. B. Hill, rev. L. F. Powell, 6 vols. (Oxford U. Press, 1934-1964), l:263n3.

Books On Books Collection – Michele Durkson Clise

Animal Alphabet: Folding Screen (1992)

Animal Alphabet: Folding Screen (1992)
Michele Durkson Clise
Accordion book. H160 x W160 mm, 13 panels. Chronicle Books © 1992, Marquand Books, Inc. & Michele Durkson Clise. Acquired from Greensleeves Books, 7 September 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

Perhaps better known for her earlier series of detective stories about a toy bear named Ophelia, Michele Durkson Clise’s accordion book stands out among alphabet books for its text, graphic art and twist on the genre’s usual categories.

Animals are the most frequent topic of alphabet books, and the most usual text structure is a single letter to a page, accompanied or followed by an animal (or animals) whose name begins with the letter. Another common text structure is the hidden letter, where the letter has to be guessed from the image or is hidden in the image.

In Clise’s Animal Alphabet, instead of the single letter, we have a single animal corresponding not to a letter but to the animal’s name at the end of a rhyming couplet. Where are the letters? There is no D for dog on the first page normally belonging to A, but the page normally belonging to B does show a bear. Was something missed on the first page; might the dog might be a Lhasa Apso? Not with those ears and that tail. And back to the bear; where is the letter B?

The disconnect between alphabetical order and the animals depicted is distracting and enjoyable. The pauses and stumbles it causes lead to looking closely at the images, perhaps postponing discovery of the letters. From where did these striking images come with their black and white engravings of the animals against varied backgrounds of light or dark green, light or dark brown and light gray on glossy card stock? The fine lines in the animal images suggest etching. Several of the backgrounds appear to be wood engravings. In a trade book, the printing is surely offset, from which the technique of drawing is hard to tell. Perhaps the answer resides in the artist archive at the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library in the Seattle Art Museum. Or in someone’s encyclopedic eye for antique prints.

Despite the “distractions” of the accordion fold, the pull of the anapest (tum-ti-tum) rhythm and the animals aligned with rhyme not the letters, the somewhat hidden letters eventually emerge. For the reader not attuned to acrostics, there they are at the start of each couplet’s lines: Alligator, Bobolink, Crocodile, Dromedary … Yellowhammer, Zebra.

Which is it — “necessity, the mother of invention” or ”invention, the mother of necessity”? Whichever, with Clise’s Animal Alphabet, we have the necessary and right letters, words, lines, rhyme, rhythm, textual, graphic and material structure.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection. 31 March 2020.

Blamires, David. 1990. Adult alphabets: examples of English press alphabet books from the last hundred years with an alphabetical description, copious illustrations and a checklist of press alphabet books. Oxford: Hanborough Parrot.

Cooper, Cathie Hilterbran. 1996. ABC books and activities: from preschool to high school. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press.

Mackey, Bonnie, and Hedy Watson. 2016. Alphabet Books: The K-12 Educators’ Power Tool. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Books On Books Collection – David Clifford

Letterpress Printing ABC (2004)

Letterpress Printing ABC (2004)
David Clifford
Miniature. H78 x W78 mm, 62 pages. Edition of 50 numbered copies, of which this is #48. Acquired from Bromer Booksellers, 1 August 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the publisher.

Among the several outstanding production features of Clifford’s miniature is its variation on Claire Van Vliet’s binding structure in The Gospel of Mary (2006). It first becomes apparent in the double-page spread below. As with most of the structures demonstrated in Woven and Interlocking Book Structures (2002), the binding structure consists of woven strips of paper to hold the folios together and attach the cover. The top-down view of Letterpress ABC shows the gathered folios and, if enlarged in a browser, also shows the paper tape running from the cover and across the gathers.

Staking his claim over Andrew Morrison as first past the post, Clifford starts his A-Z with the last symbol of the alphabet (“Ampersand”) and closes with the same Z term (“zinco”). There are other overlaps in terms, but the two efforts differ so rewardingly — Clifford’s woven binding, typeset definitions, miniature trim size and handmade paper versus Morrison’s children’s board book hinged binding, demonstrated definitions, larger trim and Somerset paper — that one cannot be chosen over the other.

An additional pleasure from Clifford’s book is its complement to two other Heavenly Monkey publications in the Books On Books Collection: Francesca Lohmann’s An Alphabetical Accumulation (2017) and Rollin Milroy’s Francesco Griffo da Bologna: Fragments and Glimpses (2020). If it were not for Rollin Milroy, the attentive reader and I would forever struggle with the puzzle of how Clifford’s 2004 binding came to be influenced by Van Vliet’s 2006 binding. Milroy writes:

Claire came to Vancouver in ’04 and gave a day-long class, which David (& his daughter Yasmine) attended. The project was already in development (probably even printed), and D showed Claire a dummy and got some pointers. I didn’t realize ABC preceded her own Gospel. 

And here is the entry for Letterpress extracted from proofs for Heavenly Monkey’s checklist to be published in 2022:

Courtesy of Rollin Milroy. 2021 © Heavenly Monkey.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection. 31 March 2020.

Andrew Morrison“. 15 September 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Francesca Lohmann“. 25 June 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Heavenly Monkey“. 21 November 2020. Books On Books Collection.

Allen, Susan Macall, Fletcher Manley, Kathleen Burch, and Claire Van Vliet. 2015. The Janus Press at sixty: San Francisco Center for the Book : February 14 through May 24, 2015. See p.108 for Van Vliet’s binding of The Gospel of Mary.

Books On Books Collection – Tara McLeod

ABC (2015)

You think the beginner’s ABC, the primary colors and the humble linocut are so simple? That’s the challenge posed by this accordion wrapper’s overlap of a red A with a yellow B and its overlap with a blue C.

ABC (2015)
Tara McLeod
Miniature accordion book. Wrapper: H90 x W90 mm; Acccordion closed: H85 x W85 mm; 26 hand cut multi-color lino block letters printed on 200gsm Lana Desin Blanc. Acquired from National Library of New Zealand, 1 August 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with the artist’s permission.

With each letter’s stylistic shift in shape …

with each panel’s chromatic shift around the shifting shapes …

Tara McLeod’s artistry shows how these 26 signs, 3 colors, blade, block and surface are both anything but simple and everything that is simple.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection. 31 March 2020.

The Last Word on the Ampersand“. 27 June 2020. Books On Books Collection.

Andrew Morrison“. September 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Tara McLeod: Pressing Boundaries Exhibition”. Emma Jean Framing Gallery. 19 September 2019. Accessed 21 August 2021.

McLeod, Tara. 2004. The ampersand : the character known as an ampersand is an abbreviated form of and. Auckland: Pear Tree Press.

Books On Books Collection – Andrew Morrison

Chroma Numerica (2019)

Chroma Numerica (2019)
Andrew Morrison
Perfect bound cased in quarter-hinged paper-on-board binding. H143 x W145 mm, 60 pages, printed on one side. Edition of 30, of which this is #17. Acquired from the artist, 2 September 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with artist’s permission.

In the children’s book tradition, counting books and alphabet books often come paired. Chroma Numerica‘s partner appears with the same binding earlier in Andrew Morrison’s work below, and in both cases, the printing process is the real subject — not the learning of numbers or letters. From his wood type, Morrison rolls out oversized numbers 1-30 printed in a chromatic scale on Somerset Book 200gsm paper.