Books On Books Collection – Wilber Schilling

Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street (1995)

Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener: A Tale of Wall Street, 1853. Indulgence Press, 1995.
Type composed in 12 point Bulmer on the Monotype System and printed by Wilber Schilling on Arches MBM mould made paper at Janus Press. Calligraphy by Suzanne Moore. Ochre-coloured endpapers handmade by MacGregor & Vinzani.
Wilber Schilling created the frontispiece photo as a Kallitype print from a negative generated in Adobe Photoshop. The binding, also by Schilling, is cloth over sewn boards and, over the cloth, an embossed print of details from the frontispiece photo.
Edition of 100 of which this is #71. H320 x W158 x D14 mm. Acquired from Indulgence Press, 17 December 2015.

Further Reading

Adamson, Chris T. “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street, by Herman Melville, Indulgence Press (1995)”, Books and Vines, 11 August 2014. Accessed 14 January 2020.

Bookmarking Book Art – Wilber Schilling, 23 November 2015.

Books On Books Collection – Philip Zimmermann

Landscapes of the Late Anthropocene (2017)

Landscapes of the Late Anthropocene (2017)
Philip Zimmermann
Offset. Two-staple binding. 44 pages. H134 x W107 mm
Acquired from Journal of Artists’ Books #41, 25 July 2017. Photos: Books On Books.

It opens with sunrise, closes with sunset. Each landscape shows water meeting land. Airport control towers appears in each landscape. Some stand on promontories, some are nearly submerged. Tinted pages of NOAA charts of the Bahamas, Florida Keys and Gulf of Mexico lay between the pages of landscapes. The sentences placed across the charts in silvery white come from the random-seeming, poetic-sounding “Harvard Sentences“, used by audio engineers and speech scientists in Harvard’s Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory from the mid-20th century to the present to test the effects of noise on comprehension.

There are 72 ten-sentence banks in the Harvard Sentences. The artist’s choice of three sentences for each chart page is like a painter’s choice of colors and strokes.

“Men think and plan and sometimes act” is the first chosen. “A pink shell was found on the sandy beach” is the last. In between come “reds” like “Let it burn, it gives us warmth and comfort”, “greens” like “Lush ferns grow on the lofty rocks” or “blacks” like “That move means the game is over”. The sentences seem to change their color or meaning as the eye moves among the landscapes. What color has “Canned pears lack full flavor”?

The only other man-made structure in the book appears halfway through: the roof of a log cabin with the water almost to the eaves.

A small work of book art with an overwhelming force.

Under his Spaceheater Editions imprint, Zimmermann also produced a limited hardback edition, which includes an eight-page sewn pamphlet describing the work.

Landscapes of the Late Anthropocene (2017)
Philip Zimmermann
Offset lithography, 4/c and duotone plus metallic silver. Paper: Mohawk Superfine. 142 x115 x 12 mm. Acquired from the artist, 23 February 2020. Photos: Books On Books.

High Tension (1993)

High Tension (1993)
Philip Zimmermann
5.5 x 7.9″; 96 pages. Pentagon with 4″ spine and each of the other sides 4.25″. Unmatched irregularly cut pages. Offset printed. Produced and printed for for Montage ’93, International Festival of the Image, Rochester, NY, 1993.

High Tension is a porcupine of a book. As Johanna Drucker put it, “It’s about anxiety, and it pricks your fingers as you turn the pages.”

The work has been well-described in The Cutting Edge of Reading:

[High Tension] overwhelms us with a surprisingly varied profusion of images. Each of the many double pages introduces at least one radically new picture having more often than not merely a marginal relationship with those that had preceded. We must process these words somewhat gingerly in terms of our own past experiences when immediate recognition fails. It would therefore appear that unpredictability characterizes the selection and succession of the graphics. Each new image has its own motif and its own color scheme. Dealing in its own way with representation, it imposes its own focus and its own scale to which the reader must adapt. Thus, each turning of a page practically guarantees a further disruption and reduces any hope that we may have entertained of discovering either a formal or a thematic continuity. Instead, it calls forth unsuspected resources within us. Surprise follows surprise without affording a moment of relaxation. Each page relentlessly renews the shock of novelty, but in so titillating a manner that we must dwell on each image without any desire to skip. The artist has of course abandoned or deliberately misapplied expected formats. The pages may overlap, but they never coincide with one another. Deviation happens on two levels: each page slants diagonally and, when turned, symmetrically prolongs across the gutter the preceding one. Thus, two successive pages point in opposite directions while jointly providing a partially coherent and integrated image — partially, because fragments of images from other double pages show a propensity to migrate or, if we may use a medical term in describing a pictorial and psychological venture, metastasize. As we move along, we can hardly avoid twisting and turning the book around for successive viewings of the double paged pictures. Obviously, we can no longer rely on the measured progress so characteristic of reading. Moreover, the angularity of the pages greatly increases the nervous energy of their graphic and verbal content. …

Renée Riese Hubert and Judd D. Hubert, The Cutting Edge of Reading: Artists’ Books (New York: Granary Books, 1999), pp. 168-73.

There are also third and fourth deviations to add to what the Huberts observed above. Note how the orientation of the text and images varies across the double-page spreads. Text runs at different diagonals and sometimes apparently horizontally as expected (for example, in all of the spreads below). Sometimes images are vertically aligned within the double-page spread but at an angle (for example, the graph below), and sometimes horizontally (for example, the Masaccio below that).

High Tension (1993)
Philip Zimmermann
Photos: Books On Books.

Zimmermann himself writes at length and self-critically about the work on his website:

This was the first book that I had ever done that was completely imaged and output on a computer. I used my Macintosh to lay out the pages and then output the film at Purchase College on the AGFA image setter we had there. I did all the film assembly and made the offset plates at my studio at home in Barrytown NY and then took the finished plates up to Rochester in April of 1993 for printing.  Pressman Paul Muhle did the presswork this time, on the same Heidelberg KORD press. …

I was at VSW for two weeks during the printing of High Tension, living in the artists’ apartment there at 31 Prince Street. The book was then packed up and sent out to Publisher’s Bookbindery in Long Island City for the die-cutting and foil stamping and finally the smythe-sewing. As it turned out, the book was sub-contracted to a bindery in western Massachusetts. Every aspect of the job was botched and I lost about a third of the edition of a thousand to mis-registered die cutting, torn pages, badly sewn books and many other problems. High Tension was a very difficult binding job, it is true. There are no right angles to line the signatures up by. However I think that when the bindery realized how difficult a job it was they decided to just slap it out with no care whatsoever rather than lose a lot of money on it. Because of the due date being the opening of Montage ‘93 in July of 1993 I had no choice but swallw [sic] the bad binding. If I had time, I would have forced the bindery to reprint the whole book and do the job over again. I had a very precise die-cut master sent with the job that somehow got lost and I later found out that was why the die-cutting was so poor.

The budget for the book was substantial both because of the rather large amount of production money from Montage ‘93 but also because of a Faculty Development award from Purchase. I also contributed some of my own money. Still the money was not enough to do the whole book by full color CMYK process printing. So I decided to try to output everything to three-color CMY separations, which required some special fiddling with Photoshop. That meant no black ink at all is used in the whole book, which few people realize. The entire book was done as three color “process”. This saved one set of plates and one press run for each side of every printing form, but it was much harder to print for the pressman because ink levels really had to be turned way up on the coated paper to get anything close to a black made up of just cyan, magenta and yellow. In retrospect I wish I had just found the money and printed it as normal CMYK sets because the blacks are not as good as normal and are uneven. 

One additional innovative production feature of the cover was that I made a duotone foil stamp, which as far as I know is the first time that had been done other than the cover I had done for an earlier book Interference published by Nexus Press.

Philip Zimmermann, “High Tension”, Spaceheater Editions. Accessed 27 February 2020.

As with Landscapes of the Late Anthropocene, reading Zimmermann about the process and technique is an education in how to look at book art.

Further Reading

An Online Annotation of The Cutting Edge of Reading: Artists’ Books“, Books On Books, 7 September 2017.

Interview with Colin Rafferty, Book Arts Podcasts, University of Alabama, 12 January 2006. Accessed 6 February 2014.

Van Wyk, Gary. Our Anthropocene: Eco Crises (New York: Center for Book Arts, 2018), p.18. Descriptive catalogue of an exhibition (19 January – 31 March 2018).

White, Tony. “From Democratic Multiple to Artist Publishing: The (R)evolutionary Artist’s Book“, Journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Spring 2012), pp. 45-56. Accessed 17 January 2020.

Zimmermann, Philip. Artist’s statement on the work. Spaceheater Editions. See also a video of the hard bound edition.

Books On Books Collection – Suzanne Moore

A Blind Alphabet (1986)

A Blind Alphabet (1986)
Suzanne Moore
34 pages, accordion-fold. Edition of 200 of which this is #91.
Calligraphic letters designed and drawn by Suzanne Moore, printed by Harold McGrath on T.H. Saunders cold-pressed watercolour paper, bound by Claudia Cohen in marbled paper by Faith Harrison. 
Closed H128 x W93 D28 (spine) D22 (fore-edge) mm; open 3200 mm.
Acquired from Veatchs, 1 May 2018.

Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street (1995)

Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener: A Tale of Wall Street, 1853. Indulgence Press, 1995.
Calligraphy by Suzanne Moore.
Type composed in 12 point Bulmer on the Monotype System and printed by Wilber Schilling on Arches MBM mould made paper at Janus Press. Ochre-coloured endpapers handmade by MacGregor & Vinzani.
Wilber Schilling created the frontispiece photo as a Kallitype print from a negative generated in Adobe Photoshop. The binding, also by Schilling, is cloth over sewn boards and, over the cloth, an embossed print of details from the frontispiece photo.
Edition of 100 of which this is #71. H320 x W158 x D14 mm. Acquired from Indulgence Press, 17 December 2015.

Wilber Schilling (Indulgence Press) designed and printed this edition of Herman Melville’s well-known story. Part of Schilling’s genius was to invite Suzanne Moore to provide the calligraphy for Bartleby’s hallmark (his only) words “I prefer not to”. Another part was to print Moore’s calligraphy in ever-increasing size in ghostly ochre and in descending position across the pages of the book.

Further Reading

Bookmarking Book Art – ABCs, 29 November 2015.

Bookmarking Book Art – Wilber Schilling, 23 November 2015.

Gwinn, Mary Ann. “Vashon artist among those who worked on handmade St. John’s Bible”. Seattle Times, 24 December 2014. Accessed 13 January 2020.

Hayden, Danielle. “Meet the Vashon Island Artist Keeping Lettering Alive”. Seattle Magazine, July 2018. Accessed 13 January 2020.

Yin, Joyce. “From the Collection: Thomas Ingmire, Susan Skarsgard, Suzanne Moore“. Letterforms Archive, 29 March 2018. Accessed 13 January 2020.

Books On Books Collection – Islam Aly

28 Letters (2013)

28 Letters (2013)
Islam Aly
Laser-cut handmade flax paper. Three hole pamphlet binding in an accordion binding. Linen thread, handmade paper covers. 
Twenty-eight folios; edition of 40 of which this is #4.
Closed H147 x W154 x D15 (fore-edge) D37 (spine) mm; open 845 mm.
Acquired from the artist, 5 February 2019.

Each of the 28 letters of the Arabic alphabet is laser-cut on a folio. The binding‘s flexibility allows for exploration and interaction with the letters as well as multiple forms of display.

Further Reading

Interview by Matt Kalasky for TGMR, the Galleries at Moore Radio, Moore College of Art and Design. Suzanne Seesman, Islam Aly, Abdul Karim Awad, and Yaroub Al-Obaidi discuss Friends, Peace, and Sanctuary project, Philadelphia, PA. Podcast 8 May 2019. Accessed 12 January 2020.

Interview for Sheffield Artist’s BookCentre, October 2, 2019. Accessed 12 January 2020.

Interview by Laurence Kesterson, for Friends, Peace, and Sanctuary project, Swarthmore College Library and the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility 2017. Accessed 12 January 2020.

Interview by Spring 2017 Scripps College Art 137 seminar class. This interview was featured in Of Color: Race & Identity in Artists’ Books exhibit catalogue. Accessed 12 January 2020.

Golden, Alisa. “Book for a Book: A Trade with Artist Islam Aly“, Making Handmade Books, 20 April 2015. Accessed 12 January 2020.

Bookmarking Book Art – ABCs, 29 November 2015.

Books On Books Collection – Leilei Guo

The Way (2008)

The Way (2008)
Leilei Guo
Concertina of 88 pages. Woodcut and silkscreen on rice paper. Bound in cloth, front board in white, back board in black.
13.625 x 12.75
Acquired from the artist, 2 February 2019.

Almost a decade after a first viewing at the Frankfurt Book Fair, The Way became part of the Books On Books Collection. One thing such an experience teaches is carpe diem. It has taken all those years to have the chance to learn that the book opens from left to right, that the “red figure” in the woodcut is the standard grid on which Chinese letters are brushed, that the grid and the character remain constant under the wash that darkens as the pages turn, and that the embossed character on the front and back covers is reversed on the back cover.

The other lesson, perhaps the reverse, is patience and persistence.

But, with every viewing or reading — and its calming pleasure — The Way has its own lesson to teach.

Further Reading

Bookmarking Book Art – Leilei Guo, 4 September 2016.

Books On Books Collection – Bodil Rosenberg

Vandstand (2019)

Vandstand (2019)
Bodil Rosenberg
Twelve sheets of newsprint overpainted on both sides multiple times with acrylic. Four-hole stab binding with waxed black cord. H200 x W425 mm. Acquired from the artist, 6 July 2019.

On several fronts, Vandstand contributes richly to this collection: its inspiration from climate change, its visual narrative, its technique leading to its unusual tactile quality and its binding and format.

Denmark claims the lowest point below sea level in the European Union: Lammefjord, which is nearly 7 meters below sea level. Not surprisingly, Rosenberg notes that the key words associated with her inspiration for Vandstand were “global warming”, “floods”, “harbour” as well as “Venice”, “Copenhagen” and “Bristol”, places she has visited and in which she has exhibited. So with those thoughts in mind, she applied layer after layer of acrylic paint to both sides of sheets of newsprint torn carefully into rectangles of 200 x 425 millimetres.

“What I wanted to accomplish I was not sure, but I knew I would recognize it when I achieved it, so I painted the sea darker, lighter, warmer or colder — I moved the horizon line a bit up or down until I was satisfied” (Correspondence with Books On Books, 5 December 2019).

The word “vandstand” means “water level”.

As the water level rises, falls, and rises, the turning pages are cold to the touch and rough at the edges and on their surfaces.

They flex like thick sheets of rubber, leather or whale skin. They drape over the hand turning them. If left open, the book’s pages take on the curved shape in which they rest, and when closed, they hold the shape, relaxing slowly back to flatness.

The effect is that of swells in a harbour.

At first glance, the book’s only text looks stencilled, but on closer inspection, it looks handwritten. It appears only on the two strips of painted binding board, which on front and back give the impression of barrier walls against the sea. Poring over Vandstand again and again, I’m reminded of a poem from another northern latitude:

“Neither Out Far Nor In Deep”

The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.

As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull

The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be,
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea.

They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
Btu when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep? 

— Robert Frost

Bodil Rosenberg is a member of Artists’ Books Group CNG, founded in 2006.

Further Reading

Entry at artistsbooks.dk. Accessed 1 December 2019.

Books On Books Collection – Hanna Piotrowska (Dyrcz)

Homonim (2015)

Homonim (2015)
Hanna Piotrowska Dyrcz
Charcoal sketches and frottage
Digital print on Woodstock Betulla (uncoated, rough paper) from Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Indesign
16 unnumbered pages including the cover, bound and sewn by hand, H250 x W200 mm

This work’s title appears only as the headword in a definition: “Homonym: words having the same pronunciation but different meanings” (translated here from the Polish). Also the only text in the booklet, it appears flush left vertically on page six as a clue to the less clever Polish-fluent reader/viewer who has not yet attached a word to the image of the tree trunk (bal) and then the same homonymic word to the image of the plank. Having had its visual/verbal fun with those two meanings, the booklet gives the image of a single tree trunk’s cross-section on page seven to set the stage for bal’s third meaning (”ball” as in a dance or masquerade). Over the following pages, the multiple cross-sections gradually turn into a top-down view of whirling dancers who seem to emerge from the bole of the wood.

The artist has filmed the handling of the booklet, but of course, that does not capture the weight and finish of the paper nor the turning back and forward of the pages in the dance on which the words and images lead the reader/viewer. Turning word play into image play in the book form’s sequential and back-and-forth “affordances” makes Homonim a solid conceptual fit in the Books On Books Collection, and the skilful handling of charcoal and its digital transformation provide pleasure with every viewing.

Twórca/The Maker (2016)

Twórca/The Maker (2016)
Text: Jorge Luis Borges
Design, photography, printing and binding: Hanna Piotrowska Dyrcz
Pages: gray recycled paper, digital print. Cover: cardboard, soil and black paint. The book was sewn and bound by hand.
H158 x W113 mm. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 4 February 2020.

El Hacedor (The Maker) is a collection of poems, short stories, essays and literary sketches by Jorge Luis Borges.  The way the artist integrates her handling of the book form’s structural challenges with her understanding of Borges’ themes makes this an outstanding artist’s book. Her comments on creating this work are helpful in appreciating it more fully, but they also provide an opportunity to wonder at the creative process. Where does it begin? What leads to what?

Here are her comments in their original order:

One of the challenges was dealing with a large number of footnotes, maintaining the small format at the same time. So I came up with an idea of placing the footnotes not below the main text, but on separate narrow pages, with images on the back side.

The images: The Maker raises questions of evanescence, death, identity, natural changes and the meaning of symbol. I decided to refer to these subjects by finding symbols spontaneously formed by nature and photographing such “hasards objectifs”. All the images in the book are placed either on one or two full pages, which makes the spine set the axis of symmetry. Many of them are hidden between the footnotes’ pages, so that the reader discovers more and more concealed, sometimes disturbing images. Also, the narrow pages with footnotes and images are not included in the page numbering, so that they don’t constitute the book’s usual structure, but rather something that grew/emerged out of the it.

The cover: I wanted the cover more to hide than to inform what’s inside. For this reason, there is no title nor author’s name – just black texture, made from soil painted black. Its gravelly structure is scratchy – I tried to reflect the awkward and surreal character of Borges’ texts, by making the cover visually attractive and intriguing, but at the same time unpleasant to touch. 

Borges’ questions may have primed the artist’s photographic eye, but the inventiveness of hiding the images on the reverse of the narrowed footnote pages, of using the cover to echo the images visually and tactilely and of playing with full-page images and narrow-page images and footnotes to hide and reveal the main text comes from thinking about (and feeling) the form of the book, the relationship of image to text, and how the reader’s eyes and hands and mind work and react.

Books On Books Collection – Zhang Xiaodong

Diamond Sutra, Dragon scale binding (2017)
Zhang Xiaodong
In 32 zhuan (seal) fonts, 152 x 382×160mm
Edition: 197/300
Acquired from Sin Sin Fine Arts (Hong Kong), 31 October 2019

Ranged horizontally, these are the characters in the column carved into the wooden box holding the scroll and its silk encasing.

金剛般若波羅蜜經

Jin gang bo re bo luo mi jing = Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, or “The Perfection of Wisdom Text that Cuts Like a Thunderbolt” or “The Diamond of Perfect Wisdom Sutra”, often shortened to “Diamond Sutra”.

The silk encasing

Views of the scroll, rolled and bound

Unrolling the scroll

Views of scroll standing

Views of scroll standing

The paper used for the book is Shengxuan, a kind of raw rice paper from An Hui province. The inks used to print the Diamond Sutra are Japanese mineral inks; the printing technique, Ultra Giclee on a Japanese printing machine. The page turning wand is made of camphorwood . 

Further Reading and Viewing

Brokaw, Cynthia and Kornicki, Peter. The History of the Book in East Asia (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013)

Burkus-Chasson, Anne. “Visual Hermeneutics and the Act of Turning the Leaf” in Printing and Book Culture in Late Imperial China, ed. Cynthia Brokaw (Berkeley: University of California, 2005).

Chinnery, Colin. “Whirlwind binding (xuanfeng zhuang)”, International Dunhuang Project, British Library. Posted 07 February 2007. Accessed 12 December 2019.

Chung Tai Translation Committee. The Diamond of Perfect Wisdom Sutra (January 2009). Accessed 28 November 2019. The full text in English alongside the Chinese characters.

Ko, Stella. “Resurrecting the art of China’s dragon scale bookbinding”, CNN Definitive Design, 3 April 2018. Accessed 15 November 2019.

Song, Minah. “The history and characteristics of traditional Korean books and bookbinding”, Journal of the Institute of Conservation, 32(1), March 2009, pp. 53-78. . Accessed 12 December 2019. DOI: 10.1080/19455220802630743

Tsui, Enid. “Art Basel in Hong Kong: city’s small galleries shine through with memorable displays“, South China Morning Post, 2 April 2018. Accessed 15 November 2019.

Witthus, Rutherford. Skip for Joy (2005). A single-sided version of the binding.

Xing Wen. “Bringing the past into the future“, China Daily, 10 January 2019. Accessed 15 November 2019.

Xing Wen. “Craft binds past and present”, China Daily, 21 February 2019. Accessed via Culture/China Watch/The Telegraph, 15 November 2019.

Yang, Hu ( 肖阳) and Xiao, Yang. Chinese publishing : homeland of printing (Beijing : China Intercontinental Press, 2010).

Bookmarking Book Art – “Very Like a Whale”, the Bodleian Bibliographical Press’s Exhibition

For the 200th anniversary of Herman Melville’s birth (1819), the Bodleian’s Bibliographical Press invited letterpress printers and artists to claim one of the eighty prefatory “Extracts” from Moby-Dick (1851) and create an artwork in response.

The Blackwell Hall exhibition case accommodates thirty of the eighty contributors‘ artworks, plus the rare three-volume version of the novel published by Richard Bentley in London as The Whale before Harper & Brothers issued it in November 1851 in New York as Moby-Dick; or, The Whale. Here are just four of the outstanding prints among the several artforms on display.

Extract 25:  ‘The mighty whales which swim in a sea of water, and have a sea of oil swimming in them.’ ─ Fuller’s Profane and Holy State
Brittany Starr and Mallory Haselberger, BookLab at University of Maryland
Mixed media (collage and letterpress). Printed on a Line-O-Scribe, Model 1411 on Strathmore printmaking paper using rubber and oil-based ink; includes Jenson, News Gothic and Bookman typefaces with Hamilton wood type.
Image courtesy of the Bibliographical Press and artists.

Notice how Starr and Haselberger integrate the verbal and visual to emphasise the seas of water/oil paradox that Melville plucked from his source. Like Melville’s hand, the artists’ manicule in the lower left points to the extract that reads/rises from the bottom to the top. Inside the shapes of whales around the extract appears the source of the extract (the verbal in the visual) against a seawater blue (another layer of the verbal in the visual). The letters “o” and “f” evoke bubbles and currents (the verbal for the visual). The words “oil” and “water” in contrasting inks but composed in the same typeface loom large at the heart of the artists’ embodiment of this paradoxical extract. (It is an insider’s paradox that the work surfaces from the BookLab, devoted to exploring the oil-and-water mix of the material and the digital.)

Extract 35:  ‘*  *  *  *  *  and the breath of the whale is frequently attended with such an insupportable smell, as to bring on a disorder of the brain.’ ─ Ulloa’s South America
Elizabeth Fraser, Frauhaus Press, Cambridge
Handset letterpress. Blind deboss using wood and metal type. Whale created from face and back of woodtype with ornaments for eye and spout. Text 12pt & 6pt Baskerville italic. Whale breath 12pt glint (Monotype B1309 & B1310). Printed on Somerset Velvet 300gsm soft white paper with a tabletop flatbed proofing press.

What attends the whale’s breath in Fraser’s print? The whale’s breath is the extract streaming into a sea of white blind-debossed words. That sea of human detritus is the source of the insupportable smell that attends the whale’s breath. The insupportable smell takes on “the whiteness of the whale”. The threatened whale takes on an environmental green. which Fraser creates with the non-verbal side of the woodtype. Even so, the carrier of the verbal makes up every visual aspect here, underscoring Fraser’s contemporary paradox: the insupportable smell disordering the brain has been brought on by the disordered brain of humankind.

Extract 65:  ‘Being once pursued by a whale which he had wounded, he parried the assault for some time with a lance; but the furious monster at length rushed on the boat; himself and comrades only being preserved by leaping into the water when they saw the onset was inevitable.’ ─ Missionary Journal of Tyerman and Bennett
William Rowsell
Linocut on Japanese paper, printed on 1828 Albion press at the Oxford Printmakers Cooperative Workshop.
Image courtesy of the Bibliographical Press and artist. © William Rowsell

Rowsell’s linocut represents the more traditional entries in the exhibition. Capturing the furious struggle expressed in the extract, he locks whale, man, boat, sea, cloud and sky into a vigorous, swirling image on a paper and in a style that evoke the century in which Moby-Dick is set. As he pulled his prints from the 1828 Albion printing press, Rowsell might have wondered what the nine-year old Herman Melville was doing when hands were first laid on that Albion.

Extract 71,   ‘It is impossible to meet a whale-ship on the ocean without being struck by her near appearance. The vessel under short sail, with look-outs at the mast-heads, eagerly scanning the wide expanse around them, has a totally different air from those engaged in regular voyage.’ ─ Currents and Whaling. U.S. Ex. Ex.
Jennifer Farrell, Starshaped Press, Chicago
Letterpress: metal type + rule  linocut; Paper: Fabriano Tiziano printed on a Vandercook SP15.
Image courtesy of the Bibliographical Press and artist.

Starshaped Press is aptly named. Jennifer Farrell stars at wringing shapes from type and its surrounding furniture. The citation outlining the upper deck and bowsprit runs gracefully and appropriately under the sails on which the extract appears in that variety of display faces characteristic of nineteenth century flyposts.

To round out the display with another multi-artist effort, the curators included Harpune Verlag’s Moby-Dick “Filets” (2011~). In 2011, Harpune Verlag Wien began publishing Melville’s masterpiece as a serialized subscription. To do justice to the book’s many voices, 136 different artists were invited, each to illustrate a chapter.

Etymology, Moby-Dick “filet” No. A (2012)
Moussa Kone
Leporello of 16 pages, 150 x 200 mm closed, 200 x 710 mm open.
Acquired from Harpune Verlag February 2019.

Published in non-chronological order at varying intervals and printed in a limited edition of 460 copies, 37 “filets” have appeared so far. At this rate, all of the filets may only be served up by the bicentennial of Moby-Dick’s publication! Fortunately for the Bibliographical Press’s display, Moussa Kone’s rendition of “Etymology”, the prefatory item preceding “Extracts”, is one of those already delivered. It makes a suitably lengthy and apropos link across cases.

If, like Ishmael with “November in [his] soul”, you were walking down the damp, drizzly streets not of New Bedford but Oxford on the 15th this month, you might have substituted the Weston Library for The Spouter Inn. Inside, second copies of the remaining fifty “Extracts” submissions were on display in Blackwell Hall for viewing and handling after a screening of Philip Hoare’s The Hunt for Moby-Dick (2011). Ten years ago, Southampton-born Hoare won the 2009 BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction for his book Leviathan, or the Whale. Hoare himself was on hand to introduce and take questions after the film.

His lifelong passion for whales and Melville’s book is infectious and influential. UK book artist Chris Ruston traces her series of artist’s books Lost Voices — Whaling (2016-17) to Hoare’s Leviathan. Like Hoare’s work and many entries in “Very Like a Whale”, Ruston’s work challenges our anthropocene era. Hoare was also instrumental in organizing the Moby Dick Big Read (2012) — another multi-artist affair and effort to address the effects of the anthropocene era.

from Lost Voices — Whaling (2016-17)
Chris Ruston
Images courtesy of the artist.

Click on the screenshot to visit and listen to the Moby Dick Big Read.

The Big Read offers freely available readings of each chapter of the book. Individuals (well-known and unknown) contributed the readings, artists contributed artwork (viewable as thumbnails on the site), and the site offers an opportunity to donate to Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC).

Hoare participated in another Melvillean documentary: David Shaerf’s Call Us Ishmael (2019). It is a multi-artist affair like the Big Read, Moby-Dick “Filets” and “Very Like a Whale”; includes a sighting of the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s annual days-long continuous reading of Moby-Dick; and features interviews with artists and other creatives inspired by Melville’s tale. One of those artists interviewed is Frank Stella. Uncanny, but Stella also appears in this book to be found in the Bodleian: Elizabeth Schultz’s Unpainted to the Last (1995).

From among the artists such as Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock and others whom Schultz discusses, Stella serves best to tie off this fisherman’s tale and return to the title of the Bibliographical Press’s exhibition. About his Moby-Dick series of prints and metal-relief paintings to which he devoted a decade, Stella writes:

The idea of the wave and its various permutations is what drives this new series. Once I started on the wave shape, I saw it began to look like a whale — a combination of waves and whales. … The idea of the whale reminded me of “Moby Dick,” so I decided to go back and read the novel and the more I got into it, the more I thought it would be great to use the chapter headings of the novel for the titles of the pieces. — “1989 Previews from 36 Creative Artists,” New York Times, 1 January 1989, Sec. 2:1. Images here.

Indeed, “Very Like a Whale”, which runs until 5 January 2020. Admission free.

PPS And there is also celebratory Moby-Dick: A Pop-up Book from the Novel by Herman Melville (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2019). More to be seen here.

Bookmarking Book Art – Alicia Bailey and the Artists’ Book Cornucopia

For a decade, Alicia Bailey has played the role of Ceres to book artists and collectors, bringing them the Artists’ Book Cornucopia. And this has been in addition to creating her own bookworks, organizing other exhibitions and running Abecedarian Gallery and Raven Press. Artists’ Book Cornucopia X marks the tenth and last cornucopia but not the end of their impact.

Cornucopia implies abundance and variety, and Alicia Bailey has delivered both. A glance at the ten catalogues finds a consistently high level of participation — always at least thirty artists — and every catalogue has shown a “variety of varieties”. Consider these varieties:

Variety of structures: accordions, boxes, flag books, girdle books, pop-ups, miniatures, portfolios, scrolls, sculpted shapes, wallets, etc. The variations within each type would require a hunt through The Art of the Fold (Kyle and Warchol), Structure of the Visual Book (Smith) and Book Dynamics! (Hutchins) to identify them properly. In ABC X, all of the structures mentioned above are represented. Over the decade, the Artists’ Book Cornucopia have spilled out structural innovations such as Merike van Zanten’s A Soldier of the Second World War (ABC I), Pamela Paulsrud’s Touchstones (ABC II), Cathryn Miller’s Universe: Foundation Trilogy (ABC III), Louisa Boyd’s miniature Stardust (ABC IV), Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord’s Spirit Book #67 (ABC V), Candace Hicks’s Trees of a Feather (ABC VI), Karen Hardy’s Vellicate (ABC VII), Bryan Kring’s Shared Illusion (ABC VIII) and Josh Hockensmith’s After (ABC IX). The abundance of innovations makes a visit to the Abecedarian Gallery site for numerous second-guessings worthwhile.

The variety of material used by the artists overwhelms: beads and buttons (Ednie), cactus needles and jute (Reka), cement and glass (Bryant), ceramic and cardstock (Wolken), copper and redwood (Anstruther/Grasso), fishing line and wire (Johnston), fish-skin and mull (Klass), leather and “metal findings” (Melis), magnet and museum board (Burton), palladium and aluminum leaf (Bailey), ribbon and slide viewers (Grimm), silk and sinew (Alpers), thread and tyvek (Asato), window screen and wood (Fleming), zippers and fabric (Melhorn-Boe) and, of course, upcycled books (Anastasiou). Any appreciation of the ingenuity of materials selection and manipulation across the Artists’ Book Cornucopia requires a rewarding read of the descriptions provided in each of the catalogues.

Then there is the variety of techniques: blind deboss (Lawrence), calligraphy (Towers), chromogenic prints (Grimm), collograph (Dokudowicz), cyanotype (Biza), gelatine monoprinting (Powers-Torrey), intaglio (Larson), letterpress (Nakata), linocut (Knudson), photopolymer (Larson), risography (Powers-Torrey), silkscreen (Anastasiou) and woodcut (Lucas). Like the materials used, the techniques employed are almost too many to name, and of course, those named are used by more than the one artist mentioned.

And, of course, a riot of papers: abaca (Welch), Alabama kozo (Sico), Awagami Shin Inbe (Gorham), cotton-abaca (Lucas), Domestic Etch/Lana Laid/Masa/Niddegen (Powers-Torrey), Hahnemühle Ingres mouldmade pastel paper (Ednie), indigo flax (Johnston), Somerset (Moyer) and Thai Momi marbled paper (Towers), which of the varieties used are far too few to mention.

And varied carriers of colour: acrylic (Johnston), crayon and botanically dyed ink (Ednie), digital ink (Reka), gouache (Thrams), milk paint (Anstruther/Grasso), pencil (Fleming), pulp painting (Welch), Sumi and walnut inks (Towers), textile ink (Melhorn-Boe) and watercolour (Ednie,Thrams and Towers), again far more could be mentioned.

Likewise, the variety of shapes and direction is kaleidoscopic: zigzag, circular, globular, vertical, horizontal, square, cuboid and boustrophedon (left to right to left to right, etc.). And that is before any listing of the Platonic shapes in Sarah Bryant’s The Radiant Republic.

The wide variety of themes in ABC X echoes the same breadth across the previous nine catalogues. Here we have architecture (Bryant), botany and discovery (Gower), chronic illness (Wolken), the city (Dokudowicz), environment (Lowdermilk), industrial landscape (Burton), the literary (Bailey), pain (Reka), sexuality (Grimm), travel (Melis), wildlife (Thrams) and #MeToo (Ellis). The named representative artist is just a starting point for each theme, and the themes mentioned are only alphabetical, not exhaustive.

Perhaps the one varietal shortcoming of ABC I-X is that most of the artists participating hail from the US. When another nationality appears in one of the catalogues, it surprises. Over time, “vintners“ from the following countries have shown up: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Greece, Korea, Netherlands, Poland, UK and Venezuela.

The abundance and variety of Alicia Bailey’s Artists’ Book Cornucopia prove one premise and question another from Johanna Drucker’s The Century of Artists’ Books:

If all the elements or activities which contribute to artists’ books as a field are described what emerges is a space made by their intersection, one which is a zone of activity … There are many of these activities: fine printing, independent publishing, the craft tradition of book arts, conceptual art, painting and other traditional arts, politically motivated art activity and activist production, performance of both traditional and experimental varieties, concrete poetry, experimental music, computer and electronic arts, and last but not least, the tradition of the illustrated book, the livre d’artiste. The Century of the Artists’ Books (New York: Granary Books, 2004, new edition), p. 2.

ABC X and its nine sisters shout a resounding “Amen”, but the rich quality and originality of the works displayed whisper “‘the’ century?” At the close of the 21st century’s second decade, Ceres is smiling.

Further Reading, Listening and Viewing

Bailey, Alicia. “‘Narrative Threads’ uses book art to explore stories”, PostIndependent, 3 May 2018. Accessed 2 December 2019.

Bowen, Sara. “Artists, Books and Interviews #2: Alicia Bailey”, Book-Art-Object, 20 November 2011. Accessed 7 November 2019.

Dillard, Julia “Curator Alicia Bailey on the Intimacy of Artists’ Books and Everything You Didn’t Know about Book Arts”, Art Gym Denver, 23 October 2017. Accessed 7 November 2019.

Froyd, Susan. “#45: Alicia Bailey”, Westwood, 19 September 2013. Accessed 7 November 2019.

Isaacs, J. Susan. The Book: A Contemporary View (Wilmington, DE: Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts, 2011), p. 15.

Leutz, Pamela. “This Time Is: Alicia Bailey”, The Guild of Bookworkers, 25 April 2018. Accessed 7 November 2018.

Wolfson, Zach. “Beyond the Gallery with Alicia Bailey”, Infusion5, 17 April 2014. Accessed 7 November 2019.