Books On Books Collection – Chiavelli

Arthur R.: Promenade pour 5 chameaux (1987)

Arthur R./Promenade pour 5 Chameaux (1987)
Bande Dessinée. H298 xW226 mm, 48 pages. Acquired from Librarie de l’Université, 28 October 2021.
Photo: Books On Books Collection.

It is curious — given that Stéphane Mallarmé had only ever seen Arthur Rimbaud once and wrote about him only on commission — that Chiavelli assigns Un Coup de Dés as the subtitle of his second volume in a series of three graphic novels following the adventures of “Arthur R.”, a Tin Tin-like version of Arthur Rimbaud. Chiavelli weaves his imagined adventures of Rimbaud on the Horn of Africa (1880-91) into a three-volume graphic novel whose plot lines, scenes and dialogue balloons are stuffed with arch allusions to Rimbaud’s abandoned literary life and postmodern literary criticism.

Rimbaud in Harar.

In this first volume, Chiavelli gives his hero a favorite curse — the mild Bon sang! (“damn!”), probably uncharacteristic for the Rimbaud who killed a worker in Cyprus with a rock, but characteristic for Chiavelli making a tongue-in-cheek reference to Mauvais sang (“Bad Blood”, the second and longest poem in Une saison en enfer, 1873). The five camels of the title are named A,E, I, U and O, after the letters of his sonnet Les Voyelles (1871), which has been rendered in multiple livres d’artiste, one of which is in the Books On Books Collection. As the sonnet associates each vowel with a color, Chiavelli can be suspected of being tongue-in-cheek in delivering his comic completely in black and white. Certainly the invitation to a philosophical discussion of time that segues into a French pun “sons of the desert” into “sons of bitches” (fils de buttes for fils de putes) sets the tone to come.

Arthur R./Un Coup de DÉS Jamais N’Abolira le HASARD (1988)

Arthur R./Un Coup de DÉS Jamais N’Abolira le HASARD
Bande Dessinée H290 x W225 mm, 48 pages. Acquired from Librairie de l’Université, 28 October 2021.
Photo: Books On Books Collection.

With its title, this four-color volume marks a shift in its joking allusiveness from Rimbaud alone to a conflation with Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem of the same title: an opening game of dice and a search for the city of “Azar” (homonym for hasard, meaning chance and also a game of dice). Still though, Rimbaud/Tin Tin is never far away; see the second double-page spread in which he recalls to himself the opening lines to Le Bateau Ivre/”The Drunken Boat” but then delivers to his Arab audience a racist, misogynistic ditty concocted by French legionnaires in Algeria.

Arthur Rimbaud/ Le Dernier Voyage (1992)

Arthur Rimbaud/ Le Dernier Voyage (1992)
Bande Dessinée H320 x W240 mm, 52 pages. Acquired from EV Asset, 29 October 2021.
Photo: Books On Books Collection.

Spelling out Arthur R. on the cover of the last of the trilogy somewhat spoils the already scant Tin Tin camouflage. The inclusion of Rimbaud’s capsule biography at the start and epitaph at the end also gives this volume the feel of the earnest American comic book series “Classics Illustrated”. But its “One Thousand and One Nights” leap into the hero’s pursuit of le livre in this last voyage (a double allusion to Mallarmé?) and his amorous involvement with a femme fatale (and others) raise the trilogy to such a comic level of narrative, philosophical and literary self-reference (and such groan-inducing puns as Chipizade for Scheherezade) that the cover title and earnestness might be forgiven — depending on the reader’s age, sex and race.

Further Reading

Borer, Alain. 1984. Rimbaud en Abyssinie. Paris: Seuil.

Fontaine,  Hugues. 29 September 2020. “Arthur Rimbaud and King Menelik of ShoaThe Rimbaud and Verlaine Foundation. Accessed 4 December 2021.

Starkie, Enid. 1938. Rimbaud en Abyssinie. Avec une carte. Collection de documents et de témoignages pour servir à l’histoire de notre temps. Paris: Payot.

Books On Books Collection – Le Cadratin

Voyelles (2012)

Voyelles (1871/1883/2012)
Arthur Rimbaud
Design and direction: Jean-Renaud Dagon H325 x W235 mm, 32 unnumbered pages. Edition of 200, of which this is #67. Acquired from Le Cadratin, 6 November 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Le Cadratin is more than a typesetting and printing house or fine press. An atelier-typographique, founded by Jean-Renaud Dagon, its artists perform tightrope acts in typography, ink, paper and form. Under Dagon’s direction, Joanne Bantick, Hugues Eynard, Nicolas Regamey and Roger Jaunin have composed and printed a rendition of Arthur Rimbaud’s sonnet “Les Voyelles” that deserves applause.

Written in 1871 by Rimbaud and first published in 1883 by Paul Verlaine, the sonnet is one of the better known historic literary examples of graphemic-color synesthesia — strongly associating a color with a letter — and in Rimbaud’s case with strong tones of eroticism. Le Cadratin’s artists leave Rimbaud’s eroticism bound to his text, handset in 28pt Roman Idéal, but deliver their own exuberance with subtle tactility and visual texture in large format wooden type using Heidelberg and Vandercook presses.

Voyelles contributes to other themes in the Books On Books Collection besides the alphabet motif. The handling of wooden type echoes David Clifford’s Letterpress Printing ABC and Andrew Morrison’s Ampersand& (2005) and Two Wood Press A-Z (2013). The synesthesia of letters is shared with Jean Holabird’s Vladimir Nabokov: AlphaBet in Color (2005)

Further Reading

David Clifford“. 15 September 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Jean Holabird“. 8 February 2022. Books On Books Collection. For a look at Vladimir Nabokov’s synesthetic alphabet.

William Joyce“. 18 June 2021. Books On Books Collection. For the more innocent end of literary synesthesia where the cold gray-black of numbers gives way to an alphabet of jelly bean colors.”William Joyce”. 202 Books On Books Collection.

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

Etiemble, René. 1968. Le sonnet des voyelles: de l’audition colorée à la vision érotique. Paris: Gallimard.

Books On Books Collection – Jean Holabird

Vladimir Nabokov: AlphaBet in Color (2005)

Vladimir Nabokov: AlphaBet in Color (2005)
Jean Holabird
Black cloth boards, silver lettering to spine, blind stamped lettering to front board, illustrated title label to inner board; internally bound in the Japanese style with opening overlapping boards and staggered colored pages. H175 W235 mm, 40 pages. Acquired from Klondyke (Almere NL), 11 November 2021.
Photos of the book: Books On Books.

Publisher’s statement:

Vladimir Nabokov saw rich colors in letters and sounds and noted the deficiency of color in literature, praising Gogol as the first Russian writer to truly appreciate yellow and violet. He saw q as browner than k, and s as not the light blue of c, but a curious mixture of azure and mother-of-pearl. For anyone who has ever wondered how the colors Nabokov heard might manifest themselves visually, Alphabet in Color is a remarkable journey of discovery. Jean Holabird’s interpretation of the colored alphabets of one of the twentieth century’s literary greats is a revelation. The book masterfully brings to life the charming and vibrant synesthetic colored letters that until now existed only in Nabokov’s mind. In Alphabet in Color Jean Holabird’s grasp of form and space blends perfectly with Nabokov’s idea that a subtle interaction exists between sound and shape.

As puzzling as the phenomenon of synesthesia is, Holabird’s depictions and the book’s architecture are more engaging in their own right. The lapping pages and binding make this work awkward to handle, which might be thought of as a complement to the book’s non-alphabetical and non-spectral order of letters and colors. It is a warm complement to Le Cadratin’s cool rendition of Rimbaud’s sonnet “Les Voyelles“.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

William Joyce“. 18 June 2021. Books On Books Collection. Another example of graphemic-color synesthesia.

Le Cadratin“. 8 February 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Cohut, Maria. 17 August 2018. “Synesthesia: Hearing colors and tasting sounds“. Medical News Today. Accessed 2 February 2022.

Campen, Crétien van. 26 July 2012. “Bibliography: Synesthesia in Art and Science“. Leonardo. Accessed 2 February 2022.

Cytowic, Richard E. 2018. Synesthesia. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Bookmarking Book Art – Giorgio & Giulio Maffei

Display of Ed Ruscha's Various Small Fires and Milk, 1964, at Pliure: La Part du Feu, 2 February - 12 April 2015, Paris. Photo by Robert Bolick. Reflected in the lower left hand corner is the display of Bruce Nauman's Burning Small Fires; in the upper right corner, the film clip of Truffaut's 1966 Fahrenheit 451; and in the upper left, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva's La bibliotheque en feu, 1974.
Display of Ed Ruscha’s Various Small Fires and Milk, 1964
Pliure: La Part du Feu, 2 February – 12 April 2015, Paris, Fondation Calouste-Gulbenkian.
Photo by Robert Bolick, 11 April 2015.
Reflected in the lower left hand corner is the display of Bruce Nauman’s Burning Small Fires, 1968; in the upper right corner, the film clip of Truffaut’s 1966 Fahrenheit 451; and in the upper left, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva’s La bibliotheque en feu, 1974.

The Studio Bibliografico Giorgio Maffei specializes in original texts and book art by twentieth century visual and literary avant-garde artists such Baldessari, Lewitt, Munari, Man Ray, Ruscha and Warhol among others. Recently the owner’s son – Giulio Maffei – “started making film as a side activity” and introduced a series of short animations “to put on the social networks and reach new potential customers”.  An anonymous pair of hands displays a variety of the books and book art in stock.

But Giulio’s videos are not always the straightforward marketing effort intended. They provide an experience of book art or artists’ books that most of us will never hold or touch. And that may be Maffei’s point in his series “Le Vite dei Libri” (The Lives of Books) in which these usually glassed-off works are playfully handled, gently made fun of and still honored.

Some of the videos are derivative artworks in their own right in the same vein as Bruce Nauman’s Burning Small Fires, 1968.  Nauman poked fun at Ed Ruscha’s Various Small Fires and Milk, 1964, by composing a book of photos recording the burning of a copy of Various Small Fires. Maffei’s Nauman-esque handling of Various Small Fires and Milk involves flash paper or its Photoshop equivalent.  His celebration of Ruscha’s The Sunset Strip is still more endearing with its soundtrack and toy convertible. His cheeky animations of the pop-ups in Warhol’s Index (Book) and the ironically daring destruction of Papa Maffei’s copy of Some/Thing No.3 are even better.  In the latter, the plastering of a Banksy-like mural with Warhol’s “Bomb Hanoi” stickers torn from the perforated cover is a sharp-edged example of the arch, reflective commentaries throughout Maffei’s videos.

Most of the films’ credits pay typographical homage to the work at hand, which is a nice self-deprecating and affectionate touch.  At my last viewing, there were twenty-two works in the Lives series.  They are listed below, but once you reach one on YouTube, the others follow. Giulio Maffei has also created a longer video catalogue for his father’s enterprise: Tra Libro e Oggetto (Between Book and Object). The Maffeis are a knowing team. The catalog title can be read as the beginning of a statement displayed on the cover.


The artists’ book, the multiple and the object

become an artwork

A statement that refers not only to the works in the catalog but to the video catalog itself and to the elder Maffei’s lifework of collecting, selling and writing about book art.

1 – An Unreadable Quadrat Print, Bruno Munari

2 – The Sunset Strip, Ed Ruscha

3 – Nine Swimming Pools, Ed Ruscha

4 – Various Small Fires, Ed Ruscha

5 – Andy Warhol’s Children’s Book, Andy Warhol

6 – Choosing Green Beans, John Baldessari

7 – Kleve 2009, Ettore Spalletti

8 – Made in Machine, Jean-François Bory

9 – Cieli ad Alta Quota, Alighiero Boetti

10 – Il Merlo Ha Perso il Becco, Bruno Munari

11 – Mémoires, Guy Debord, Asger Jorn

12 – Zang Tumb Tuuum, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti

13 – Acervus, Luigi Ontani

14 – Toiletpaper JAN 2011, Maurizio Cattelan & Pierpaolo Ferrari

15 – Toiletpaper JUL 2012, Maurizio Cattelan & Pierpaolo Ferrari

16 – Les Illuminations, Fernand Léger & Arthur Rimbaud

17 – Man Ray, Man Ray

18 – The Biggest Art-Book in the World, Enrico Baj

19 – Fable, John Baldessari

20 – Air Condition, Allan Kaprow

21 – Andy Warhol’s Index (Book), Andy Warhol

22 – Some/Thing No.3, ed. David Antin, cover by Andy Warhol