Books On Books Collection – Ron King

The Burning of the Books (2009)

The Burning of the Books (2009)
George Szirtes (poems) and Ron King (prints)
Slipcase with sewn hardback, duotone letterpress reproduction of the 2008 artist book version. H220 x W160 mm, 66 unnumbered pages. Edition of 1000, the first 100 signed and numbered by the author and artist and presented in a specially designed slipcase. Acquired from the artist, 28 January 2021. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

The Burning of the Books is the harshest of Ron King’s work in the Books On Books Collection. According to the artist, this work’s genesis was his long fascination with Elias Canetti’s Auto da Fe (1946). King commissioned Szirtes to respond to Canetti’s work with a text to accompany the etchings that King had been holding in abeyance. The result in 2008 was a large format artist book, of which this work is a reproduction.

With its photo-collages of a Guernica-like fold-out, newspaper clippings of shamed collaborators, fists and human limbs, The Burning of the Books delivers a visual indictment of the 20th century that creeps into the 21st century with the added images of celebrity police ID photos and Euro currency notes. Szirtes’ take on King’s take on Canetti’s take on his main character’s solipsistic slip from obsession into madness in a world of alienating -isms is the work of art with which we — sadly, more than a decade later — keep catching up.

This work’s fascination with horrors may have its roots in a childhood experience in Brazil — seeing a photograph of a bandit gang’s mass beheading — but, more often than not, King’s works emphasize a humor in blackness (as does this work in its recurrent image of Mr. Punch-like figures). Most often, though, a sheer joy of making and material prevails.

alphabeta concertina miniscule (2007)

alphabeta concertina miniscule (2007)
Ron King
Printed, cut and creased onto Heritage paper and glued to Heritage Museum board. H170 x W110 x D30 mm,stretching to 3 meters. Edition of 600. Acquired from Sophie Schneideman Rare Books and Prints, 27 November 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The “abc” series displays the restrained, minimalist side of King’s inventiveness. With more than one of these works to hand, his enjoyment and humor come through — especially in the subtle and not-so-subtle variations. Take alphabeta concertina miniscule as an example. It arrived like a long awaited chuckle after the majuscule version — Alphabeta Concertina (1983) — which had been expanded into the poster versions Alphabet I and Alphabet II (below). Size and surprise seem to matter in King’s sense of humor. For size, see the large-scale steel version of the alphabet in 2016. For surprise, consider his catalogue raisonné Cooking the Books.

Cooking the Books (2002)

Cooking the Books: Ron King and the Circle Press (2002)
Ron King, Andrew Lambirth
Paperback with end flaps, sewn with headbands. Pop-up and metallic paper inserts. H225 x W165 x D20 mm, 180 pages. Acquired from the artist, 24 December 2020. Photo: Books On Books Collection.

King’s catalogue raisonné does not merely illustrate his work, it illustrates it. Inserts of mirror paper, wax paper and a pop-up letter E transform what appears to be a simple codex into a treasure chest.

Alphabet II (1999)

Alphabet II (1999)
Ron King
Pop-up poster. H760 x W500 mm. The letters have been cut onto a 190lb Waterford paper and mounted onto a heavier version of the same stock. Edition of 200 signed. Acquired from Circle Press, 26 June 2015. Photo of Cooking the Books, p. 101: Books On Books Collection.

The collection’s framed poster interferes with photography, but Cooking the Books provides the alternative.

Matisse’s Model (1996)

Matisse’s Model (1996)
Ron King
An edition of 50 signed book-works made by the same process as Acrobats. 23 x 17 cm with mirror-foil, sprayed pages, and a removable freestanding figure in collaged cardboard box.

The sculptural element toward which King’s work has always turned is on display in the title and forms of Matisse’s Model. The mirror paper appears as it must for any attractive model.

The Looking Book (1996)

The Looking Book: A Pocket History of Circle Press, 1967-96 (1996)
Cathy Courtney
Casebound in wire print paper. H160 x W120 xD20 mm Edition of 1000, of which this #67 and initialled by Ron King. Acquired from Peter J. Hadley Bookseller ABA ILAB, 25 June 2015. Photos: Books On Books Collection

Pop-up insert of “Scenes from the Alphabet” by Roy Fisher. Photo: Books On Books Collection.

As with Cooking the Books, this catalogue raisonné, prepared by Cathy Courtney, provides samples of the artist’s work. They appear in the wire debossed cover and this centrepiece of “Scenes from the Alphabet” done with Roy Fisher, which led to a full-scale alphabet book at Fisher’s suggestion.

Turn Over Darling (1994)

Turn Over Darling (1994)
Ron King
Slipcase (H204 x W153 x D28 mm) containing a light brown paper portfolio (H195 x W150 x D24) into which are hand-sewn six sheets (H190 x W282) of J. Green RWS hand-made paper, folded in half, bearing embossed and debossed images of a female figure. A signed copy from the limited edition of seventy five. Acquired from the artist, 1 December 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with artist’s permission.

The six embossed and debossed drawings were created from wire forms pressed into dampened sheets of paper. Turn Over Darling elegantly combines King’s sculptural skills with his printer’s skills. When folded and juxtaposed in sequence, they make for eleven reclining female nude images that change position from front to back view as the pages turn. Determining the folds and sequence is a form of imposition, although quite different from the usual imposition for a single sheet with twelve pages on either side as shown below. Again, here is a work that evokes a joy in the material and in its handling.

JBG 1984 watermark in J. Green RWS paper

Earth Birds (1981)

Earth Birds: forty six poems written between May 1964 and June 1972 (1981)
Larry Eigner (poems) and Ron King (plates)
Fifty hard-bound copies, I-L, printed on pure rag-made paper with six plates printed blind intaglio and one hundred and fifty copies, 51-200, printed on Glastonbury Book stock with the same plates printed relief, in one color.

As with George Szirtes, King has collaborated more than once with Larry Eigner. Looks like nothing, the shadow through air (1972) was the earlier joint effort. Compared to Earth Birds, later works like The Burning of the Books (2008) and Anansi Company (1992) with Roy Fisher show King’s development toward more deeply collaborative efforts.

Earth Birds does recall the wide range of similar works by others at Circle Press that King made possible: Hadrian’s Dream (1990) by Asa Benveniste and Ken Campbell and Machines (1986) by Michael Donaghy and Barbara Tetenbaum.

Chaucer’s The Prologue, 2nd Edition (1978)

Chaucer’s The Prologue, 2nd Edition (1978)
Ron King
Casebound sewn, letterpress printed on 190 gsm Queen Anne Antique White. Hand-set in Monotype Plantin series 110. H405 x W281 mm, 72 pages. Edition of twenty separate versions I-XX each of 250 copies, of which this is XI, #131, and includes a folder of Buckler Light Grey Plain with a poem by Roy Fisher and screen-print on 190 gsm Bockingfordby Ron King entitled “Webbe”. Acquired from private seller, 27 February 2021. Photos of work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of artist.

King originally prepared The Prologue for Editions Electo in 1966, then published a limited edition of 125 copies in 1967 under the Circle Press imprint. In this collection, the work represents King’s straightforward fine press work and a successful livre d’artiste. The screenprints of Chaucer’s characters and Chaucer himself are based on African and Brazilian masks as well as heraldic symbols. King’s inspiration to match these richly colored masks to the personae captures the pageantry and individuals within the social hierarchy of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Opening this oversized fine press edition, turning its stiff, creamy pages with their 18 pt Plantin type and confronting these human-sized masks are reminders of the monumentality that this human-scale work of literature has achieved.

Knight and Squire masks

Nun and Monk masks

Chaucer’s mask and King’s original print “Webbe”

Ephemera

Almost always, small gifts of ephemera arrive with purchases from the Ron King Studio. They illustrate how King marshals his artistry even in marketing his art and that of those he has published.

Hare (single-fold card, H125 x W180 mm), blind-embossed. 2021.

Announcement (single-fold card, H216 x W140 mm) with blind embossed image of a fulmar. Describes artist book Sednar and the Fulmar with Richard Price’s poems. 2017.

Invitations (four-fold pop-up cards) to Pallant House Gallery opening preview. 2005.

Announcement (wax and paper pamphlet, H174 x W134 mm) of Lettre de la Mer Noire/Black Sea Letter by Kenneth White (poem) and Jean-Claude Loubières (images and wax dipping). 1997.

Announcement (card, line block reproduction, H150 x W125 mm) of the 200 portfolios of fifty-one woodcut designs reproduced from the only remaining proofs of Brazilian Miniatures, an unpublished book with a bilingual introduction; printed in two versions. 1973?

“Squire” (single-fold card, H235 x W165 mm) with hand-printed serigraph from Chaucer’s “Prologue” to The Canterbury Tales. 1969?

Further Reading

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

Willow Legge“, Books On Books Collection, 14 February 2021.

Bury, Stephen. “Ron King and the Circle Press.” Print Quarterly 20, no. 4 (2003): 434-37. Accessed February 7, 2021.

Courtney, Cathy. 1999. Speaking of book art: interviews with British and American book artists. Los Altos Hills, Calif: Anderson-Lovelace.

Goldmark Gallery. 2019. Alphabets, Bandits & Collaborations: Ron King Documentary. Uppingham, UK. Video

Hill, Emma. “Artists’ Books and Circle Press”, Pallant House Gallery Magazine, No. 8, June 2006, pp. 66-68. Accessed 22 March 2020.

Lambirth, Andrew. 2019. Ron King : Alphabets, Bandits & Collaborations. Oakham: Goldmark Gallery. Exhibition catalogue.

Bookmarking Book Art – Scott Hazard

On one hot, humid North Carolina day, I had the pleasure of stepping into Scott Hazard’s workshop behind his home in Raleigh to talk to him about his artwork — in particular,  Endless Sea and Rise, which had caught my attention on his site

Endless Sea
Scott Hazard
Ash wood, paper, text. 10″ X 18″ X 23″

Endless Sea (detail)

Looking at Endless Sea, you might think of Robert Frost’s poem “Neither out far nor in deep”, where the people looking at the sea

… cannot look out far.

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

 

Or looking at Rise, another of what Hazard calls his “text constructs”, and its brilliantly white Canson’s archival paper Edition, you might recall Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”, where

Among twenty snowy mountains,

The only moving thing

Was the eye of the blackbird.

Rise
Scott Hazard
Ash wood, paper, text. 28″ X 53″ X 55″

Rise (detail)

By making the viewer’s eye move from layer to layer — looking in, through and side to side — Hazard’s work achieves a sense of movement. But somehow, despite or because of that, a sense of stillness takes over. When I noted the Zen-like sense of stillness I felt from the two works, Hazard showed me a photo of the Fushimi-Inari torii, whose influence on his art is clear, and spoke of how the creation of the text constructs — stamping the same word in archival black ink in precisely the right spot on carefully torn sheets of paper, then placing each sheet one behind another in wooden lattice boxes to create landscapes — is Zen-like in itself.

This idea — that the creative process, artistic result and the beholder’s response coincide — flirts with what the last century’s New Critics scorned as the “intentional fallacy” (assessing a work by the creator’s intent). What the New Critics had not experienced was the self-reflexiveness or recursiveness of minimalist, conceptualist, performative, land, and text (or book) artists’ works. By virtue of their fusion of text/image/structure, Endless Sea and Rise are intentionally recursive.

So, here is another statement of intent:  In the context of America’s and the West’s complex, conflicted sense of nature and the wilderness, Hazard says that, where once the aim of gardens seemed to be to wall out wilderness, he finds himself seeking to bring the wilderness into the enclosed. Hazard’s comment reminded me of what the book artist Joan Lyons once said to Cathy Courtney in the late 90s:

Life needs some translation and transformation to become art. I’ve always visualized the point at which personal consciousness encounters the phenomenal world as experiential screen or filter that separates the interior from the exterior, the personal from the public space. It is very much like a garden I once visited with a great lawn and tidy rows of annuals that hovered eight thousand feet on the edge of the Rocky Mountains. The place where garden and wilderness meet is the place where creative work is born and where work exists. (Cathy Courtney, Speaking of Book Art, 1999, p. 52)

In assessing Hazard’s work as “the place where garden and wilderness meet” — or “the place where creative work is born and where work exists” — I am picking up on the artist’s intention as reflected in material aspects of the work and in how the artist/work is manipulating my faculties of perception. To understand better Hazard’s artwork and its effect, I followed up my visit with a series of questions.

BoB: Can you walk me through the process of preparing the structures? What kind of tools? How long does it take?

SH: I use soft maple or ash wood for the bulk of the structures I make. For a piece like Rise or Endless Sea I start with rough cut ash, mill the wood using a small jointer and planer, and then cut the slats for the multiple frames using many passes on a table saw to rip the wood. I then clean these up on the planer, cut miter joints with a chop saw, glue and then sand all sides. The additional wood pieces that hold the individual frames in place are made with ash also – I cut the dados with a dado blade so the frames fit snugly in the dados. The more simple box like frames I make are typically soft maple. These are made with all of the same tools. I have not kept close track of time spent on the production of my work but estimate a piece like Endless Sea might take 30+ hours for the wood elements. The smaller box frames might take 3 to 5 hours each – I typically make these in batches so there is some efficiency built in. Some of the larger boxes or frames for pieces such as Read This Line are fabricated by an excellent furniture maker in Raleigh that I like to work with.


Read This Line
Scott Hazard
Wood, paper, text. 28″ X 43″ X 15″

BoB: And the process of preparing the paper, stamping it, fixing to the structure, etc.?”

SH: After sketching the concept for the work and then drawing the piece to scale, I then cut the multiple sheets of paper and backing/spacing materials to size. After all of the sheets are prepared I create a template for the text if necessary, and then proceed to carefully apply the words to the first sheet. Once the desired form and texture is on the sheet, I sketch the outline of the hole to be torn in the sheet and then carefully tear it. I cut a larger hole in the backing material and insert both into the frame to assess. I then remove the sheet from the frame and trace the outline of the first hole onto the back of the second sheet. I then repeat the process for the second and all remaining sheets, assessing the development of the work to make minor adjustments along the way to completion.

On larger pieces it has taken me over 2 hours per sheet/layer in the composition. On smaller pieces, depending on the complexity of the form and amount of text, it can take anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes per sheet. My most recent pieces have had 25 to 45 layers – a small one might take 20 to 40 hours for the production of the paper sculpture. Time spent on concept, concept development, and installing it in the structure are on top of that and add anywhere from 6 to 20 hours per work.

BoB: Which artists and landscape architects have influenced you – early and later?

SH: Artists who have had a significant influence on my thinking and work include Robert Irwin, Robert Smithson, Nancy Holt, and Vito Acconci. I am a big fan of Acconci’s early poetry/concrete poetry and the architectural/built work he had focused on since the 1980’s. Additional artists that have influenced me include Aldwyth, John Cage, Martin Puryear, Oskar Fischinger and Jackie Winsor. I often refer to the Hudson River School painters and traditional Japanese garden design.

Designers and (landscape) writers that have had impacts on the evolution of my work and understanding of the natural and built worlds include James Wines/SITE, Rudolph Schindler, JB Jackson, Anne Whiston Spurn and Peter Schaudt. I was fortunate to have had the chance to work with Mr. Schaudt as a consultant on a few landscape projects over a span of about 10 years – the sense of restraint in his work grounded in an intuitive and tacit understanding of landscape, as well as his enthusiastic and collaborative demeanor were a big influence.

I had a lot of fantastic instructors in my undergraduate studies, but two professors from that time were very important in opening doors and exposing me to a lot of visual art that was new to me at the time; Terry Hargraves (architecture) and Gary Dwyer (landscape architecture). Both helped me drastically expand my notions of what space and landscape could be, and fostered my interest in the exploration of how materials and ideas can inform and articulate space and landscape.

Introjection: Education
Scott Hazard
Sculpture/Photography
5.75″ X 4.5″, 17 3/4″ X 15 3/4″ w/ Frame

BoB: Some of your “photo constructs” — for example, Introjection: Education — echo the very title of the Acconci studio’s 2012 digital animation “WHEN BUILDINGS MELT INTO AIR & THE AIR RE-FORMS INTO BUILDINGS”, but I am curious: How did text come to play the role it plays in your more three-dimensional work?  After all, despite the trompe l’oeil, the photo constructs are two dimensional;  words and letters are creatures of the two-dimensional page or screen; landscape and architecture generally do not feature words and letters — certainly not in the way your paradoxical enclosure of paper landscapes within wooden lattice-work boxes features them. From where did your distinctive use of text come?

SH: With a background in landscape design and construction, I tend to look at the physical built world as a manifestation of ideas. Every building, built landscape, piece of furniture, tool, article of clothing, pencil, etc. exists initially as an idea. Whether the idea is drawn as a rough sketch, explained in detail, or carefully drafted, reviewed and vetted before anything is built – it is providing the direction for the physical realization. Even something like a protected forest or national park, as untouched as it might be, essentially exists the way it is because someone had the idea at some point in time to protect that place. In this sense everything we perceive and experience is a mix of physical reality and information. (We can go deep into a rabbit-hole (or the matrix) on this topic, but I’ll try to keep this brief…)

With this in mind, I am very keen on how the information we absorb from many, many sources, in turn informs how we perceive the world, and to a large extent what we perceive in the world. Text, whether a poem, novel, essay or song lyric, can obviously articulate ideas, and can articulate space as well. In Walden, Thoreau wrote about people being able to read and understand the landscape. Most people don’t have the skill set or temperament in this era in the same way Thoreau might have fashioned his own perceptual skills, but we are still reading our environment, most of us with minds overflowing with stimulus and information.

My aim with my text-based work is to create an experience that allows people to read in space – the content of the text informs how the viewer might perceive the sculptural elements in the piece, and the forms of the piece affect how the text reads also. I am exploring how text can become as much of a material as any of the physical matter incorporated into the work.

BoB: What is the earliest exposure to art that you can recall from childhood and adolescence?

SH: I don’t recall a lot of significant experiences with art in my childhood years – other than what I might have seen in history museums or pop culture, visual art was not really on my radar. In high school I was exposed to a number of forms of art through an excellent humanities course. My exposure to visual art increased significantly in may late teens and early twenties through landscape architecture, architecture and fine art courses I enrolled in. My interest in art really took hold in the last two years of my undergraduate education, and steadily increased from there.

Two installations I experienced around this time had a big impact in solidifying my drive in visual art. One was The eyes of Gutete Emerita by Alfredo Jaar. I can’t forget the visceral effect this piece had on so many people who experienced it. A work of art can’t ever relay the complete magnitude and protracted horror of something like the Rwandan genocide, but Mr. Jaar managed to succinctly and poetically capture a brief but intimate glimpse of one person’s story, while also conveying the immensity of the genocide.

The other piece that I have vivid memories of is “1° 2° 3° 4°,” by Robert Irwin. Installed at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, Mr. Irwin had three rectangles cut in the windows overlooking the coast. Each hole cut in the windows effectively became an aperture for viewing and tacitly connecting people with the environment, in this case the coastal breeze and sound of the ocean, outside.

BoB: There is a technically unusual chromatic effect in text constructs like Rise, where the intensity of the black ink is modulated in a way that works strikingly with the shadow from one layer of paper to the next. Do you recall what led you to blending the chiaroscuro effects of one material with another?

SH: To heighten the effect of the text flowing and dissipating from the back of the piece to the front, the text at the back and top of the work is much more dense and dark versus the lighter gray and graduates to a much less dense text at the bottom and front. Moving from front to back, layer by layer the density and darkness of the text increases until the paper is nearly solid black at the rear of the piece which is also the darkest part of the work. The interaction of light with the work is paramount and helps reinforce the rhythm found in the multiple layers of paper. I am intent on trying to pull the viewer perceptually into the work to heighten a sense of focus and departure.  The interaction of lighter and darker areas of light on the layers of paper encourages the viewer to track their vision into the space in the work layer by layer.  Ideally this provides both an invitation to delve in and also a sense of mystery.

BoB: You mentioned that you are experimenting with repurposing printed book pages in your constructs. Can you tell me more about that? Will you combine that material with the archival paper or replace the archival paper entirely? What prompted the experimentation?

SH: Yes, this has been an interesting and slightly different strain of work I have been pursuing. I have been interested in experimenting with and developing work with portions of pages from books, periodicals and catalogues for a few years. About a year ago a curator I enjoy meeting with suggested trying the use pages from books in my work so I put some more energy into this body of work. It has been a fascinating,  slight diversion from the ink stamp based text work I have been focused on lately , and the used books I have been collecting over the past couple of years have been great catalysts for new pieces and great sources for words used in my other text based work.

BoB: Are there other materials beckoning for experimentation?

SH: Of course! I am still focused on the many, many possibilities I see in the wood/paper/ink/text based work and how that will evolve, but I would love to work with steel, stone, concrete and other landscape oriented materials at a larger scale.

BoB: You mentioned that, with your text constructs, you seem to be cycling back to fewer layers as in Intermediate and Landscape Meditation or flatter objects like your photo construct Reaching Branch compared to Rise and Endless Sea. What lies behind this return? Technical, conceptual, textural effect, chromatic effect?”

SH: The recent move back to work that is more shallow than the deeper text based work I have been making is focused on conceptual and technical aspects of the work. I love the spaces that can be created in the deeper works like Rise and Endless Sea. I am also very interested in exploring the interplay between the use of text and the forms/voids housed in the physical work.  Using text to help articulate a physical and conceptual space, and shaping forms and space in the work to in turn impact the reading of the text is a very large part of what drives my thinking and energy in developing the text-based work. Making the work more shallow is in many ways very challenging – it forces the composition in each work to be more concise and focused.

BoB: The installation shown on your site must have been even more striking live. Do you have plans for future installations? How does creating the timebound experience of installations compare with creating more permanent sculptures? ”

SH: Thank you for your comments! Yes, I do have plans for future installations but nothing immediate. I am often on the lookout for projects or venues to do an installation. It is  exciting to literally envelop the viewer in a space where passing through the space impacts how the space and work is perceived. As you reference above, I consider each piece I make to ‘function’ and be experienced much like a garden (whether 4 inches wide or 400 feet (or meters) wide they are spaces for exploration, meditation and/or a moment of respite). The text in my work is composed to be read in conjunction with movement – to be read in space. Larger, installation scaled work allows for the physical immersion of the viewer as they pass through the space along with the perceptual immersion that can come from simply viewing a work from a single point in space. This notion brings us back to Japanese gardens, which were often designed to be experienced by passing through them.


Although not an installation, Hazard’s latest exhibition echoes his concluding comment above and takes me back to that moment of stepping

Character Space
Scott Hazard
Exhibition view at Artspace, Raleigh, North Carolina

Character Space (2017)
Scott Hazard
Exhibition view at Artspace, Raleigh, North Carolina

from his workshop back into the Piedmont heat: I immediately began to yearn for one of his installations in whose cool I could immerse myself. Character Space remains on display in Gallery 2 at Artspace until 27 January 2018.

Further reading on Scott Hazard and his work:

 The text based constructs I create consist of layers of paper that are carefully torn or cut, spaced apart and aligned to define sculptural voids. Cathartic micro-gardens punctuated with masses of text beckon the viewer to delve in for a brief journey. As the viewer’s gaze enters and traverses the layers of paper in each work, vision becomes tactile, lending an articulated viewing experience and a space for the eyes to linger. The movement and placement of words in and around the composed landscapes and intimately scaled spaces provides for a kinaesthetic reading experience that draws the viewer in for momentary reflection and a temporary departure. The viewer looks ‘at’ and ‘through’ each composition simultaneously.

The precision of Hazard’s “Memory Gardens” and “Text Constructs” must take the concentration required by a colored powder mandala.
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