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 – “Darkness Visible”, Sam Winston’s performative installation

Sam Winston’s Darkness Visible at the Southbank Centre aims to give its “viewers”/participants a taste of what the artist has experienced during seven-day stretches of living and working in his studio plunged in total darkness. Despite the title being taken from one of the best of blind John Milton’s lines in Paradise Lost (“No light, but rather darkness visible Served only to discover sights of woe.”), Winston’s work has little to do with blindness and even less so with hell.

Come along and see.

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Entrance to the commissioned dark room on Level 5 of the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre

The weighted black curtain I pushed aside swept quickly closed behind me. I fumbled to find the parting in the second black curtain and, briefly switching on then off the flashlight provided by the attendant, found my place on a bench in darkness.  Two young women stifled nervous giggles as we waited for the first recorded poet to speak. It was surprising how time seems to stretch in the darkness.

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Second curtained entrance
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Interior of the commissioned dark room

It seemed a long time before my eyes’ biophotonic activity from staring and blinking settled down. Then my peripheral vision picked up a leak of light in the lower right hand corner of the booth. At first I felt an urge to turn toward the light, but then an urge to look up and to the left toward more profound darkness took over. I thought of holding up my hand in front of my face, but did not. I wanted to see the dark, not what I knew I couldn’t see. I wondered why my ears also seemed, at first, to want a silence as profound as the dark but then accepted almost any sound as part of the darkness.

George Szirtes began to speak his twelve strophes of plain lines, at least the ones that were not muffled seemed plain (“I have not talked about blindness./ I can’t see how I could”) and reminded me in the darkness of Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” (“It was evening all afternoon”). Then silence, broken by a train or trains crossing the Thames. Kayo Chingonyi, second to speak, intoned words of praise, again difficult to follow on this one-off hearing, which allowed another poem to intrude, W.S. Merwin’s “For the Anniversary of My Death” and its last line “And bowing not knowing to what”. Then silence, broken by an announcement from the nearby auditorium telling theatre-goers to return to their seats and an airliner passing. Emily Berry, the third poet, innovated with a snatch of the hymn “Jerusalem” and uhms and uhs to mimic her words groping in the dark against a “continuous hum” and finally stopped mid sentence, the overall effect being to evoke Denise Levertov’s “O taste and see“. Another silence, now broken by a child squealing (laughing or shrieking?) somewhere in the building, by more giggling until one then the other young woman parted the curtains to leave, breaking the darkness briefly.  My eyes “readjusted” to the dark — that is, accepted it and again looked into it without seeking light. I re-membered in it half the image I’d seen of the recently invented carbon nanotubes surface. If you wondered, as I did, how the artist managed

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Mask coated (and uncoated) with Vantablack S-VIS
SurreyNanoSystems

the unrelenting darkness for a week, he has written about it here and spoken of it here.

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Darkness Visible installation (2017)
Sam Winston
Text piece on walls and floor
Three months of transcribing sensations outside of sight. Starting with sounds and touch (wall) then moving into abstracted thoughts and emotion (floor)
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Detail of Darkness Visible (2017)
Sam Winston
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Darkness Visible (2017)
Sam Winston
Installation at Southbank Centre, London

Reading Closed Books (2018)
Sam Winston
Set of three artist books Acquired from the artist, 31 May 2019.

Being reminded of other poems in the darkness, I was also reminded of two other artists (Maloney and Beuys) who had locked themselves away in pursuit of creativity. So I wondered whether there was a some tradition of this and, on the train home, searched and found:

Martin Maloney’s Intervention (Five Days and Five Nights at the Galerie MTL) (1971);

Joseph Beuys and his overnight stay with a coyote in a locked room, resulting in America Likes Me and I Like America (1974);

Het Observatorium’s Dwelling for Seclusion — New York (1997), “a pavilion erected in the gardens of Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island, New York City, [that] arose from the desire to place art at the service of an individual experience of quietness, seclusion and prolonged observation”;

Alan O’Cain’s Hunting Schiele (2012), drawings, writings and a web recording of their creation during the artist’s overnight stay, locked in the cell where Egon Schiele was imprisoned in Neulengenbach in 1912.

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Untitled/ 7 days blind (2016)
Sam Winston
Coloured Luminance pencils on Fabriano Artistico paper
Drawn in complete darkness over seven day & nights
(In this work, Winston restricted himself to red, green and blue pencils to mirror the red-green-blue sensitive cones of the eye.)
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Untitled/7 days blind (2015)
Sam Winston
Graphite crayon and pencil on Fabriano Artistico paper
Drawn in complete darkness over seven days & nights

In a way, Sam Winston is Walt Whitman-like — expansively absorbing this tradition and its future: like those of Maloney, Beuys and O’Cain, Winston’s “aktion” has yielded tangible works of his own in multiple forms; like Het Observatorium, Winston has created a participative space for its audience and invited creators. How will any artists ever close themselves off, invite others in, without taking account of Darkness Visible?

Yet, he is utterly unlike Whitman: in the non-egocentric generosity of Darkness Visible, rooted in a genius for sharing, evident in the planned immersive performance with photographer Andy Sewell, composer Jamie Perera and film-maker Anna Price  (with live readings by poets Emily Berry, Kayo Chingonyi and George Szirtes) scheduled for 11 January 2018 at the Whitechapel Gallery. Somehow Winston’s “darkness visible” is not an invitation to influence, just an invitation to creativity.

Where this generosity and genius come from is hard to say, but it seems hardly an accident that much book art and many artists’ books have been the fruit of collaborative effort.

Further Reading

Hargrave, Lindsay. “Alone in the dark”, Eye Magazine, 13 December 2017. Accessed 15 May 2020.