Books On Books Collection – Peter Blake

Peter Blake: Alphabets (2010)

Peter Blake: Alphabets (2010)
Peter Blake, Text by Mel Gooding
Slipcased, cloth and casebound hardback with endbands matching red cloth and yellow doublures. H310 x W255 mm. 224 pages. Edition of 600, of which this is #471. Acquired from The Plantagenet King, 3 November 2022.
Photos: Books on Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

Peter Blake has made the alphabet itself a subject of so many of his print series and exhibitions that Peter Blake: Alphabets and the exhibition associated with it stand as a retrospective. Naturally it showcases his style and signature techniques. It also showcases an outward and inward appraising wit that leads to humorous juxtapositions like the poster of “T for The Beatles” with the collage of “U for Unusual People”. But most of all it proves the variety and unity that a creativity-stimulating constraint like the alphabet can yield. With Blake’s wide-ranging uses of the alphabet, Mel Gooding’s commentary and the volume’s elegant design and production, Peter Blake: Alphabets serves as both example and reference for alphabet-related artists’ books.

Found objects and collages have long made natural allies. Peter Blake: Alphabets demonstrates that finding objects can also lead to a passion for collecting, and in Blake’s hands, a collector’s passion becomes not only the subject of art but part of the artistic process, a tool and a technique. The book even has a section entitled “Found Alphabets” that showcases his collection of widely varied alphabet posters and unifies them with unified scale.

It is Mel Gooding who points out this unified scale in his introduction to the section. As co-author with Julian Rothenstein of Alphabets Et Other Signs (1993), ABZ (2003) and A2z : Alphabet & Signs (2018), Gooding could not have been better suited for introducing this volume and for interviewing Blake for the earlier An Alphabet (2007), which Gooding references. After his introduction on the alphabet in general and Blake’s alphabets, the volume divides into two parts: “The Alphabets” and “Collections”. In the first part, there are seven sections; in the second, six. For each section, Gooding provides introductory comments.

Gooding’s critical insights often go beyond Blake’s art as in the section entitled “Horizontal Alphabets” when he reminds us to be aware of the possible implications of the artist’s horizontal all-at-once display of the alphabet. This section also provides the opportunity for the artist, editor and book designer to collaborate and shine. As the foldout below allows, Blake’s alphabetic arrangement of objects can be seen all at once, but as Gooding points out, the horizontal presentation becomes a discursive terrain, a carnival, a procession of sculpted objects with individual shape, color and style. The viewer can find real or imagined relationships between and among them, perhaps more easily than if they were presented in a page-turning codex format. But the contrast to which Gooding draws attention is with the vertical presentation of individual letters, as in Alphabet No. 10, where attention is drawn more to the categorizing and ordering nature of the alphabet.

Although the work above is a limited edition, Peter Blake’s ABC (2009) is widely available commercially, and Peter Blake: About Collage (2000) is well-represented in libraries. The latter has the advantage of exploring Blake’s collecting and its relation to the technique of collage in a context that includes Joseph Cornell and Tracy Emin.

Further Reading

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

Blake, Peter, and Mel Gooding. 2007. An Alphabet. London: Paul Stolper and Coriander Studio.

Blake, Peter, Dawn Ades and Natalie Rudd. 2000. Peter Blake : About Collage. London: Tate Gallery Pub.

Blake Peter. 2009. Peter Blake’s ABC. London New York: Tate Pub.; Distributed in the United States by Harry N. Abrams.

Gooding, Mel, and Julian Rothenstein. 1993. Alphabets Et Other Signs. London: Thames and Hudson.

Gooding, Mel, and Julian Rothenstein. 2018. A2z : Alphabet & Signs. London: Laurence King Publishing.

Rothenstein, Julian, and Mel Gooding. 2003. ABZ. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.

Books On Books Collection – herman de vries

An Edition of Two (2014)

die wiese|the meadow & juniperus communis

die wiese|the meadow (2014): herman de vries, susanne de vries and peter foolen

juniperus communis (2014): herman de vries

(The artist always lowercases his name — to avoid hierarchy.)

Box folder of 36 postcards & box folder of juniper berries. Edition of 216, of which this is 189. Acquired from Peter Foolen Editions, November 2014. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

April 2012

February and November 2013

February 2014

This “edition of two”, as Peter Foolen has termed it, gives the reader/viewer slices of two much larger works. The first was a 320-page hardback edition of 750 copies, also entitled die wiese / the meadow but involving Marion Reissner for the concept and photography. Two copies of the special edition, signed and numbered, also included dried leaves that de vries selected from the 4000 square meters — the meadow — that is one of de vries’ most important works of art. In the Steigerwald near Eschenau, Germany, where they live, he and susanne de vries, his wife, started this work of nature’s sculpture in 1986. A peninsula anchored on the forest and surrounded by farmland, the meadow boasts a barrier of cultivated aspen and hedges. Within, a variety of shrubs, trees and wildflowers abound. A work of art in and of itself, it is also the source and palette for smaller works made of selections of leaves, arrays of briars and pressed vegetation. The dried juniper berries in juniperus communis signal that aspect of his art.

In small, juniperus communis reflects another important aspect: exhibitions and installations.

infinity in finity (2013)

infinity in finity (2013)

herman de vries

H166 x W210 mm. Edition of 1000. Acquired from Éditions incertain sens, 27 June 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

In the Books On Books Collection, infinity in finity occupies a mid-point between die weise|the meadow and argumentstellen. Whereas die weise|the meadow draws its art directly from nature or the artist’s interaction with nature, argumentstellen draws its art from the artist’s interaction with a book of philosophy and his visual translation/illustration of it through the book arts. Except for the photo of herman de vries as naturalist-cum-naturist, infinity in finity belongs more to that side of his work that focuses on wordplay and the book arts.

The single photo and the phrase “infinity in finity” point more toward intangible, abstract nature rather than the tangible nature of a meadow and handful of juniper berries. The strand under the artist’s feet and the repeated phrase evoke the lines of Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence”:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand 

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 

And Eternity in an hour

Grafix Centrum Poligrafii (Gdańsk, Poland) has precisely executed the genius of the design that aligns the repeated phrase across the double-page spread, into and out of the gutter, and sends it off the top, bottom and fore edges. The meaning of the words and form of the book align perfectly. The reader/viewer holds infinity in the finite form of a book held between two hands.

argumentstellen 1968 / 2003 (2003)

argumentstellen 1968 / 2003 (de wittgenstein — tractatus — ) (2003)

herman de vries

The first date 1968 is the year the artwork was conceived and drawn; the second date, the year it was published. H296 x W210 mm. Edition of 1250. Acquired from Éditions incertain sens, 27 June 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Argumentstellen (German for “arguing” or “making an argument”) roots itself even more in abstraction, allusion and the book arts than infinity in finity. Other than the title and colophon, there are no words in argumentstellen. Still, the little text on which it relies looms large.

The Dutch naar and French de translate as “after”; so argumentstellen is “after Wittgenstein — tractatus — 2. 0131 …” Here are English translations for the text from section 2.0131 of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus:

From Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus,
Side-by-Side-by-Side Edition
, curated by Kevin C. Klement, Department of Philosophy, University of Massachusetts – Amherst

Unlike most paintings and prints entitled “after [fill in the blank]” — but like many instances of reverse-ekphrasis in book art — argumentstellen is simultaneously a visual translation and interpretation of referenced text, not another artist’s visual work. Rather than the ekphrastic text/poem that proceeds from the visual or sculptural work of art, this is visual book art that proceeds from philosophical text. On each rich, thick, white page, the black dot (the “point in space”, full stop or period?) appears once but in different places from page to page. Against the texture and color of the page, each black dot almost performs a trompe l’oeil that surrounds it with ghostly text — implying that it marks the space or place where a statement or argument occurs, which differs from place to place, from perspective to perspective.

In the same year as the drawing for this work occurred, so did that for the lines (1968/1995). De vries’ comments on the lines shed light on argumentstellen as well as return our thoughts to walking into the ocean or through the meadow:

the position of a single line in the surface determines our experience of these surfaces, so that with another position of the line, an extension or a shortening, our experience of the surface is changed.

like every primary picture element, the line has its own unique effect. 
a point, for example, determines the space around it, creates an area of ​​tension out of it. a line does that too, but it is clearer that the line divides the area.

lines are like dams in water. the eye must overcome it like an obstacle. 
but it can also go around, flow. Another option is to follow the line, walk on the embankment and notice the changes in the area. because the place where the eye is located is a point of perception in relation to the surface. 
in this way the line is a series of 'arguments'. Walking along, around or over here means changing your perspective and viewpoint.herman de vries. Accessed 30 June 2020.

At which William Blake and those other Romantics — those ambler poets — John Clare, Samuel Coleridge and William Wordsworth must be nodding and smiling.

Further Reading

Jacqueline Rush Lee”, Books On Books Collection, 8 October 2019. More on reverse-ekphrasis.

Barbara Tetenbaum”, Bookmarking Book Art, 26 June 2013. More on reverse-ekphrasis.

Fehr, Michael. herman’s Meadow. A Museum (1992). Accessed 29 June 2020.

Gooding, Mel. herman de vries: chance and change (London: Thames & Hudson, 2006)