Books On Books Collection – Ludwig Zeller

Alphacollage (1979)

Alphacollage (1979)
Ludwig Zeller
Casebound in Holliston Sailcloth with foil stamping on the front and the spine, printed in two colours on Strathmore Grandee, composed in VIP Trump Medieval, in an edition of 200, of which this is #93.
H316 x W230 x D15 mm. Acquired from Atticus Books, 9 January 2020.

In 1980, Alphacollage received a certificate of merit from the Art Directors’ Club of New York. Its publishers (Tim and Elke Inkster of The Porcupine’s Quill) were invited to New York to accept the award. The tale of that event (as told by Tim Inkster) along with an introduction to Zeller and his work is as amusing (if not as surreal) as Alphacollage itself.

In his preface to the work, Zeller calls the inspiring vision that inspired Alphacollage an “alphabestiary [that] surrounds me”. In it, he sees

a unique alphabet in which the flute and the letter F prolong into an unending melody, … Botanical remnants, electrical apparati or bones, tools from catalogues or exotic customs are coupled with animals till they take on all the shapes of the metamorphosis and clamour for their place here, like beasts in heat. Ludwig Zeller, “Cutting Letters Out Means …”

Born in the desert of Atacama in the north of Chile, Zeller had an alphabet of 27 characters, including Ñ. Even this and Zeller’s lack of any English were not the chief challenge that the Inksters faced.

The main production difficulty encountered with the book was that some of Zeller’s raw material, his collection of nineteenth-century steel engravings, had been printed on coated stock, while others were originally printed on matte paper which had yellowed with age. The challenge (with the encouragement of Stan Bevington of Coach House) would be to colour-separate the two, which of course, could be achieved by no known photo-mechanical process. I spent the better part of three weeks during the summer of 1979, artwork in front of me, hunched over Elke’s negatives at the light table, cutting, with an X-acto knife, elaborate and intricate rubylith overlays. Tim Inkster, “Chapter Two: Stars and Stripes“, The Porcupine’s Quill. Posted on 27 September 2010. Accessed 12 January 2020.

All of the images except one appear on a recto page. The sole image appearing on a verso page — in fact, the last page of the book — is the image above, which is also the first to appear in the book. Not surprising, given the penultimate sentence of Zeller’s preface: “The circular edge of these images has twenty-seven eyes to decipher the name that contains within itself all the names of the universe.” In Spanish, the word for eye is ojo.

Further Reading

ABCs: Bookmarking Book Art”, Books On Books, 29 November 2015.

Balakian, Anna. “The surrealist optic of Ludwig Zeller“, Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas, 1977, Volume 11, Issue 21-22, pp. 161-66. Published online, 11 May 2012. Accessed 23 March 2020.

Zeller, Beatriz. Focus on Ludwig Zeller: Poet and Artist (Oakville, Ontario, Canada: Mosaic Press, 1991).