Books On Books Collection – Jack Oudyn

A Prayer in Hell (2018)

A Prayer in Hell (2018)
Jack Oudyn
Palm leaf prayer book format of 12 timber slats with double-sided collages materials and images made with pomegranate ink on antique paper, water soluble crayon calico, wound dressings and PVA adhesive. Text from Nauru Files — Guardian Newspaper and Islamic prayer book. Open: H195 x W130 mm. Closed: H195 x W 55 x D35 mm. Slip case: 2 mm card with collage, H202 x W60 x D38 mm, to be displayed with the book. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 4 January 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.

A Prayer in Hell is one of Jack Oudyn’s larger works. works refer to the Australian experience of the world’s refugee crisis (perhaps the largest diaspora in history), A Prayer in Hell is the most scorching of them all.

Materially, the work embodies the refugees and their experience in many ways — its palm-leaf prayer book pages even consist of “stressed and recycled timber slats”. The binding cords penetrate drawings of eyes on each slat, creating the effect of the faceless staring through bars. Although the work’s title alludes to the English expression “not a hope in hell”, the work itself nods toward hope appears in how the wound dressings, wound round the slat pages, gradually become cleaner. Under and over the dressings, strips of English and Arabic text are collaged alongside handwritten extracts from Islamic prayer books and reports of events and conditions in Australian detention centers. Complete with redactions, the English text refers to the scandals associated with the centers at Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Christmas and Manu islands.

Fish Books One, Two, Three and Four (1999 – 2001)

All acquired from the artist, 4 January 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.

This complete set of his fish books represents Oudyn’s Micro Press imprint well. Many of the small works are playful with language, form, and material and, often, socially satirical or critical. More hook-in-mouth than tongue-in-cheek, the fish books have provided the artist with ground for playing with collage and printing techniques. In imagery, they are reminiscent of Ric Haynes, Breughel and Bosch. In text, they encapsulate the punsterdom of book art (albeit without the usual book-related self-referencing, though “fish wrapper” would have been good for their covers); reveal the artist’s Dutch heritage in their numbering; and revel in Australia’s odd common fishnames (dart, flattie, stargazer, sweetlips, etc.). By Fish Book Four (2001), however, a socially sharper tone emerges. The dates of publication, which vary from those in the WorldCat links for each title, are taken from the artist’s website.

The Very First Book of Fish (1999)
Jack Oudyn
Booklet made of 200 gsm digital paper, sewn with single white waxed thread, 16 pages. Color laser print of mixed media drawings; ink, paint, collage on pages from telephone directory. H70 x W105 mm, 16 pages. Edition of 50, of which this is #27. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.

Fish Book Two (1999)
Same format as first, except sewn with single red waxed thread; #49 of 50.

Fish Book Three (2000)
Same format as the second; #25 of 50.

Fish Book Four (2001)
Same format as third, except sewn with single dark gray waxed thread: #13 of 50.

‘ATE (2011)

‘ATE X 10 (2011)
Jack Oudyn
Japanese stab-bound booklet, with wax paper cover and Momigami fly leaves. H54 x W74 mm, 10 train ticket sleeves holding 10 small numbered cards collaged with advertising brochure photos. Edition of 2, of which this is #2. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.

ATE X 10 demonstrates Oudyn’s wont to play language, form and material off image and vice versa. Bound in a Japanese stab binding by waxed thread and wax paper from the fish markets at Tsukiji in Tokyo, the book begins with a front fly leaf page bearing a tag line from the breast exercise mantra; on the same Momigami paper, the end fly leaf bears the colophon. The pages are made of Japanese train ticket sleeves containing numbered cards collaged with small photos from advertising brochures found near railway stations. As the fly leaf hints, the modest photos come from ads for breast enhancement services, an 8 x 10 promise relative to the images presented.

The works in the Micro Press imprint also reflect Oudyn’s interest (and presence) in mail art. He has been a member of the International Union of Mail Artists, and a section on his site is devoted to mail art.

’16 Century Map’ (2012)

’16 Century Map’ (2012) Jack Oudyn
Tab/slot-bound, single-fold, map paper on board, covering three outward-opening triangular cut tabs over center map paper on board; ink-stamped and drawn, with “you are here” sticker in lower left corner. H70 x W72 mm (closed). Unique. Acquired from the artist, 4 January 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.

This small unique work — and those that follow — lie outside the Micro Press imprint. As the artist writes on his blog, this is a trial attempt at juxtaposing the exterior old European map (showing Mesopotamia and the Euphrates, the Northern hemisphere’s cradle of civilization) with the interior Australian map of the Kakadu National Park to get at the concept of Tjukurpa, by which Australia’s Anangu refer to the creation period.

It is not strictly a Turkish-fold map, but the way the tab with indigenous colors snugly closes ’16 Century Map’ is just as mechanically satisfying.

vis-à-vis | face to face (2014)

vis-à-vis | face to face (2014) Jack Oudyn
Blizzard-fold booklet, mixed media and collage with tea bag paper. H100 x W70 mm, six panels. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 4 January 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.

A heavily stained, empty teabag glued across the two boards, whose opening is closed with the teabag string wrapped around a wooden button, serves for this booklet’s binding. A conversation between two people struggling for words, hence the near random use of found text, occupies the six panels. The abstract faces profiles are characteristic of Oudyn’s work, as is the use of acrylic medium as a block out or resist. Or perhaps it is egg yolk, which would be in keeping with the reference to eggs and, with the tea stains, in keeping with a breakfast-table conversation.

Age Marks (2014)

Age Marks (2014)
Jack Oudyn
Handmade waxed and stained paper book by Trace Willans. Mixed media and collage on paper. H85 x W65 x D10 mm, 44 pages. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 4 January 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.

Trace Willans makes blank books from organic, sustainable media. Age Marks began as one of these blanks, its pages consisting of lightly textured machine-made lightweight paper (ca. 100 gsm), some stained and waxed. The result is not exactly an inscribed blank notebook, not exactly an altered book. Oudyn’s use of mixed media of different hand-made papers, tracing paper, found text, wax, reflective road tape, postage stamps, white acrylic ink, gouache and pigment creates a unique record of the aging process of mark making. Marks made by conversation, observation, inscription, printing, writing, drawing, collation, lifts and reveals, cutting, tearing, pasting, weaving, binding — all filtered through aging.

Small as it is, Age Marks is one of the most varied haptic experiences in the collection.

The Future of an Illusion (2017)

The Future of an Illusion (2017)
Helen Malone and Jack Oudyn
Sculptural tunnel book structure (three joined four-fold leporellos) enclosed in a folder and protective boxin a box,. Box made with Lamali handmade paper, suede paper (lining) and Somerset Black 280 gsm; Folder: Canson black 200gsm, skull button and waxed thread; Leporellos: center leporello made of Canson black 200 gsm, linen thread adjoining two leporellos made of Arches watercolour paper 185 gsm with acrylic, soluble carbon, gouache and transfer ink jet images. Box: H275 x W313 x D34 mm; Folder: H258 x W295 x D21 mm; Book: H250 x W290 x D16 mm closed, D410 mm open. One of an unnumbered, signed edition of 4. Acquired from Helen Malone, 12 September 2017.

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Roughly Asemic (2020)

Roughly Asemic (2020)
Jack Oudyn
Booklet, single-thread stitched, handmade paper cover, painted and inked, over brown Kraft paper folios illustrated with drawings and markings in paint and ink. H105 X W123 mm, 7 leaves, folded in half making 28 unnumbered pages, 14 of which bear drawings and markings, 13 of which are left blank, and the last page bears the title, signature and year. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 4 January 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.

This work’s title could not be more apropos. It is a scratchy thing to hold, its pages stiff and crackling as they turn. Patterns, images and letters struggle to emerge, only to be submerged by each other on the same or next page, which goes to show how difficult it must be to achieve entirely asemic markings. “Roughly asemic” might be the best hoped for.

Further Reading

Foster, Robin. “Feature Artist – Jack Oudyn“, Personal Histories, International Artist Book Exhibition, Redland Museum, UNSW, Canberra. 11 March 2014. Accessed 19 October 2020.

Oudyn, Jacobus (Jack). Blog entry, 4 February 2013. Accessed 19 October 2020.

Oudyn, Jacobus (Jack). Micro Press. Artist’s site. Accessed variously from 1 September 2017 to 16 January 2021.

Helen Malone and Jack Oudyn“, Books On Books Collection. 5 December 2017.