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.