Monday, January 21, 2019

SCENES FROM THE LIFE...

I know this is too long a post but what the hell - if interested you'll read it all, if not you won't. No problema!

My next collaboration with the Old Stile Press took off in 2010 when Nicolas McDowall saw a suite of old (1950s) ink drawings I had posted on my blog. He was enthused and, of course, I was super-enthused when he said: let’s do a book with these. What I wrote in that post became part of the Afterword in the Old Stile Press book Scenes from the Life of Jesus published in 2011. 

I was an art student in New York City when I dipped a brush in Indian ink and these drawings emerged in quick succession. What I remember most clearly about that period is a sense of freedom and excitement. Abstract Expressionism was in the air and I was for a while studying with Jack Tworkov, one of its leading practitioners, in his studio next door to De Kooning. I’m not sure if these painters’intense commitment to the spontaneous gesture was an influence but I did show my set of drawings to Tworkov and was very proud when he praised them unconditionally (he wasn’t the type to praise anything unconditionally) even though the subject matter was not the sort of thing which would appeal to anyone in that bohemian milieu.

I should explain where I stand in relation to the G-word (God) and the R-word (Religion). I believe in the mystery that is G. I don’t believe the human mind is equipped to define G.
I don’t trust any of the definitions/explanations for or against G that are given by religions, theologies, mythologies, psychologies, occult theories etc. Why should I trust them? All human thinking, including mine of course, is fallible and influenced by all the agendas that we are heir to. When an individual or whole armies of individuals, commit atrocious actions in the belief that “God told us to do it” it is proof of the twisted turns the human brain can take. It doesn't disprove or prove the reality of the G mystery.

Do I think that the G mystery is real because, as many disbelievers insist, I need a crutch to lean on, a tranquiliser against the fear of death? Is it because I’ve been brainwashed? None of those apply. The G mystery is real to me as presence, rather than belief. I have no need to prove it. It's enough for me to play with it, in art or comics or writing. It's inspiration.

Below are only a few of the images. In the book, short lines of text face each drawing.










Saturday, January 19, 2019

REVELATION

I met Frances and Nicolas McDowall many times over the years at book fairs where the Old Stile Press would have a regular stand, richly stocked with their many publications. I occasionally took a small stand at specialised fairs to show a few of my livres d’artiste and though the OSP is a proper publishing/fine printing Press and what I do is entirely different, we admired each other’s work and ethos and became good friends.

Some time in the 1990s Nicolas asked if there was a text I’d be inspired to illustrate which could become a new OSP limited edition book. I don’t remember whether I thought long and hard about this or whether the Book of Revelation shot up out of the blue like a whale but that’s what I chose and Nicolas agreed it would be an exciting project. 
 
This famous Biblical text has always seemed hypnotic to me, pulling you into the vision which is sweeping John’s mind like a tsunami. I wanted to portray the sense of headlong rushing words and images and decided to make collages out of the whole text, cut up and overlapping, with black line drawings over the top. My images were made into polymer relief blocks and hand-printed by Nicolas in black. There was no need for typesetting since the collaged text is incorporated with the images.

The Revelation of Saint John the Divine, visually interpreted by NdA, was published in a limited edition of 150 copies in 1999. A few copies are still available at £295 from the Old Stile Press - an incredibly low price for, if I say so myself, a stunning production: 38 original prints in a beautiful triptych binding.

click on the thumbnails in the link below to enlarge the images

http://www.oldstilepress.com/…/the-revelation-of-saint-joh…/




Wednesday, January 16, 2019

DREAM AND VARIATIONS

Dream and Variations (1988) is another one-of-a-kind bookwork. It is happily at home in the collection of Frances and Nicolas McDowall who are, besides being their inimitable individual selves, also the legendary Old Stile Press (that's 'stile' not 'style'). I'm proud to be one of the many artists who have been privileged to work with them. My next post will feature three books we collaborated on.

The process of making Dream and Variations involved drawing then cutting all the shapes out of thin card, inking each one with oil-based pigments, then printing them one at a time in multiple layers on black paper. If it sounds complicated that's because it is. I love this sort of complexity because it's fun and allows for a great deal of improvisation. The folio is held in a fabric bag which I asked Blanche, my mother, to embroider -another bit of un-planned improvisation which added to the total effect.





Tuesday, January 15, 2019

PUBLIC COLLECTIONS

Not many people know this. But not many people know about artists' books and even if they do, not so many people know that they can go to public institutions, museums, university and other libraries who have such things in their collections and ASK TO SEE THEM!

If you're a fan of contemporary art, you can see, up close, examples from the hand of super-famous artists like Matisse - his magnificent livre d'artiste Jazz for instance, a copy of which is the Victoria & Albert Museum Library - and also from not-so-famous ones like, ahem, me. By the way, the V&A Library has quite a few bookworks of mine and gave me an exhibition in 1990.

Public collections are exactly that: open to the public. They may have different rules for accessing items, but nothing off-putting. The brilliant British Library in London, for example, asks that you register for a reader's card if you want to consult the Library - not a problem! Go and check out work of mine (quite a lot of it) in their collections, including recent acquisitions described at that link.


Monday, January 14, 2019

I'D RATHER BE A MASOCHIST...

Still some air left in the trumpet so here's something more or less completely different. I'd Rather Be a Masochist Than An Analyst. 1988. One-of-a-kind bookwork.

If you're a visual artist, what's your reply if someone asks you to describe your style? I have as much trouble answering that question as I've had with saying what my age is. The truthful reply to both questions is: it varies.


Sunday, January 13, 2019

QUANTUM LEAPING

You might not see my Quantum Leap as a book and I wouldn't blame you. Art objects in the genre Artists’ Books can have all kinds of odd characteristics which make them unsuitable for bookshelves. The Bibliothèque Nationale de France has categories such as livre d'artiste, livre-objet, livre de peintre etc. to describe the variety of artist-made book-like things which grace their special collections. These un-bookish expensive artefacts are stored away, unless visitors specifically ask to see them, because if they were constantly handled they would gradually disintegrate. So, of course, would paintings, drawings, sculpture etc. in museums if they were daily caressed by the crowds.

If they consider the definition of ‘book’ to mean what it familiarly does, some people see the price of certain artists’ books as exorbitant. The Library of Congress in Washington D.C. bought my one-of-a-kind Quantum Leap for $5000 in 1990. Some people would say “They paid that for a book?” Yet if it was not classed as 'book' but simply as 'art' then the price would seem to them normal, or even low. Perception, context!

As a painter/printmaker/writer/builder the artist’s book genre was a way to bring together my interests and skills so I started NdA Press in 1974. It’s a 'press' only in the loosest sense and an etching press is my only printing equipment. Visual content is my principal focus. The bookworks I’ve made are either very small editions or consist of just one copy. Text is usually brief and my own but occasionally by others.


Saturday, January 12, 2019

MOZART, MATISSE, BLANCHE ET MOI

Trumpeting for today. Another artist's book: Mozart, Matisse, Blanche et Moi. Drypoints, 32 pages.
Below are a couple of the images.

Drypoint is an intaglio printmaking technique. The difference between a drypoint, an engraving and an etching (all three of which are intaglio) is that lines drawn on a metal plate with a drypoint needle don't break the surface very deeply. The tool cuts a rather jagged furrow which, when filled with oily printing ink, produces a furry, shadowy line. An engraving is drawn with a much harder, chisel-like tool (burin) which cuts a deep groove in the metal. When inked and printed, engraved lines have a sharp, precise look. Etching, which relies on acid biting unprotected areas of a metal plate, can achieve a wide variety of effects in line and tone according to the length of time in the acid bath and other factors.