Thursday, January 31, 2019


So, backstage at the Village Gate in 1977, I present this idea to Dizzy Gillespie: would he like to play Fungus, an old actor stuck in a sewer with his equally old understudy, Curmudgeonly, reciting mis-remembered lines from Shakespearean plays he once performed badly? I hand Dizzy the script of Fungus and Curmudgeonly by my friend and colleague Simon Meyerson. I explain that the play was first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1976 and then at the Macbeth Room of the Shakespeare Hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon. We’re hoping to bring it to London and Simon thinks that Dizzy would be terrific in the lead - how about it? 

Does Dizzzy ask me to leave his dressing room at once? No, he does not. He twinkles and says he’ll read the script and talk to his agent. Eventually we do meet up with Dizzy at Ronnie Scott’s in London and he’s twinkly and good-natured as before but, I forget exactly why, Dizzy and Fungus never got together. The play is a comic and sad fugue on the theme of self-delusion, vanity and loyalty. The sound of applause is heard throughout: it is rushing water in the sewer.

What did happen was that at some point I decided to turn Simon’s play into a livre d’artiste, an undertaking which took nearly two years. Veteran actors Charles Turner and Jack LeWhite agreed to do a reading which was recorded and copied onto cassette tapes to fit into the binding I designed. A special copy was commissioned by the collector/critic Colin Franklin and other copies from the limited edition ended up in various public collections. Herewith some photos to animate this saga.
Details of the book are at this link:

Tuesday, January 29, 2019


Three photos of the dressing room backstage at the Village Gate in New York City 1977. Dizzy Gillespie and a friend are rehearsing, I am there too. Why? Because I've come to ask Dizzy if he wants to take the lead role in a play I'm involved in the production of.

There's another photo of me and Dizzy at that same moment but, damn damn damn, I can't find it! Next post I'll elaborate.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Click on the above link to see details and images from this book.

The most recent collaboration with the Old Stile Press happened like this: on my friend poet Dick Jones’ blog, I read his translation of Blaise Cendrars famous 1913 poem Trans-Siberian Prosody and Little Jeanne from France. I knew and loved the poem in French and had read a few of the other translations but I thought Dick’s version was exceptional, really capturing the meandering maverick’s style and energy. 

I immediately wanted to illustrate it and felt that it would be a project that Nicolas and Frances would be interested in. Indeed they were, and over the course of nearly two years, Blaise Cendrars’ words translated by Dick Jones, interpreted by me in 43 relief blocks, became an Old Stile Press book, designed, set and hand-printed by Nicolas, publicised and distributed by Frances, approved and prefaced by Miriam Cendrars, Blaise’s daughter and a formidable talent in her own right.

To launch this publication in 2015 Dick and I prepared an audio-visual presentation which was held at the London Review Bookshop. I made a video with the illustrations, timed to fit with a live reading of the poem by Dick, accompanied on the guitar by Doug McGowan. There was an enthusiastic response to this ‘performance’ and we’re hoping to do it again somewhere - all invitations considered!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019


In Italian "I love you" is ti voglio bene. Literally translated this is "I want good for you". The familiar phrase, considered literally, presents an interesting and less familiar viewpoint. Not sentimental or romantic but a simple declaration of intent with no strings attached: "I am willing you goodness."

Benevolence combines bene and volere or volonta. As I see it BENEVOLENCE is the one essential quality which any human institution must have, whether it deals with matters religious, philosophical, political. financial, educational, social, scientific, technological etcetera.

Yes yes I know. I'm indulging in pie-in-sky utopian woolly snowflaky thinking. You're asking: who decides what The Good is? Every totalitarian regime - political, religious, whatever - is always absolutely sure they know what The Good is and they're going to give it to you whether you like it or not. Okay, I admit this is a problem. A big problem. So how about this:

What if criteria for Benevolence are defined and agreed upon by means of, I don't know, a worldwide vote or something? A Declaration of Benevolence. Then any organisation (including governments) no matter how big, powerful, influential, must prove that their actions are genuinely benevolent - ie that they can demonstrate Ti voglio bene to all. If they can't prove it they're out. Finito. End of.

Am I voted world leader? Never mind, didn't want the job anyway.

Monday, January 21, 2019


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


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…/the-revelation-of-saint-joh…/

Wednesday, January 16, 2019


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


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


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


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


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.


Okay, trumpet blowing in the wind. For a start, I'll post a daily selection of some of my artist's books.
 Here's For A Song seven poems and etchings.

Monday, January 07, 2019


When is the right time to blow one's own trumpet, loud enough to reach the ears one would like to reach? You know what I mean.

If, as a child and later on as well, you often felt you weren't heard, a plaintive desire to be heard persists. But you learn how to be quietly modest (or comically boastful) about your achievements.

Time to beat the drum?

Sunday, January 06, 2019


Categories. I hate categories. But to function efficiently, successfully, our society demands that you define your category.

Who goes there?
Me. Moi. Io. Eu. Ya......
What category is that?
I don't want to define it.

Then you can't expect to be given the kind of recognition you're asking for. You have to be a product, a brand. You have to fit into a slot. 

I want to redesign my website completely. Built it myself in 2002 and I tweak it now and then but I think It's got too many doors leading to other doors.

Would any of you like to take a slow virtual walk through it and tell me if you agree it's overloaded?

Friday, January 04, 2019


At the end of 2007 I was joint winner of the Mary Stott competition held by the Guardian. On my main blog Blaugustine I wrote on the 8th November 2007 (see blog archive November 2007).
about the Guardian party where I found out I'd won. (The cartoon below was about the painful boots I wore for the occasion.) The prize was to spend a week at the Guardian as guest editor of the section then called Guardian Women.

That week was fun and focused. I wrote Where are all the older female geeks? (Guardian 13 June 2008), comissioned an interview of Paula Rego by Emine Saner Age shall not wither her (Guardian 18 June 2008) and in that same issue wrote a piece Choosing art means you have permission to be a child forever.The geeks article was reprinted in another publication and quoted on line, an organisation asked me to speak and I was invited to be one of the guest speakers (all expenses paid!) at the Women’s Global Forum held in Deauville in 2013.

A few weeks ago, in the small hours of the night, I had a sudden urge to write about why I fear admitting my age. Scribbled a few lines then thought: why not ask the Guardian if they’ll commision an article? I contacted the features editor I met in 2008, sent her a brief outline and reminded her of my stint in her office 11 years ago. Didn’t mind whether I’d get a Yes or a No - I wasn’t even sure I really wanted to make a public confession. It was just one of those late night things.

So when I got a positive response I was chuffed and, as chance would have it, the Guardian was planning a feature on ageing in the first week of January. So my idea arrived exactly at the right moment. The article was commissioned, I wrote it fast, met the 30th December deadline. Et voilĂ !

Thursday, January 03, 2019


Might as well milk this for all it's worth, tomorrow or the next day it will be forgotten and I'll slink back to comfortable and safe obscurity.

Here are photos of the G2 cover and of the article inside, for the benefit of those who didn't rush out to get the paper Guardian today (shame on you!) and those who are too far away from metropolitan centres to obtain it.

Today I spent all day, ALL DAY, gloating. No, what's a better word for what I mean?... glooning?...over the effects of this sudden media exposure. I checked facebook about 100 times, logged into the online version of my article about 100 times, read the comments below it maybe three times, then after I bought the printed newspaper spent about an hour in the cafe re-reading my article and glooning. Now, suppose this mini-version of actual celebrity was a daily thing in my life, would I become a total and absolute and irreparable GLOON?? This is too horrible to even contemplate so I'll stop right here. In my next post I'll tell you exactly how this media thing came about.