This is the run-up week to Volume 2017 Another Art Book Fair, the biennial event at Artspace that features more than seventy local and international exhibitors, me included. It’s a diverse mix of book people. At the first fair, in 2015, some exhibitor tables were crammed with towers of books, other tables featured just one or two, and they ranged from printed books, much as you might find in any bookshop, to one-off handmade artists’ books. This year I have a taste of everything from my book arts practice, plus a few handmade notebooks and cards and several new small editions. So if you are in Woolloomooloo on the weekend, stop by and say hello to Alphabet City Press.
A dozen or so tattered dust jackets have come into my possession. I have never heard of any of the books, but it hardly matters. The illustrations are evocative and dramatic, and while the title typography is different on each of them, they can certainly be recognised as a style. I googled The Dean’s Watch, and discovered that it is a novel written in 1960 and set in England, and the general consensus is that it’s a pretty good read. The book didn’t accompany this jacket, so I won’t be reading the story any time soon, but I have a plan for these tattered discards that involves making my own books using the imagery that is really just too good to waste.
I currently have three prints and five small artists books in ‘Simply Black and White’, a group show that features (primarily) black and white work from more than thirty emerging and professional artists. The show runs until 22nd December at ME Artspace, 25 Atchison Street St Leonards NSW. This is a spread from one of my books, ‘Building for beginners’, from the seven-volume series A Classical Education.
This is a spread from my recent artists book Dynamic vigour in music. The text is made up from cut up lines from an old book, and the image is a scan of a mixed media drawing I did a couple of years ago. It was only quite recently, when it was brought to my attention at a book group meeting, that I became aware of how much I use cut up text. And I realised I have done it since art school days, when I would take strips of words from magazines and newspapers to incorporate into drawings. In my more recent book work, I like the idea of taking text that appears in one form with one meaning, and rearranging it randomly—taking it out of context—to form new meaning (or nonsense, as the case may be). I’m not the first person to rearrange printed words—the concept can be traced back to the Dadaists in the 1920s and has been used since by a myriad of artists, writers and musicians—but I like the limitlessness of it and that every time the result is different.
This coming weekend, 11–13 September, Alphabet City Press will be at Volume 2015 Another Art Book Fair. The last few weeks have been a hive of activity, and I have made several new artists book editions, one of which, A Classical Education, will be launched at Volume on Saturday. The book fair is being held at the Artspace Gunnery Building in Woolloomooloo, and focuses on independently produced, artist-led publications, supported by a program of talks, workshops, launches and readings. Volume 2015 is being held in conjunction with Sydney Contemporary, which runs concurrently at Carriageworks.
It’s the weather for reading library books. Library books specifically—not something lying around the house, not a kindle book, not something to better the mind, not even a new book from the bookshop—but a book from the fiction shelves of the library. Doesn’t matter if it’s paperback or hardback, new or dog-eared and knocked around—it just has to come from the library. My library is patronised by someone who, I’m sure of it, writes in every book they borrow. Always biro, always this old-fashioned handwriting style. They are always opinionated, and they usually give a score out of ten. Oh, and they go through the list of other books by the author and tick the ones they’ve read. Like me, they are partial to a good thriller—although I often don’t share their opinion. I’m torn between being annoyed and amused, but mainly I’m annoyed. I can’t help it, I don’t like it when people write in books. And I really hate it when the reader takes to their blue biro proofreading—especially when they are wrong! I get so irritated by their stupidity! Anyway, I haven’t started reading this book yet, but the phantom book-writer seems to think it’s a good one.
I’m reading again. There are phases in a busy life when there is little time for the luxury of reading fiction, but I have made time lately to fit in a chapter or two each evening. I don’t know what it says about my choice of writer, but I have now come across several novels (in a relatively short space of time) that include a reference to Tim Tams. There are common features: the writers are American, the characters in question have an Australian friend who brings them a packet of Tim Tams (written as fiction but I suspect drawn from truth), recipients of the Tim Tams are likeable (no Tim Tams for the bad guys), and there is some comment worked into the dialogue about how irresistible they are. And who could argue with that! I like my Tim Tams from the fridge, and how these two packets have lasted unopened for as long as they have is a miracle. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Tim Tam logo is one of the most recognised in Australia.
I am currently reading a library book published by Bloomsbury, and there are two things I know about Bloomsbury from first-hand experience. One is that they publish some excellent fiction—the calibre of writing is of a consistently high standard—and the other is that the last page of the book, after the acknowledgements and any other endmatter, is ‘A Note on the Type’. I wish all books would have this! My current book is set in Adobe Caslon, and I am given a brief but exceedingly interesting history of the typeface.
I am extremely honoured to be the winner of the 2014 Biblio-Art Award. The Biblio-Art brief was to take an existing book—my book was What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge—and to create an artwork which both used and referenced the book in some way. I chose to make an artist’s book, and there is more about it under Artist’s books.
The edition I had to work with was quite old—I’m not sure of its exact age, but it was produced by Purnell and Sons, a family-run printing company that was based in Somerset, England, from 1839 to 1964. Typographically, it was not particularly easy on the eye. It was set in Times on 10pt leading. The type size, as close as I could measure it, was 9.5 or 10pt, making it a little too tight for comfortable reading. Book typesetting has come a long way since then, and typefaces like Electra, Janson Text, Garamond and Caslon, with a little more air in the leading, are used more effectively.
What optimism, what confidence in the permanence of books, to set ‘book store’ in stone! This book store did in fact trade for almost a century, but times are tough, publishing times even tougher, and the building was auctioned last month with talk of it becoming a restaurant, or a nightclub, or something or other which will most definitely not include books. At least the art supply shop next door is still open for business, so there is hope for us yet.