Catalogue title: Raft Press: The Book Project, 1992
Essay title: To Make a Book…
Author: Christine Dixon, Curator, International Illustrated Books, NGA
Publication: Raft Press, Canberra, ACT
All rights reserved by the author.
To make a book takes paper, ink, and covers. ‘Paper’ may mean rough handmade or silky Japanese paper, sheets of Perspex or plaster-of-Paris. Ink is usually black printing ink, Although coloured inks might be used. Covers, to protect the book and make it portable, range from wooden or cardboard boxes to rolled fabric, from paper folders to vellum or leather. To make a book in 1992 forces the artist to consider the form of a commonplace object, to look again at this symbol of learning, of leisure, of culture. The artist can choose to experiment, playing with the idea of a book, or to celebrate the achievements of thousands of years.
Every new book opens a new world. For an artist, the first encounter is with the concept of a book as the combination of text and images. The works of The Book Project are linked only by the use of the centuries-old technique of printing words, letterpress. Most of the artists choose the classic serif fonts such as Times Roman, with their overtones of sobriety, high quality and tradition. The placement of the text varies greatly however, from the densely-packed prose of S [Sandstrom] to the wandering concrete poetry of Femme Fatale [Appelby].
The greatest tradition of the conventional book is continued in To Walk Across a Field [Bot], where the story is told with simple means and a notably beautiful use of space. Expressive linocuts alternate with bold black text to anchor the cream pages, encompassed by marbled endpapers and tooled cloth covers. Double Act [Myshkin] reinterprets Ionescue’s play with wood-engravings crisply printed, the whole given an air of luxury by a vellum binding. Baudelaire’s poem The Voyage [Thomas] is accompanied by an emotive etching, all clad in grey paper.
The literal reading of words for their meaning can be played off against the reading of pictures. In Passing Through [Shinfield], poetry is printed onto translucent tissue to overlay the lithographs with woodcut. These elements combine to make memorable images of a darkling land. After Fire [Nix] uses drafting film, folded concertina-fashion over handmade paper. The paper is treated, its edges burnt, and the whole unrolls as a bare-boned continuous landscape.
Another approach is to deny, or at least contest, the legibility of the word. In Paths [?], letterpress is printed onto red sand, which shifts and breaks the text apart. The cover of The Web [J. Petersen] is a barrier to the contents: two heavy slabs of resin hold bent wire within them. Their seemingly transparency is contradicted by intricate cracking which bars the view, while the weight of the material makes the reader fight to see the single sheet of paper laid inside. Shadow of an Angel [Taylor] has a black crushed-velvet box with a glass cover, text printed on its internal walls, half-obscured by gold origami stars.
The title of X [Conroy] is the only written element, the important issue being how it is made – drawn, embossed, printed in letterpress, as if seen through a window. The witty, mundane binding consists of a bright red bulldog clip holding the book together, insinuating that this is just one solution and there are infinite permutations.
By contrast, the six letters of Precious Letters [Brunnschweiler] are overwhelmed with images and words. The paper glitters with coloured fibres and gold ink, collaged photomontages in a rainbow of pinks, orange, greens and blues.
The Book Project has within it a battle between dimensions: the book as a sculpture, and as surface. No Meaning Without Intention or Human Action [Crossing] represents one extreme, where the volume is held inside paper covers within a perspex slipcase. On it rests a sculptured head of wax, and these elements are on top of a square black pillar. The artist accentuates the serial process of reading, as several actions must be taken if the book is to be opened safely. When the aqua-painted box containing Letter to an Unknown Friend [L. Petersen] is opened, a white ladder and diving platform arise, to stand over the water of clear plastic tubes with green words inside. The Book of Job [Challis] can be viewed as a three-dimensional installation. Lyrical colour woodcuts alternate with printed sheets in four sets of four triangles, graded in size so that they fit inside each other, and into a box. When set up as pyramids, they form an imaginary landscape of mountain peaks and valleys.
The division of form from content can be bridged, as when the pages of A Parlement of Birds [Clutterbuck] are cut into a concertina bird shape. Wishes are printed onto coloured pebbles for The Wishing Well [Kaminski], thoughts onto coiled rope for The Net of Consciousness [?]. The box for A Book of Education [Nolan] is made from old school desks, the varnished golden wood incised with graffiti, memories of schooldays. Inside, a stack of small plaster slabs sandwiches moulded paper between each slice. Simple Gifts [Partridge] is presented in the form of an unsealed box, recalling the Japanese art of wrapping presents. A wooden outside layer gives way to brightly-coloured linocuts on cardboard, and inside a blue twist of tissue paper. There is a similar playful quality to Little Red Riding Hood [Hogan], wooden blocks inside a heavy Tasmanian blackwood case. Each face of a block shows a large letter, or part of a folk-tale, or a section of lithographic illustration, an invitation to a do-it-yourself book. The box for Femme Fatale [Appelby] is covered with black lace, evoking fantasies of seduction.
The red letterpress lament of ‘I am an Australian artist…’, Untitled [Hall], sinks down through layer upon layer of perspex and glass to a mirror below. Transparency and opacity are counterpoised in the Perspex stepped pyramid of To Wit and To Woo [Hambly], with images drawn in varnish on plastic sheets, tied to each sheet by its inset black threads.
To make a book takes many hours, diverse skills, a love of materials and most of all, a leap of the imagination.
Sandra Appelby: Femme Fatale (photography, letterpress)
G.W. Bot: To Walk Across a Field (linocuts, letterpress)
Jane Bradhurst: Animalia in Australia (collage, letterpress)
Ulli Brunnschweiler: Precious Letters (mixed media, letterpress)
Jacqui Driver: A Book for Barbara (lithography, letterpress)
Chris Denton: Self and Other Portraits (mixed media, letterpress)
Basil Hall: Untitled (glass/Perspex, letterpress)
Tanya Myshkin: Double Act (wood engravings, letterpress)
Jonathan Nix: …— Parallellograms (etchings, letterpress)
Pamela Challis: The Book of Job (woodcuts, letterpress)
Victoria Clutterbuck: A Parlement of Birds (linocuts, letterpress)
Dörte Conroy: X (mixed media, letterpress)
Elisa Crossing: No Meaning Without Intention or Human Action (mixed media, letterpress)
Marian Hambly: To Wit and To Woo (handmade paper, letterpress)
Jan Hogan: Little Red Riding Hood (lithography, wooden blocks, letterpress)
Andrew Kaminski: Wishing Well (pebbles, letterpress)
Viv Laynne: The Growing Edge (etchings, letterpress)
Katharine Nix: After Fire (handmade paper, letterpress)
Lyn Nolan: A Book of Education (sculpture, letterpress)
Mike Partridge: Simple Gifts (mixed media, letterpress)
Deborah Perrow: Holywaters (mixed media, letterpress)
Joanne Petersen: The Web (Cast resin, letterpress)
Les Petersen: Letter to an Unknown Sculptor (sculpture, letterpress)
Francis Rhodes: The Waves (etching, letterpress)
Tim Rowston: Two Crows (photo postcards, letterpress)
Hannu Sandstrom: S (computer text, , letterpress)
Gary Shinfield: Passing Through (mixed media, letterpress)
Karen Taylor: Shadow of an Angel (sculpture, letterpress)
Carrie Thomas: The Voyage (etchings, letterpress)
Lesbia Thorpe: Turkish and Other Delights (linocuts, letterpress)
Unknown: The Path (named in essay)
Unknown: The Net of Consciousness (named in essay)
Each participant was asked by Les Petersen to explore the artists’ book concept and to produce a limited edition (min 5 and max 50) using the letterpress facilities of Raft Press (based in Studio One Inc, Kingston, Canberra).
The exhibition was launched at the National Library of Australia and was also shown at the First National Book Symposium in Auckland, NZ (1993). ‘A selection of books will be exhibited at various venues in France and will tour Australia’: it is not known if this happened.