In response to CBBAG's call for entry 140 fine books, boxes, papers and samples of calligraphy were submitted from as far away as Israel. From this healthy international harvest the jurors skimmed off a cream of 45 entries, which form the body of this exhibition. The works reflect the diversity and creativity to presently to be found in the allied disciplines of book binding, fine printing, boxmaking, paper decorating and calligraphy. They offer an opportunity for aesthetic contemplation and all viewers should feel welcome in taking a second satisfying look.
Aesthetic contemplation is an integral mix of sensory delight, emotional enrichment and intellectual reward-functions which the lively arts of bookmaking are particularly suited to fulfill.
Examine Margaret Lock's edition of How much land does a man need? The wooden case has two functions: distinction and containment. Not only does it protect the finely printed book within, but it signals 'importance' to the viewer. Unfastening the tabs, we discover a book with pliable covers of fragrant kangaroo grass. Opening the covers, we find substantial pages of Bareham Green's Canterbury paper. The text of Tolstoy's novel is immaculately printed in 18-point Baskerville and the evocative illustrations have been drawn and cut by Margaret Lock in marine plywood. She and Frederick Lock have executed this book on an Eickoff proofing press. Even
without a technical understanding of the quality materials and highly developed skills required to produce such a book, their benefits are readily experienced and appreciated. The wooden case, the texture of the papers, and the controlled drama of the text and illustrations all contribute harmoniously towards a potent sobriety.
For a more lighthearted book consider Pamela Smith's printing of Bronco vs Bicycle. Also representing the category of fine printing, it is a product of the Press of the Palace of Governors in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Smith's choice of Goudy Light type face for the text was an excellent one. That face's engaging, and easy-on-the-eyes clarity is ideal for the purposes of the verse. Also note how the design and printing conspire to coax the reader through the rollicking rhythms of this Old West tale set to poetry.
John Risseeuw's Even Transcendentalists Get the Blues embodies a 1854 sentiment of Henry Thoreau. It is an unbleached, soft-surface paper of card weight, imprinted with the phrase 'our life is frittered away by details.' Sharing the page are representations of the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life: strawberries, stockings, dollar bills, and butterflies. Despite the wistful tone of the quote, the colours and placement of the printed elements make a pleasing composition.
Glenn Goluska's fine handprinting of Brooklyn Bridge literally stands out. It unfolds accordion style to become a freestanding, three dimensional metaphor for the bridge itself. The spare text is visually suspended between the woodcuts (also by the printer). Suminagahi, Japanese marbled paper, on the covers suggests rippling water.
Approximately one third of the work in this exhibition is focused on bookbinding. Most of the books are accompanied by sleeves or boxes. These are the first thing a viewer encounters, and as such can be an effective way of introducing the contents of the book to the potential reader. The various elements of the book's binding are further pieces of information about the book. A binder may express his creativity in how he manipulates the complementary or contrasting relationships between the sleeve, cover papers, inside leaves and so on. The cumulative effect is, in essence, the binder's interpretation of the author's work.
For a demonstration of this function, investigate Pierrette McCullough's binding of Jordi Bonet. The book's subject is a poignant portrait of a painter and muralist who experienced great artistic accomplishment, as well as searing self doubts and ultimately a tragic end. The binding reflects and illuminates this theme. It is worked in black leather and pewter. The subtlety of the sombre cover gives way to a reflective foil inside. It is a contrasting flash of light, or life, that literally forces us to look at ourselves.
Herve Busatto's skin coloured suede binding of Hymnes à la Déesse suggests its Tantric theme. The symbols which decorate the cover are also consistent with the Hindu mystic rites devoted to the goddess Sakti. It is intriguing to see how Busatto has marked the front and back covers with opposing symbols. This nudges us to contemplate the front and back covers as metaphors for male and female, life and death, beginning and end.
Don Taylor has also chosen symbols to communicate the essence of his book. His Faust is a weighty tome bearing a pentagram. Sinister metal hands clasp the book shut implying powerful secrets as black as the goatskin cover.
By way of contrast, examine the silk, cotton, and fibre ties on Elizabeth McKee's From A Circle of Love. These are caressing tendrils which complete the book's undulating calligraphy. The snug, alum tawed leather tabs of Beatrice Stock's Medieval Latin Lyrics also make a comforting counterpoint to the menacing Faust.
Bookbinding presents manifold technical challenges to the craftsman. Books are truly three dimensional objects, reading, and handling them is a process of comprehensive scrutiny. There are no hiding places for a binder's slips.
Annegret Hunter-Eisenbach masterfully conquers these technical and creative challenges in her binding of Goethe. It is an orchestration of a richly painted box, sumptuous suede wrapper, and a book covered in a wealth of leathers. The meticulous structural elements of the book itself, such as the endbands of the spine, disclose through treatment of detail.
Daniel Kelm' s Thistles and Thorns is another instance of superior craftsmanship. It is a series of surprises, as Kelm has alternated simple ivory cloth and the craggy cast-paper face of the prophet Abraham. Part of the gratifying balance is the unusual box, a three part construction. Its U-shaped poplar wood structures are an allusion to the altars Abraham builds.
You will need a magnifying glass to study the details of Louise Genest-Côté's binding of What Was Christmas Like in the Olden Days? Its diminutive scale, coupled with the theme, suggests a young child's private treasure.
Artists' books are for adventurers. In this category every aspect of the book is open to bold interpretation and any artistic device is permissible in the service of expression. Mary Jo Pauly has fashioned a house shaped book which pops up to become a three dimensional interior of a trendy home. It is a witty commentary on modern sensibilities and through its analogies to the greeting card and children's book excites the viewer's imagination.
Margaret Sahlstrand's Rose Geranium and Kate Abbott's Travelling Book also call upon the association of colourful children's books to add a sense of wonderment. This is especially true of the later. Its generous scale recalls the lap sized books which invited us as children to crawl inside and wrap the fantastic pages about us. Recipe cards, billboards, and postcards will all look new to the viewer after experiencing these artist's books.
A number of the artists' books have transparent pages. In the case of Colleen Oakes' 10/19/86 the loose leaves are anecdotal x-rays, narrating a printing accident. In Susan Turner's The Square, The Lozenge, and The Triangle, the transparency allows a fuller exploitation of the positive and negative relationship between the geometric protagonists. Sleep Sweet Sleep by Kerry Lee Wiedermann contains sentiments of faith, hope and endearment from Wisconsin gravestones, and by means of Japanese paper inserts presents them in a window like manner. Untitled Box #4 by the same artist incorporates sepia toned slides as a window onto memories and nostalgia.
Transparency allows for the superimposition of images. A similar effect can be attained by the irregular shaping of pages. Peter Sramek folds the pages of In Search of Paradise to offer partial and cumulative views. He has used an Apple IIc computer to produce this limited edition book.
Of all the artists books Françoise Lavoie's is the most daring. It is comprised of a purse, an agenda and even a tape recording. Le réticule tue radically stretches our definitions of what a book might be. Is a book a collaboration of parts? Is it a phenomenon?
Fresh, unfettered, painterly, elegant and exquisite are just some of the words that can be used to describe the decorated papers in this exhibition. They express a sensitivity to the special problems of surface design. It seems ironic that the fluidity and natural ease of marbled paper, are the result of exacting control by the decorator, but such is the case. It takes much technique to make things appear spontaneous and natural.
Judith Welbourn achieves just that spontaneity, through the manipulation of fold and resist dyeing, and by the near magical effects of light bleaching. Her papers possess a rare delicacy of colour harmony and subtle rhythmic composition. The display of Pam and Don Rash illustrates one of the uses of decorated paper. Their marbled paper, combed into the design motif of a curling wave with a gentle graduation of colour, is entirely appropriate to its employment as a cover for Provincetown, a collection of sea inspired poems.
Many of the fine objects in this exhibition take their inspiration from nature, a vast resource for the texture and pattern hungry artist. Lest we forget though, man is not the only paper producer – as Susan Corrigan's composition reminds us. It is a cream paper box, stamp-decorated with an orderly horde of wasps. Inside are ringlets of humble, grey wasp paper. It is a fitting digestive after the visual feast of this exhibition.
TORONTO, June 1988