Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Happy New Year!

Hearty digital new year's greetings to friends and followers
who did not receive this by post!

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Art / Craft / Other

Image © Mike Nicholson

Ensixteen Editions has been posting assiduously over the holidays. If you don't already follow this droll  blog by book artist and illustrator Mike Nicholson, take a look.

This post highlights a project Nicholson has been working on with the printer David Jury which sees both men considering a perennial problem: the distinction between art and craft. Not content with his discussions with David Jury, Nicholson surveyed a group of other book arts practitioners. All of us were invited to consider how we define our work and how the terms affect its reception by the public and collectors.

I should be grateful to Nicholson for giving me another opportunity to fret about where I find myself on the printing/writing scale. His research notes, containing the survey responses, will be published in the Spring edition of the UWE Book Arts Newsletter, which will land here in due course.

Some books are like teapots

I've been in the Netherlands this December, working on a series of interviews with Dutch book artists for the magazine Printmaking Today. As a taster for the feature - out in the spring - heres my conversation with Noor van der Brugge in Utrecht. 

Water is a recurrent image in the work of Noor van der Brugge, who runs The Yeats Sisters Press. I take the train to visit her Utrecht studio, following the route of the Amsterdam-Rijn Canal. Van der Brugge made a book while making the same journey.

Vice versa is a collection of ships’ names. I was teaching in Amsterdam three times a week. In January I decided I would note down the first ship I saw from the train each day, along with the time and the weather. I collected these notes for the rest of the year. I was able to do it 70 or 80 times – sometimes I forgot – not often! It completely changed my experience of going back and forth to Amsterdam. I was really fed up with this train and, you know, everyone was going to work, so no one was happy. But for me, it became a moment of reflection. Suddenly – I was working on my collection, I was working on a book – I grew more curious about the ships names. Some boats I saw more than once. I noticed that 100 years ago most ships had women’s names.’

Although the information provided is minimal, and purely typographic, there is a strong sense of the ships’ characters. A few words create a concrete poem in a manner reminiscent of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s work. ‘I noticed that when you have so little text, your mind starts making connections. For example, this boat was called Morgen Ster (Morning Star) and there was a snowstorm on that day in January, around ten to five, so in my mind, I start making a story….

Vice versa is a long, flat book, like the barges drifting along the canal. ‘I tried to make the binding look as if this was a useful book for people working at the sluice-gates, a fake official document.’ 

Van der Brugge had been printing for some time before the growing use of text in her work led her to investigate letterpress. ‘I’ve always loved printing. I’ve done a lot of etching and lithography.' 

She continues, ‘My final project at art academy was a book – and I etched the lettering – but I was not too happy with it. It was hard to find a place to learn means of printing text. Then one day I met a guy on a train, and we started talking. He said, “Oh, you should go to Henk van Lunsen in Hilversum.” So I spent a week with him, learning letterpress. But I’m not a professional –professionals work much faster than I do. On the other hand, professional letterpress printers – not artists, but commercial printers – often say to me, “You do things that we are always told never to.” I’m not hindered by too much knowledge.’

‘In the Netherlands the printers are mostly nice old men. They realise that if no one takes over from them, within 20 to 30 years no one will know how to print, so they are willing to explain things. They’re so helpful – I find it very different to the artists’ world I knew before, when I was making drawings, which was more competitive.’

And why The Yeats Sisters Press? Surely the two women who established the Cuala Press in 1908 had no connections with the Netherlands? ‘I read a biography of the two sisters, Lily and Lolly. I really admire them, because in the Yeats family, there the poet, W.B. Yeats, and their father the painter, and there was another brother who was also a painter, and they all did amazing things… but no one made any money, and the two sisters took care of everything. They printed like mad. They were involved in the Arts and Crafts movement and published impressive books. So I wanted to honour them.’

She continues, ‘My press may be one of the smallest in the Netherlands. Now I can do everything myself: content, of course; printing; illustration and binding.’ 

Her latest book, They ALL of them know, is an ‘experiment to combine letterpress and linocut.’ She admits, ‘I love lino. It is such a stark, primitive technique.’ The text is ‘a long poem by Charles Bukowski that goes on and on, a repetitive phrase about asking – only in the last line is there an answer. I’m happy with the form I found because it builds to the conclusion.’ In van der Brugge’s setting (see images above) all the text is visible at first glance, as in a broadside; however, because the sheets are bound as a codex, the images are hidden until the pages are turned. The structure is a good way to underscore the tension accumulating in Bukowski’s poem, which is typical of van der Brugge’s imaginative, yet subtle, approach to binding. She says, ‘I love the book form so much. For me, the turning of a page always brings movement and a little surprise. Some people make books that are hard to see as books – they may be more like teapots, or some other three-dimensional gimmick. That’s nice enough, but still, I respect the simple book form. I like to have a book with pages you can turn.’

The suede covers of Sombere Honden, a series of etchings of melancholy dogs, feel like a particularly silky pug. Van der Brugge chose to present this sequence in book form, even though there’s no text, because it made sense to collect the prints together. ‘One of my recurrent themes is the art of collecting. Some people collect little bottles or knick-knacks… This is my collection of sad dogs. I like to make the world – in Dutch one says “overzichtelijk” – in English, you have “an overview” – so that all is clearly set out and everything has its place. I grew up in the 1960s, and the education I received, especially in primary school, presented the world as compartmentalised in a certain way. In other words, “If you know all this, you’ll know everything.” Perhaps due to my age, but also, I think, the world around us, it seems like everything has got more and more complicated. I’m still looking for that 1960s simplicity.’

Another book, Voyages, is also about collections – and about ships. This one is purely etchings, too. The images were taken from very small illustrations in the Larousse dictionary. ‘I think these nineteenth-century illustrations are so good – they’re small but they tell you everything you need to know about something.’ The tiny images recall a recent interview with Peter Blake, published in Venice Fantasies (Enitharmon Editions), in which he discusses his delight in using illustrations cut from Larousse for his recent suite of collages.

Van der Brugge has slightly enlarged the images of galleons and submarines, but presents them on a vast page, as if seen from the distance across the sea. The blue background, which covers a whole page. She explains: ‘For me it’s a bit reminiscent of Dutch Delft blue – and there’s a connection there with shipping, because even though it’s typically Dutch, Delftware was painted in China, and then traded across the sea.’

Now Van der Brugge is working on a collection of satirical poems by Piet Meewse, a book which employs linocuts and fold-outs. The latter distort the page by shadowing and then revealing images and text. The fold-outs draw the reader in. She says, ‘I like that element of surprise – you see something but not everything.’ The next book, Lassie, is a response to a poem by a Dutch poet she greatly admires, Tonnus Oosterhoff, who won the most prestigious Dutch literature price this month. ‘I like his work because he tried everything in the search for the right style – some people think a writer should have one style from the outset, in order to be recognised, but I think it’s great to try various things. His poem ‘Lassie’ [about the fictional collie dog, who a featured in many children’s tv and radio shows] fits with my theme of making the world a simple, well-structured place.

I laugh. ‘Lassie finds things, wherever they are!’

‘Yes!’ Van der Brugge agrees. ‘The end is always good – and Lassie’s owner is always good. The villains are always caught or punished – although nothing really bad happens to them, like being shot – but they are punished – they are put into prison or they fall into the water.’ It is a project imbued with optimism, each page bursting with a lively gouache of Lassie on her adventures. ‘I want to make a colourful book this time.’

Friday, 9 December 2011

Bookbinding Now

During my trip to New York in October I chatted with Susan Mills in an interview recorded for her Bookbinding Now podcast series. This interview has just been made available here and can also be downloaded through iTunes.

Bookbinding Now is a great series featuring a different book artist every fortnight. I've listened to earlier podcasts to while away the hours spent sewing or making pochoir prints. Scroll down through the podcasts to find my particular favourite: Barbara Mauriello talking about the early days of The New York Center for Book Arts - when the studio was so chilly you had to wear gloves to set type.

Thank you Susan for giving up your time to keep us entertained in our studios!

Friday, 2 December 2011

Pushcart Nomination

The Pushcart Prize nominations were announced yesterday. Many thanks to qarrtsiluni magazine for nominating my translations of Qavak songs, which they published back in January.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Meliors Simms - Living in the Anthropocene

This enormous suspended Big Berg is one of many astounding interpretations of ice by Meliors Simms. I was excited to discover Simms' wooly icebergs in her solo exhibition Imagining Antarctica in Hamilton, New Zealand earlier this year, and she kindly agreed to tell me more about her work. 

Simms is best known as a textile artist, but her practice also incorporates poetry, book arts and letterpress printing - not to mention blogging. She comes to art with a background in Environmental Policy; she confesses 'it was my frustration with trying to effect change through policy channels that led to making art to try and nurture my disappointed soul.'

Simms describes the theme of her recent work as 'all about living in the Anthropocene'. She explores 'the impact of human activity on different environments; from a speculative future (science fiction) perspective, a deep time (geological ages) perspective as well as from our present moment.'

'Concerns about climate change, pollution, overconsumption, species extinction, etc. infuse my work overtly and subtly. The ideas I explore all relate to these issues (coral reefs, mangroves, mines, oil spills etc.). My materials (e.g. repurposed fabrics and offcuts) and commitment to handwork rather than using machines are chosen in part to minimise the footprint of my work.'

Simms has always liked to make things with her hands, but her identity as an visual artist emerged seven years ago while making artist's books. She explains how she had no choice but to make the bold move away from paper to alternative materials: 'Spending most of 2008 living in Australia's Daintree tropical rainforest put paid to my work with paper and I took up crochet and embroidery as a medium more compatible with that environment. Returning to New Zealand led to a transition where I was making books as well as stitching, but these days the textile work is my main focus.'

Meliors Simms with My Antarctica (155x122cm) 

Simms has been thinking about how to represent the snow and ice textures of Antarctica for many years, and it seems that in textiles she has found the perfect medium. She says: 'I developed a new textile sculptural technique in order to realize my vision, cutting up old woven wool blankets along the contour lines of a map of Antarctica and embroidering them into a layered landscape relief. I started with a small(ish) representation of Ross Island and then immediately began work on a large scale map of the continent, My Antarctica, which ended up taking eight months of hand-stitching to complete. I spent another year making Antarctic-themed work to fill out a solo exhibition with my big continent at its centre. Imagining Antarctica was my most successful show to date, and utilised a range of textile techniques to explore the history, present environment and future threats (of oil spills) to Antarctica.'

But it's not just Antarctica that interests Simms. She has two other, closely-related projects under development: 'I'm making clouds, or rather representations of intangible phenomena including nuclear radiation, aurora borealis and volcanic ash clouds. Crocheting delicate spheres is a nice counterpoint to the weighty, grounded subjects and dense layered materials I've been focused on. I'm also getting ready to transfer my energy to the other pole, specifically the ocean floor of the Arctic Circle, a large-scale work that will probably pair with My Antarctica in a polar diptych of layered felted and stitched blankets. I swore after My Antarctica that I wouldn't make anything that size again until I had a bigger studio but I'm rearranging the furniture right now to make room for an Arctic the same size.'

I asked Simms whether any particular artist or writer had influenced her Antarctic work. She wrote back: 'The greatest inspiration is Kim Stanley Robinson's speculative fiction novel, Antarctica, which I read and reread regularly. I turned to his writing again and again for the lyrical descriptions of snow and ice as I was attempting to make my own interpretations in wool. It's also a rip-roaring environmental thriller with a strong female lead character.' The New York Times review is equally enthusiastic - this is one to add to my reading list!

In addition, Simms was generous enough to point me in the direction of other New Zealand artists who feature the polar regions in their work. 'New Zealand's proximity to Antarctica and significant activities there mean that Antarctica is a common theme for NZ artists,' she says. 'My favourite interpreters include Colleen Ryan-Priest (cast glass ice), Gabby O'Connell (delicate huge paper iceberg bases), Jane Ussher (photographer of historic huts in Still Life) and Claire Benyon (multimedia artist and poet).'

You can support Meliors Simms' future projects by buying her work or follow her on Twitter @meliors for updates on all the ideas mentioned here.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

With the Scottish Arctic Club

Thanks to the Scottish Arctic Club for inviting me their annual gathering in Fort William last weekend, to speak about How to say 'I love you' in Greenlandic and The Night Hunter. I spent a few days at the base of Ben Nevis in the company of distinguished polar explorers and naturalists. It was great to meet such knowledgeable polar enthusiasts, including the first woman to ski across the Greenland icecap (now in her eighties), and the team who completed the first circumnavigation of Greenland in the year 2000.

Ben Nevis in hiding

My lecture was followed by dinner and great quantities of merlot and malt. Out came the Society's map, a large, multi-section American military chart of the Arctic region ('It's not very accurate, but it's a decent size', one member apologised). Several coffee stains from previous festivities were posing as islands.

The Kaffemik Archipelago

As the evening wore on, intrepid members crawled across the map to mark the furthest points they had reached that year.

I was invited to mark up my residency in Upernavik, and I was intrigued to read the names of those who had been there before me.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Under the Glacier

I found this beautiful description of the Snaefells Glacier in Halldor Laxness's novel Under the Glacier (first published in Iceland in 1968). I particularly like the closing lines which describe glacial ice as looking like a print - a nice reversal of my daily attempts to make prints which look like glacial ice.

"... The undersigned began to contemplate the glacier. In actual fact the glacier is too simple a sight to appertain to what is called beautiful, which no one knows the meaning of and by which everyone means something different from everyone else: one of those words it is safer to not use about a glacier nor anything else.

"The undersigned has never before seen this mountain glacier except from too far away, but was now about to become acquainted with it for a while. The mountain reminds one of an upturned earthenware bowl, the glazing a little bluish at times, but sometimes like gold-rimmed transparent Chinese porcelain, especially if the sun is low in the west over the sea, because then the rays play on the glacier from two directions. From here the glacier looks somewhat coarse-grained like a print that isn't good enough; the ice is rain-sullied in many places in the lower regions, and has developed streaks like a smudged print."

(Translated by Magnus Magnusson)

There's more on the novel itself in a great review by Niranjana Iyer over at the blog Brown Paper.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Poetry Beyond Text Exhibition

Collaborations between poets and artists will be on view in POETRY BEYOND TEXT at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh from this Friday. Dinner and a Rose will be there, plus exciting new work from John Burnside, Thomas A. Clark, Deryn Rees Jones, and Helen Douglas of We Productions.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

The Mystery Is Solved

How To Say 'I Love You' In Greenlandic: An Arctic Alphabet opens with a description of a card game. I had forgotten (if I ever knew) its name - and no one, not even the V&A Museum of Childhood, could enlighten me. This was discouraging, but I decided to write about the game regardless of my ignorance - after all, the whole book is about verbal loss.

There is a card game which differs from pelmanism in that every card is different and from solitaire in that there can never be a conclusion to it. As a child I was given a shabby nineteenth-century deck; down the generations the packaging had been lost and the cards were held together with a rubber band of comparable antiquity. Lacking its original case and any rulebook, to this day I have been unable to discover its name, or whether I played it as the maker intended.

The fifty cards, slim and furred with age, depicted not hearts, clubs, spades and diamonds but whimsical landscapes. One showed a magnificent medieval fortress; another, boats on a lake bordered by palm trees; and still others, sublime mountain ranges. Yet whatever the scenery, there was always a road on the horizon, along which a tiny carriage was driving.

These views were not self-contained vignettes. I could join each card to any other, because, however unpredictable the inclines and settlements at the centre, the road reached the edges at the same point on every one. Aligning these extravagant geographies, I made a cardboard continent. The passengers in the little carriage can scarcely have felt a jolt as they crossed from Alpine pass to desert dune; however far they travelled, they never had to fear dropping over a precipice or reaching a closed border, for there was always a card in my hand, ready to lay down to prevent their vehicle rolling into annihilation.

And, sure enough, there the carriage was, pictured on the next card.

To my delight, the game has now been identified. One of the guests at my reading at Florisity in New York last week had also played it as a child, and her subsequent research revealed it to be commonly known as a myriorama. This link offers an opportunity to play a reduced version of the game; both it, and the image above, are courtesy of the Bill Douglas Centre for the History of Cinema and Popular Culture at Exeter University.

You can buy a modern reproduction of the game for only £3.25 (+p&p) from Or you could put the money towards a copy of How To Say 'I Love You' In Greenlandic.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The Night Hunter in New York

The launch of The Night Hunter and How to say 'I love you' in Greenlandic in the United States was a double-bill of Arctic-themed events hosted by The New York Center for Book Arts and Florisity (see pictures below).

Between the festivities I saw a solo exhibition of sculptures by Peter Schell, one half of the creative team behind The Night Hunter. The purity of these forms reminds me of layers of glacial ice, although they were begun long before our Greenlandic collaboration.

Emily Martin was also in the city celebrating her solo exhibit Theme and Variation at The Center for Book Arts. We made cookies to serve at the private view iced with her trademark stick figures from the 'Crime and Romance' series. Emily's show continues until 3 December. It would be criminal to miss it.

Theme and Variation at The New York Center for Book Arts

Emily Martin working with icing bag

Emily Martin's work also features in the exhibition The Book As Memorial: Book Artists Respond To and Remember 9/11 at the Haas Family Arts Library at Yale University. The library has also added both The Night Hunter and How to say 'I love you' in Greenlandic to its collections.

Thanks are due to the New York Room With A View establishment by the waterfront on Staten Island, which provided a place to sleep in between all these activities.

The Night Hunter:
7th October 2011

Roni Gross (proprietor of Z'roah Press) demonstrates how to print on the Vandercook

Participants take turns to print flashcards with words from How to say 'I love you' in Greenlandic.

On the left, bookbinder Ana Cordeiro, who made the box that houses the deluxe edition of The Night Hunter, welcomes me back to The Center for Book Arts after a three-year absence. It was good to find Natalie McGrorty (in purple) in town too.

Reception and Book Launch at Florisity
16th October 2011

The Night Hunter

Roni Gross's flower arrangements referenced polar themes

How to say 'I love you' in Greenlandic

Thanks to Sarah Nicholls, Roni Gross and Emily Martin for the photographs used in this post.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Poetry Cafe at The Flying Goose

The Nottingham Poetry Series hosts a regular Poetry Cafe at The Flying Goose. I just received their beautiful flyer with details of the forthcoming year's events. I'm scheduled to read in April, but that's a whole winter away - I'd like drop in on one of the other readings, and see if the sofas really are that inviting, before the spring.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

A Dealer On Either Side of the Pond

The launch of How to Say 'I love you' in Greenlandic was celebrated at The Poetry Society in London on 22 September. The edition is now available for sale. Bookselling is a slow business, so I am very grateful to two venerable dealers in fine press and illustrated books for adopting my book and sharing the dirty work with me.

In the UK, my Arctic alphabet can be found on the shelves of Collinge & Clark, just down the road from the British Library in London. Oliver Clark has featured the book on his sparkling new website, which offers the undisciplined browser an endless distraction of paper delights. Customers can sign up for the erudite newsletter and benefit from 10% discount on all current stock. Collinge & Clark have been providing bibliophiles with works on printing and typography since 1989, but the shop (above) will be best known to many as the set for cult comedy Black Books.

I'm delighted that the work has also been featured in Catalogue 70 from The Veatchs, also specialists in the history of the book. Bob and Lynne Veatch's shop in Northampton, Massachusetts, stocks examples of book-making from all periods, early and modern fine printing, historical and publishers' bindings, and designer bindings. Catalogue 70 focuses on the genre of the alphabet book - the compilation is 'a fabulist's wishlist' (Maureen Cummins), with alphabets ranging from Aphid to Zebra (Beo Press), Aqueduct to Urinal (Parrot Press) and - for the more arcane - a set of Ohgam characters by Eileen Hogan. I hope a few American collectors will find their way to the Arctic through the Veatchs' doors.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Horizon: The Art Of Losing

Scott's Expedition Hut

Photographs hanging in Scott’s Expedition Hut, Ross Island, Antarctica
(Photo: Velvet Android/Flickr)

The latest issue of Horizon, a review of literature and art, is now online. The offerings selected by editor Katy Evans-Bush include my essay 'The Art of Losing' on the artist Emma Stibbon's Antarctic Series.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Udkant: On The Margins

Doverodde Book Arts Festival IV

Limfjordscentret Doverodde Købmandsgård, Hurup Thy, Denmark

Plans are afoot for the Doverodde Book Arts Festival at Limfjordscentret in Denmark in May 2012. This year the theme of the festival will be Udkant which can be translated as 'on the margins'. Mette-Sofie Ambeck, book artist and the Festival's Project Consultant, says that Udkant may mean 'being on the edge of what is allowed – being furthest away from the centre – or on the edge of a remote place like a forest'.

Those visiting the Festival to experience the exhibitions, workshops and book arts symposium will be sustained by music performed by cellist Regina Brunke and cakes baked in the 'book cafe'.

This year the Doverodde Book Arts Center will appoint a writer-in-residence to produce a body of work in response to the nature and culture of the Limfjord. I'm excited to have been invited to fill this position and I look forward to working in this beautiful and historic area of north-west Denmark in the month leading up to the Festival.

Sunday, 14 August 2011


The summer issue of Illustration is full of drama. It appears that the Pre-Raphaelite illustrator formerly known as Florence Harrison was not the true Florence Harrison at all, and that there were hidden depths to two of the earliest illustrators of Pickwick Papers, Robert Seymour and Robert William Buss. While Oliver Messel’s reputation rests primarily on stage design, his distinctive illustrative work is no less entertaining. There's also a reconsideration of the work of Thomas Bewick prompted by Nigel Tattersfield's monumental new study. At the contemporary end of the spectrum, look out for 'Letters from the Arctic', a feature on How to say 'I love you' in Greenlandic.

The magazine can be found at a number of venues including the British Library and Tate Britain bookshops; the feature on How to say 'I love you' in Greenlandic can also be accessed online, thanks to Cambridge University.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The Cemetery

'The Cemetery' - a pantoum from my Arctic series - has just been published in the online magazine Ink, Sweat and Tears.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

News from New York

The Night Hunter

Roni Gross - a longtime friend and more recently collaborator - has put up some amazing images of recent work on her website. Here you can see a generous spread of the Zitouna offerings that Gross has printed biannually for Valentine's Day and Hallowe'en since 1989. To me, who only gets around to making a Christmas card every other year, this output seems phenomenal. Especially when the rest of Gross' work is taken into account. More of that here, too: a selection of poetry broadsides, and for those curious to see more images of The Night Hunter than have appeared on this blog to date, there's a slideshow of sorts, with the artist's commentary.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Tertulia: 14th July 2011

A Tertulia? The Discreet Charm of the Bourgoisie, Luis Buñuel

‘Tertulia’ is a Spanish word ordinarily applied to social gatherings with literary, artistic or bohemian overtones. "One would speak of ‘going to a tertulia’ as in ‘going to a dinner’," explain Phil Owen and Megan Wakefield, founders of Bristol’s Tertulia - a salon for people working with or interested in language from a range of different disciplinary and methodological perspectives.

Tertulia is held in the Reading Room at the Arnolfini. The next salon falls on Bastille Day, 14th July, 7.30pm (free entry). Responding to a gauntlet thrown down in Cambridge last month, I’ll be presenting How to say ‘I love you’ in Greenlandic through performance rather than print, re-imagining it as a sound work that befits the oral culture it documents. I’m looking forward to seeing the other contributions, particularly Rachel Flynn’s analysis of Graham Sutherland’s writings on the landscapes of Wales and Mary Crowder’s subversion of medical texts. Not to mention the coda: ‘Sam Playford-Greenwell will attempt to balance a banana on his head.’

Friday, 1 July 2011

Andrew Lee's London

Andrew Lee explores the darker side of London signage. Regular readers will remember his work Gangland Caff, the menu board featuring some gruesome Cockney morsels. This macabre humour is also evident in Lee’s recent photographic work, including the topical NHS Cuts at the Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital (above).

Visit Lee's website for more photographs, as well as graphic work on urban life and urban nature - some favourite subjects being 'birds' nests, geezers, pears, and bull terriers.'