As some of you know, I’ve been making my handmade books at The Stone Street Press since 1980. My dear book friends have been most helpful to me along the way, especially in pointing out new directions and possible openings for me.
Finding good (and affordable) places and situations to show my books/our books is essential to continued survival, and it is apparently a considerable achievement to be able to say, after 27 years, that I am “STILL HERE”. Considering all those presses that have fallen by the wayside: “STILL HERE” is quite a boast.
I went to the NY ART BOOK FAIR (at 248 W.22) in general to check it out, but specifically to see if I could see myself doing it next year –a short visit on Friday, and back again on Sunday to spend more time.
My first impression –upon stepping in to this large airy high-ceilinged space– was decidedly mixed. The first two booths –tables, really– inside the door probably summed it all up. A prominent title at the first table urged me, or all of us, to do something four-lettered “**** FOR PEACE” –hardly original, and if it was being recommended as a recipe “for peace”, of very dubious effect. (I’ve always thought of that word “****” as suggestive of aggression and impersonal-ness. Indeed, when you think about it for a moment, “aggression” and “impersonal-ness” are two qualities more suited to making WAR than LOVE.)
The second booth was somewhat more promising. The title that caught my eye here, I first misread as “GOD IS DEAD”. It read, instead, “GOD IS DAD”. For some reason, George Bush’s “I spoke to my Real Father…” came to mind.
I had limited time, and confined myself to a quick circuit on the two floors –some 120+ exhibitors of “contemporary art books, art catalogues, artist’s books, art periodicals, and ‘zines” as the fair guide had it. (The selfconscious apostrophe of ‘zine sticks out like a damaged nail, and the category might not survive this association. Which is a pity, because there is interesting stuff to be found here.)
Overall, regardless of category, everyone here is involved with being “edgy”.
The concept of the “cutting edge” in matters of art and culture, in the widest sense, is wearing more than a little thin with me. Edginess; on the edge; over the edge, have acquired a sense of narcissistic hollowness. To go with the times. (Hey, “narcissistic hollowness!!!”: can I have that on a tee-shirt. Straightaway.)
If there was once “a cutting edge”, this fair had left it far behind. It was “over the edge”, “off the cliff”, “all at sea”, “out of sight”. Wait a minute! “Out of sight”? Now we’re back in the Sixties. But you know what I mean.
I saw quite a few old friends –many of them I had in mind when I referred to “helpful old friends” above. Many I hadn’t seen for years. It was lovely to see them with their books, and to see the directions that they had gone in as this end of the publishing world waxed and waned over the years.
Esther Smith (with Dikko Faust) of Purgatory Pie Press –put www before and .com after– to see their website– showed me her new book “How to make books” (Random House) that you can find at amazon.com. It’s a goodlooking and authoritative book and comes from a vast experience. (Dikko and Esther were the first bookpeople I met when I first visited the new Center for Book Arts in 1980 –when it was at 15 Bleecker Street.)
I saw the Bread and Puppet display, and spoke to Elke Schumann for quite a while. Her son, Max Schumann, of “Printed Matter”, under the rubric of “Cheap Art” had done a 2-minute, 2-dollar, painting for me thirty years ago –“Firebook”, an expressionist image of a book on fire, evoking both book-burning and illumination. It’s been on my wall for thirty years.
Two of Elke’s daughters, Solveig and Maria, had worked for me at The Stone Street Press as apprentices, years ago. Solveig’s bookish brow communicated serious focus; I remember Maria’s somewhat dreamy preoccupation was Californiacal. For which state she soon departed; Solveig stayed for a few years.
I had seen my friend Skuta Helgason of Stop Over Press on the way in, with lots of people at his table. Now he was free.
Two books stood out (of the few displayed). One of them “1953 RUST 2007” is the most beautiful book that I have seen for a long long time, and I will do a part-2 of this blog to talk about it a greater length. Consisting of 14 folded pages held together by a simple blue band, with 4 images on each folio, it is a collection of photographs that Skuta had taken back in his native Iceland, images from his grandfather’s farmhouse –a cast-iron stove, a wooden-staved barrel in a corner, a large plate on a shelf, some oil-cans, a bicycle rack hanging from a nail, some old newspapers on a shelf, two and a half pairs of dusty boots, the laces removed.
And so on. Some of the objects are “undecipherable”, mysterious, But just a beautiful. As I looked through the lovely and lovingly-rendered images, again and again, I sought to identify the warm feelings that were developing within me.
One such was a combination of relieved sanity-reality, an experience of a world that was free of stuff, free of consumerisn, far from shopping. This was not a throw-away world. Those newspapers were still good for something; those bottles were still useful.
Skuta’s photographs –as beautifully printed as the images had been selected– were in every way the opposite of the glossy image that defines for us the cutting edge (there we go again) of our “latest-thing” world.
You have to see them. You could probably find their American equivalent in any old family farmhouse, circa –say– 1953. Probably. I’m not sure of that.
I have to end now. I’ll get back to Skuta’s book. I’ll ask him if he can let us see some of those images.
By the way, once you’ve seen Skuta’s book, you’ll quickly realize: “I could do that.” It might not be Iceland. But it might be just as real. And it might show you something. Something important.
I showed Skuta’s book at Bruno’s, thinking that we four at the table might spend a few minutes looking at it. In fact, we spent the best part of two hours looking at it and talking about it. The image of the boots reminded J. (a professor of philosophy) of Heidegger’s essay on the importance of “thinginess” that had been inspired by looking at the famous VanGogh painting of boots. More later.