Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Current and upcoming exhibitions and events at Bookartbookshop, London, UK:

"British Wives of Aliens"
by Daniel Lehan
7th November- 20th November
Private View Friday 13th November 2015

 Prize for Best Dressed Alien And Wife!

Alien stories and songs with Daren Callow!

Wedding Cake!

British Wives Of Aliens - a headline from a stack of World War 2 newspapers found on Deptford Market inspired the title for this series of collages.

Aliens and Brides began then to appear in secondhand books, supermarket magazines, photo albums and photos found in the bottom of cardboard boxes on street markets. It seemed they were all I found, so anxious were they to meet one another. I simply acted as Match Maker - my role - to ‘marry them’ on the page. It was clear that for some the attraction was immediate and mutual, others required a lengthier period of courtship to accept their differences, or to find another partner. Words and phrases cut out from sci-fi books, those on space travel, and the planets formed the basis for the collages with texts.

The British Wives Of Aliens follows Lehan’s exhibition of collages - Animallages - a joint show with Jude Cowan Montague at The Poetry Society Cafe earlier this year.

His visual texts have been published in Ditch, *82 Review, The Delinquent, Experiential / Experimental, Kumquat, Poetry & Paint, Foame:, Diagram, Postcard Shorts, Ink Sweat and Tears, Shuf, Small Po(r)tions, M58, Indefinite Space, The Stardust Gazette and SPUR. His 'Book Pages Destroyed By Typewriter' are included in The New Concrete, published by Hayward Publishing, London 2015, and a book of drawings - Cahier de Catéchèse - is published by Dark Windows Press.

From June 2014 to July 2015 Lehan curated the Kitchen Window Gallery - a gallery in his kitchen window in South London. The gallery exhibiting work by London based and International artists and writers.


by Randy Klein
9th October- 22nd October
Private View Friday 9th October 2015

"anthologies" is an overview of Randy Klein's artist books, with previously unseen unique and one off books, as well as loose pages and sculptures fallen from books.

It will also mark the launch of Roadbook, a NEW artist's book

Find out more here.  


by Salt + Shaw
18th September- 1st October
Private View Thursday 18th September 2015

SALT+SHAW find they have now made 57 artists' book titles. 
This will be celebrated with an exhibition at bookartbookshop, launching 3 new books, 
including no. 60: 'Whalebone'.

“Their practice is frequently linked to location, to finding objects, discovering stories and creating narratives in response to a particular place, whether man made or natural. Ideas become concepts through negotiation, which inform the construction of their book works, making inextricable the links between all the elements only made possible by their partnership.”
Linda Newington

 bookartbookshop, 17 Pitfield Street, London N1 6HB
Friday 18th September 2015

About Us

We began making books together via a long route through painting, drawing, writing, installation, land art, sculpture and photography. As SALT+SHAW, working on location underpins our practice, either by responding to or identifying an environment to explore. We have a history of travelling to cities and wild places, rummaging around in junk shops and museums, searching shorelines and following routes or rivers. This has resulted in a reflex action to collect objects and information, gather ideas, create journals, take photographs and make images. These raw materials gradually reveal their content, narrative and structure.
The book is an ideal format for our work, enabling us to combine individual interests and ways of working. We have developed a joined-up approach to making books together, either led by one of us and underpinned by mutual support, or co-produced as a joint piece through a process of negotiation, discussion and sheer bloody mindedness.
The process of construction is vital; uniting the physicality of making with the creative development of the structure and its inextricably linked contents. Experimentation is essential throughout. Our work is tactile and intimate, revealing and enclosing its stories through words, pictures, found objects, collage, drawing and print. We produce artefact books in small editions, which ask the viewer to engage, discover, make connections and take up challenges. Our books combine a sensory and conceptual exploration -  the narrative of words, images and found objects; the sound of a cover opening, the creak of metal hinges and the crispness of pages turning; the smell of polished wood, brass and leather; the discovery of hidden text.

Artists’ books combining text and image have been exhibited internationally and can be found in collections including The British Library, Tate Britain Library, Winchester School of Art, Glasgow School of Art, University of the West of England, Manchester Metropolitan University and London College of Communication.


"Shklovsky's Zoo"
by Joanna Walsh 
Book Launch Friday 10 July 2015

Piece of Paper Press and Joanna Walsh are delighted to invite you to the bookartbookshop to celebrate publication of “Shklovsky’s Zoo” by Joanna Walsh, the 29th title from Piece of Paper Press.

“Shklovsky’s Zoo” is published in a limited, numbered edition of 150 copies, and numbers 51-150 will be given away at the launch event.

bookartbookshop, 17 Pitfield Street, London N1 6HB
Friday 10 July 2015

No reservations. Strictly one copy per person, while stocks last.

Written on a residency during which the author was unable to find and read a copy of “Zoo” by Viktor Shklovsky—a novel based on real-life letters sent between the Russian critic and the unwilling object of his desire, Elsa Triolet—“Shklovsky’s Zoo” plays with the line between autobiography and fiction. What is the purpose of a letter? Is it a story, or an honest account (or both)? Does it depend on who is sending, who is receiving it? What happens when letters are made into books? Is there any truth in Shklovsky’s “Zoo”, or “Shklovsky’s Zoo” at all?

Find out more about Piece of Paper Press here 


The Listening Forest 
18th June- 2nd July 2015
Private view Thursday 18th June, 6.30-9pm 

Feel the ferns and smell the deer!

In Sophie Herxheimer's new artists' book she abandons her familiar London streets and takes to a hut in the middle of nowhere. From this intriguing spot she opens a new set of questions and dialogues: with local people, Nature, and of course, herself.
"The Listening Forest" is a record of some of these exchanges, arranged in sections, with its own undergrowth, clearing, path, canopy, floor and shrub layer. Whilst in residence for rural arts organisation Fermynwoods Contemporary Art in Northamptonshire, (August 2014 - February 2015) Sophie collected hundreds of stories, drew prolifically and wrote a small grove of six poems which are planted at the heart of the book.
Come and get lost in the resulting limited edition 30 metre long book, made in collaboration with Henningham Familty Press, the original drawings, a new series of screen prints and a small facsimile book - all coppiced and ready to fuel the imagination, fresh from the forest!

Sophie will read from the book at the private view on Thursday 18th June.


Fifty Shades of Earl Grey Tea
4th March- 16th June 2015
Private view Thursday 4th June, 6.30-8.30pm 

AyJay Trashy "Makes things out of used and found objects. Found inside and out on the streets. Find that I am shy, my Art helps me speak."

I met AyJay at a Secret Postcard Sale organised by Julia Hines for Age UK Barnet. He had collaged one of his miniature paintings onto a postcard. I chose to buy his postcard and was fortunate enough to meet him as he was at the sale too. He carries his work in sketchbooks and paints & brushes in a decorated briefcase. I was very taken by the intensity of his work and invited him to exhibit at bookartbookshop. Almost two years later, the exhibition, a tea party will open on his birthday.

Happy Birthday AyJay!!

All paintings are for sale.
(Be sure to bring a magnifier though I do have one if you don't.) 


27th March- 9th April
Private view Thursday 2nd April, 6.30-8.30pm

Thursday 2 April, 6.30pm

"Pharmapoetica: a dispensary of poetry" is a collaboration between poet Chris McCabe and artist and medical herbalist Maria Vlotides. It was shortlisted for Ted Hughes Award in 2014. The limited edition book is based on a cabinet of poems that has been briefly displayed at The Royal College of Physicians but has not yet been publicly exhibited: the cabinet's two-week residency at bookartbookshop offers a rare chance to view the work. 
Join us on Thursday 2 April as a belated celebration of the Spring Equinox and in the approach to Easter for herb-infused poetry inspired by nature. 
Wine and a short reading, with an informal discussion between the collaborators, will be served alongside the work. 



A solo exhibition of collectable BookArtworks by multidisciplinary artist and curator Christina Mitrentse, emerging from her ongoing Add To My Library #ATML project. 

A selection of ‘WOUNDED BOOK’; books that have been shot with Winchester 4.8 Caliber Rifle. Selected penguin Publications on the subjects of Political Ideologies, the history of the labour movement, Art catalogues, i.e. John Latham and Ai Wei-Wei, and history logs from Wiener Library Archive. The injured paper & hard backs have the solemn air of bibliographic relics, codexes that have been laid to rest and fossilised. Here a bullet hole is as telling as an ISBN or shelfmark. Their ‘deaths’ also indicate that the book be it fact or fiction, is a foot soldier in the never ending war of ideas, by means of which humanity evolves.

A window display of Mitrentse’s popular BIBLIOPHILE mushroom sculptures along with a series of Limited edition screen-prints and a new exclusive print release for BookArtBookShop collectors, the ‘WAR & PEACE’ wounded book cover will be available for sale.

Christina Mitrentse is an multidisciplinary artist established in London, a freelance curator and educator. She is known for constructing provocative narratives and poetic ensembles of idiosyncratic institutions through manifold processes of vintage book-sculpture, drawing/collage, screen-printing, and productions of site-specific installations i.e ‘Add To My Library’ & METALIBRARY a major on-going international project and traveling exhibition in Europe and UK.
She has exhibited extensively in solo and group shows in galleries, museums and public spaces including Liverpool Biennial UK, XV Biennale de Mediterranean Thess/niki-Rome, ICA London, NDSM-werf Amsterdam, Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, State Museum of Contemporary Art & CACT Greece, Nadine Feront Gallery Brussels, London Art Fair, Royal Academy, The Stephen Lawrence Gallery, Mitte Barcelona, The Centre for the Book Arts NY and Brussels Art Fair. Mitrentse artworks have been acquired by private & public collections including Fine Art Society London, The Swedenborg Society, Greenwich Council, The Women’s Arts Library Special Collections, Bank Street Arts Centre, Sill Library Bath, Mol’s collection Holland, Tate Archive, Penguin Collectors Society, Zabludowicz collection, Griechische Kultustiftung Berlin, Marriot Hotels USA, M. Altenman NY, National Library Bagdad, Benaki Museum and E.Venizelos Airport Athens, and Karathodoros collection.





Ann Noël: BOOKS
24th November- 25th December
Private view Monday 24th November, 6-8pm 

Ann Noël has been involved in making artists' books since she was a student at Bath Academy of Art in 1967-68 under Hansjoerg Mayer. There she first discovered the books that he was publishing in Stuttgart and London with Richard Hamilton, Dieter Roth, Emmett Williams, Robert Filliou, Andre Thomkins and many more in the world of concrete and visual poetry.  
Hansjoerg Mayer introduced her to Dick Higgins of the Something Else Press who invited her to become his assistant in New York. Emmett Williams was Editor-in-Chief at the press and they were married a year and a half later. They were together until he died in 2007. 
Though initially overwhelming to be in the company of such innovative and well-known (Fluxus) performers and poets, composers and artist, Ann started publishing her own books in Berlin, then West Germany, in 1982. She collaborated with Rainer Pretzell of the Rainer Verlag on 5 books over 5 years before the Berlin Wall fell and he could no longer afford to pay the rent for his loft space.  In this show you can see a couple of these books, as well as what Ann has been doing since then in "Edition Noel."

There is currently an exhibition of print works and drawings in Berlin at the Emerson Gallery, which runs until the end of January.


Friday 7-14 November 2014

For one week only the work of the reclusive artist, Eggar Tist, will be exhibited at 
in association with the Once Foundation. 

Although his art is not for sale, a wide range of specially commissioned merchandise by Sally Child and a full colour limited edition catalogue published by bookartbookshop will be available to purchase. 


An Exhibition by Rosie Sherwood 

3rd October to 16th October  2014
Private View 2nd October, 6- 8.30 pm
Hours: Wed-Fri 1-7pm Sat 12-6pm

In the Gutter is a series of conneted pieces inspired by the physical boundary between panels in the comic book: this space, referred to as the gutter, is the device through which creators construct time and space. Intrigued by the idea of this blank strip of paper as the receptacle for the reader's potentially infinite projections, artist Rosie Sherwood creates skeletons of the comic, asking if this projection is still possible without content.


A series of handmade books with found titles.

12th September to 4th October  2014
Hours: Wed-Fri 1-7pm Sat 12-6pm

17 Pitfield Street

in conjunction with England & Co Gallery
England & Co :: Gallery


"Echoes of Pearls"
By Kenny Ozier-Lafontaine

Friday 18 July - 31st July

I have been working on children's drawings which I have either found or been given. Little by little I have tried to adapt my own practice to find a new way of transcending the act of Seeing thanks to these works by children, these "echoes of pearls".
This approach was motivated by a desire to uncover alternative forms of expression, free from being kept under lock and key by ways of looking at things that can readily be understood as being bogged down in something all too often nailed to a cross, or revisiting familiar tropes.
My goal instead was to capture the original substrate and by extending and expanding it to feel the "echo of the pearl", to open up a dialogue and to let reactions fly freely, in order to demonstrate a possible connection with this layer of Seeing which time has obscured.

Preface by Gaston Bachelard to Juliette Boutonnier's book, Les dessins des enfants (1959):

"A child's drawing, in all its bursting into being, is clear evidence of a freedom to draw inscribed in the very nature of the human hand. Adults have disowned this freedom, and renounced all the hand's glory. They have tightened their own censoring which stops this inherent ability. Art critics - so informed in abstract ways, so dogmatic, always systematically harsh and mocking - dissuade us from returning to "our box of colours". Would we not find our voices liberated by trying, amidst the flashes of youth luckily still lighting up our adulthood, to sit down again and make some "children's drawings"?

Translated with help from Chris Allen


POW- poetry/oppose/war
Thursday 26th June, 7pm 

Exhibition and poetry reading, featuring poets Chrissy Williams, Richard Price, Steven Fowler, Victoria Bean, Robert Vas Dias, Chris McCabe, Mel Gooding, Edward Lucie Smith and Sophie Herxheimer.
Join us at Bookartbookshop at 7pm, then wander round the block to The Juggler Cafe, 5 Hoxton Market, N1 6HG for the readings at 7.30.
The Juggler serves lovely food and drink and is an airy big space, so plenty more room to listen to our fantastic line up of poets!

The whole series of 26 POW broadsides, created as collaborations between invited poets and Brazilian poet/artist Antonio Carvalho, and published by unit4art between 2012 and 2014, will be on view and for sale at the Bookartbookshop.

Carvalho was inspired by the futura series published by edition Hansjorg Mayer in the 1960s.


'Tis Pity She's a Hoarder
An Exhibition of Drawings by Judy Purbeck

5th- 25th June 2014
Private View Thursday 5th June, 6.30-8.30pm 

Featuring items drawn (literally) from my assorted collections.
It is time to admit that I’m a bit of a hoarder; I’ve been collecting things that catch my eye for years - knitting patterns, ceramics, kitsch packaging, jelly moulds, postcards, tins. Most of these items have little intrinsic value but are hugely prized by me – and like a favourite film or book, I enjoy looking at them again and again. Like all good hoarders, every time I say there’s no room for anything else I chance upon a little something that is so beautiful (subjectively) that it has to be shoe-horned onto my kitchen dresser.
Much of my collection has been bought, cheaply, at boot fairs and charity shops and like the hoarding huntress I am, I can recall where I ‘bagged’ most of this domestic ephemera – thus even the most humble scrap is imbued with a pleasurable memory. Other pieces have been in the family for decades and still more have been given to me by friends and family who know what I’m like and do nothing to discourage it!
In my earliest art school days, I often made drawings of my (tiny-compared-to-now) hoard and in ‘Tis Pity She’s a Hoarder I’m revisiting this subject matter. I have also returned to using coloured crayons which were a favourite medium back then. My intention with these drawings is two-fold – firstly to share the huge affection I have for my collection and secondly to express the pride I feel for having winkled these particular things out of the vast amount of ‘stuff’ that exists.

Many thanks to Tanya and Sally and the Once Foundation.      


Kitty Finer's Lobby Star
Thursday 15 May from 6.30 - 8.30pm


Lobby Star is Kitty Finer’s debut EP which is being released on a limited run of 500 vinyls. She will be playing one of these 500 records and singing along to both sides as well as telling stories that revolve around the record. I first saw Kitty perform "Lobby Star A side/B side" at the Horse Hospital and loved it, she's so warm and talented. We're very lucky to have her!

So in addition, for those that can't make Thursday eve, on Friday 16th May between 1-6pm Kitty Finer will be in the bookshop singing along on demand.  


Chiara Ambrosio - New works on paper 

25th April - 15th May 2014- 
Private View Saturday 26th April, 4-7pm 

Chiara is a filmmaker working with animation, experimental film, documentary and sound to explore the ways in which we perceive, remember, articulate and preserve personal and collective histories and place through the filter of memory and the imagination. Her work has included collaborations with performance artists, composers, musicians and writers, and has been shown in a number of venues including national and international film festivals, galleries and site specific events.
Her work is informed greatly by an attentive and dedicated observation of the real, the process of looking being at the core of her process.

For this exhibition at Bookartbookshop Chiara will be showing an extensive selection of her works on paper- drawings, watercolours, collages, photographs, puppets and everything that is often the invisible scaffolding to her work on film. 

This will also be the official launch of "The Girl With The Sea For A Dress and other tales" a very limited edition book of fairytales written by Bird Radio and illustrated by Chiara. 

Chiara is also the founder and curator of The Light & Shadow Salon, a monthly film night at The Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury.


Bol Marjoram & Ash Fitzgerald - Dyslexia not Dezlexia 
4th April – 24th April 2014
Pages are assembled into books and books are assembled into libraries and libraries are assembled into the Internet. Even the most eager reader is aware that they will only ever read or encounter some small part of what is out there. Only when we take hold of what is there, can we transform it and be transformed by it. Confronted by a vast library, we see a fact which precedes the individual. This fact will present itself to the outsider, the ‘savage’, the illiterate, the dyslexic, the child as inaccessible to them. They cannot begin to assimilate this stock of books. Written language may appear to such individuals only as marks. They may understand that these marks are a code which has meaning for others but they are humiliated by their own lack of comprehension. In his book ‘Humiliation’ Wayne Koestenbaum writes of the painter Basquiat; “he treats words as visual objects, and he converts a painting into a poetic text, reverberating with unparaphrasable significance. Basquiat seems to be humiliating the system of language... Language is a system that has punished me; and so I as reciprocation, will punish language.”

To cancel, to cut up or to otherwise rework is to actively take possession of the books and of the cultural material within those books. It is a concrete way of creating
new meaning.
In this collaborative display for the window of bookartbookshop, Ash Fitzgerald will show a group of related books. Using collaged notebooks and other material he subjects these works to a series of material transformations which compromise their legibility and threaten their integrity.
Bol Marjoram’s books follow a design he has developed which allow him to add and subtract pages without rebinding the whole thing. For this display he will show books with photographs, taken on the day that demolition began on the Tricorn Shopping Centre in Portsmouth.
An iconic brutalist structure, it was attacked for its uncompromising 1960s aesthetic and by the time of its demolition had been subjected to years of neglect and vandalism.

Ash Fitzgerald is included in a pan-European exhibition of artists’ books which is currently touring Croatia and his work is in a number of private collections in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Bol Marjoram has previously shown work from his series, ‘The Price of Admission’ at bookartbookshop. Another book from the same series was subsequently exhibited at The Tel Aviv Museum of Art in an international survey of artists who use collage. His book works are included in many museum and library collections, these include The National Art Library at the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Library of Tate Britain, as well as Museum and Library collections in The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Norway and the USA.

Dear friends of Bookartbookshop,

please join us tomorrow, Friday 7th, 6pm-8pm, for our first private view of the year, the opening of Nicholas McArthur's exhibition of new drawings.
As always you will have the chance to have a glass of wine with us and meet the artist in person, as well as explore our wonderful collection of artist books.

We hope to see you there!

Sunday, 22 March 2015

A conversation with Bol Marjoram

Question: Let's begin by talking about your recent exhibition at Bookartbookshop, which was a collaboration with Ash Fitzgerald...

Answer: Both Ash and I have a slightly anarchic approach, which is reflected in the way we work.  Ash showed a group of related books: using collaged notebooks and other materials, Ash subjected these works to a series of transformations which compromised their legibility and threatened their integrity. I showed a group of books which contained my own photographs: they were constructed using paper clips, which made them look quite distinctive as objects. One of them was particularly close to my heart: it was made of photos which I took on the day that demolition began on the Tricorn Shopping Centre in Portsmouth. Years earlier I was at art school in Portsmouth, an iconic Brutalist structure that was attacked for its uncompromising 1960s aesthetic and, by the time of its demolition, had been subjected to years of neglect and vandalism. I was interested in the building, which was composed of very strong dramatic shapes in poured concrete, but I was also interested in the way the photographs highlighted a gap between the original conception of the architects and and the actual reality, 40 years later.
So there was my stuff, and there was Ash's stuff, and Ash's books had this texture and this look, where he had subjected the pages to various processes and soaked the paper in different substances, so that they looked almost as though they were about to disintegrate. I think the combination worked well.               

Q: What made you decide to work with books in the first place?

A: I went to art school in the mid 70s. On my foundation course there was an art historian called Charles Harrison who introduced his students to what was going on in the contemporary art scene. He was involved with a group of conceptual artists called Art and Language, whose work had a discursive quality which addressed the context of art education and the wider art world. At the same time their exhibitions had a dense perplexing quality that consisted of areas and blocks of text arranged on the wall. The older artists that I met might have been challenging and exploring the nature of the art world, but they seemed to me secure in their own identities, whereas I still felt extremely gauche and unclear about myself. It was this area of the personal and interpersonal which I wanted to explore. It was then that I left my BA in fine art and went off to study sociology and politics.

Q: What are you exploring through artists books?

A: I started by making a series of drawings around 1980. I was making lots of line drawings using all kinds of sources, one of which was a book about Hollywood westerns. I had grown up watching westerns and playing Cowboys and Indians, and I was interested in how these things were using images and narrative to speak about group psychology and society. I would obsessively draw and redraw different images, then rip them up and reassemble them into new arrangements. These sequences of drawings, which I initially had hoped to show in galleries, were the first elements I started to assemble into very crude looking books. They became a way of exploring power and human relations through archetypes, like the cowboy and the thief for example. The first was based on an incident in a western where one character bullies and humiliates another into acting as his servant. The second took and incident from the Thief’s Journal by Genet which concerns selling a stolen motorcycle and the fragile process of creating a masculine persona which is based on theft and braggadocio.
Stylistically these books were diverse, blending images from the movies with comic books and fine art references. I don’t think the people I showed them to at the time knew what to do with them. They looked a bit flimsy and improvised!

Q: Can you talk us through the process of making your books?

A: Right from the beginning I have been interested in collage as a way of juxtaposing one type of thing with another. What I tend to do is draw things and then collage them together. This lets me manipulate the images in different ways. This random process gives rise to new meanings and thoughts in a way that often surprises me: when I am very involved in it it is almost as though the work is talking back to me, giving rise to new ideas and associations.

Q: Tell us about the architecture of your books.

I like the word architecture. Some of my books have been literally concerned with architecture through the use of photographs which I have taken of building. Gradually the books have evolved to become more like architecture themselves, with a clear design structure which is an integral part of what they are. My first effort at an artist book was a pamplet/alphabet book which I produced in the early 1980s. It was commercially printed on not very good paper and I was disappointed when I saw my nice crisp drawings loosing some of their quality in the process. For years I had boxes of these alphabet books in my bedroom, the only place that stocked them was Compendium books in Camden Town. Then I went to New York in late 1989 and one of the first things I made was a very simple book made from one large sheet of etchings torn up to make pages; that got distributed by Printed Matter.

Q: Why did you start using paper clips in your bindings.

I had done courses on bookbinding and I had also got other people to bind my books, for example the company that did bookbinding for the British Museum and Gavin Rookledge. Apart from the fact that this was expensive, it was also difficult for other people to interpret exactly what I wanted. I didn’t have any of the equipment for conventional bookbinding and I also didn’t want to do use any sewing.  So I started to think about how I could bind books in a way which would also express something about the nature of the content, if it is even possible to make that distinction between form and content. I started thinking about how I could design my own bindings which would allow me flexibility to reposition things while I was making it, but would still work properly as a book. Paper clips work because they are everyday items that don’t have any associations with craft.

Q: Would you like to say something about artists books in general? How do they relate to the wider context?

Places like Bookartbookshop, Printed Matter in New York and Bookie Wookie in Amsterdam offer artists an outlet for material which is unclassifiable and represents the kind of grassroots creativity which most commercial galleries don’t have the time or the space for.
Even if conventional bookshops agree to take a few artists books they usually struggle to display them appropriately.

Thursday, 22 January 2015


Thursday 1pm- 7pm
Friday 1pm- 7pm 
Saturday 12pm- 6pm 

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

A Conversation with John Bently

I’ve been making books since I was 11 years old. My first books were hand made  comics and then a poetry and music fanzine at school. Although I’m essentially a painter, I love to make things just for the sake of making things.. I was always attracted to strong visual narratives and when I saw the ruggedly painted scripts that Fellini used to make for his films in the college library I thought that film might be the language for me, so I spent my whole second year making one with Stephen Jaques and James Blundun. I found the process bewildering  and frustratingly long winded but it somehow led me back into making books,  the predecessors of my Liver and Lights series.After I graduated I continued making and performing books until beginning the  Liver & Lights Scriptorium imprint in 1983. This started off as a kind of Manifesto and gradually  became more of a chronicle.  I am now on number 52!

As an art student I was troubled by the thought that art was a commodity that only a few people could buy for a lot of money. What I like about film is that it communicates to everyone who is sitting inside the cinema; the value of film is not that of the actual film in the can, but rather the experience of it, something that almost anyone can share and afford. A painting, on the other hand, is an artefact on a wall that only a very selected few can afford to buy. That is why I perform, make books and keep my books cheap.I think books are made to pass ideas on, before they too disappear, as all matter does. They are powerful vehicles but I am not attached to their material quality. The fact that they are not permanent is a fundamental part of their allure. I believe that they exist purely to carry stories from one place to another.

My writing is entirely to do with observation. Although I would never call myself a poet- I come from a visual arts background- I recognise that I do have a facility with words and a natural ability to explain things. As a teacher one of my roles is to find ways of explaining to students sometimes things that I don’t fully understand myself.
My writing is really about looking at things, mainly looking at ordinary people’s lives, those truly heroic ordinary lives that are far more interesting to me than supposedly extraordinary ones.

When I made my book “Bromley South”, for example, I was stuck for ideas so I decided to go out, pick anything that happened randomly around me and describe it. So on a mundane train journey from Bromley South to Canterbury one day I started writing down in as much detail as possible all the things that were happening in my carriage, then I took all the material back home and edited it down until I was left with just the story of one old lady.
You can do this with just about any piece of life, strip it right down to a sausage of relevance somewhere in the middle. You can turn your eye anywhere, and extract something meaningful.

But my books don’t always start with writing. Sometimes I draw. I always have lots of ideas sweeping around until one of them will fall, somehow… Sometimes the stories start as songs that I perform and end up as books.
I really like country music, and it occurred to me that the best country songs are never longer than three minutes, and in them the stories are told in two or three simple lines, with very few words. Johnny Cash said that nobody ever writes songs, only borrows them. I believe it’s the same for stories. Stories, like the best country songs, are already out there, they’ve been there for thousands of years, we don’t make them up! All we do is establish the basic plot, embellish with details, and the reader can imagine the rest for themselves.

One of the most important things I explain to my students is that you cannot control what other people think, no matter how clever you are. You can influence them, propose an image or an idea that will make them turn their heads in one direction or another, but meanings are not hard and fast, and everyone has the right to interpret things differently. That is a very liberating notion for an artist. If you start out with a fixed aim in mind, unprepared for digressions, disasters and adventures along the way, you wont get far! I think you must improvise constantly, you must never know exactly what you will end up with.

Another important aspect of an  artist’s work is making connections, of bonding communities together. This is what I love about performing: it’s about communing, coming together with your tribe. It is a ritual.
 My work is often very connected to London. London is what I look at, what interests me. The great thing about London are the ghosts that inhabit it, despite the cultural erasure and constant transformation. There is a wall in Deptford, down by the river that has been there for over 500 years, and that keeps accumulating layers, while the city keeps renewing itself constantly, like every great metropolis must do to remain vital. The old rubbing up against the new.

My latest book, Lord Biscuit’s Volvo 245 is Gone!  I think is the best book I’ve ever made!
I don’t always say that- sometimes I get so fed up with the process of making a book that when I finish it I say “Oh Dear! Have I spent all this time making that??”
Each page is cut out of a single piece of foam by hand, then set onto wood and printed as a rubber stamp. The book started as a poem about Lord Biscuit- the drummer in my band, Bones and the Aft- and of the time when his pride and joy, a 70s Volvo 245 which he had entirely and painstakingly restored, was stolen. Rather than give in to these circumstances, he tracked it down to a scrap-yard and reclaimed it and rebuilt it piece by piece.
The book is about that adventure, a mythic story about not giving up: The city is full of thieves and bullies - people that want to take away things that you love. This book is about standing up to those people in a very primal way and reclaiming the things that you love!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014



The new book I am working on at the moment started with an invitation from the artist/publisher Martha Hellion to take up a residency in Mexico. It was an incredible experience. Martha introduced me to Mexico City and all things Mexican. From her home and studio I was able to explore the city and visit museums learning something of the richness of Mexican Art and Craft. Together with Martha and Lilly Duering, an Argentinian artist friend of Martha’s I then traveled to Edward James’s garden Las Pozas, a 7 hours bus journey north of Mexico City, up and over mountainous desert, through the Sierra Gorda and down into tropical landscape.
The garden was an extraordinary amalgamation of jungle vegetation and man-made sculptural architecture, designed and constructed by the English surrealist Edward James and his Mexican craftsmen over many years. The garden enveloped in its magnitude and the buildings tested one in their dizzy structures. Their shapes echoed and enhanced the plants and trees that surrounded them. And the whole fused to create an incredible sensory experience of alert seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, moving and being.

I spent 8 days exploring the garden with my camera, wandering, getting lost, rewinding and refinding. I had never experienced such powerful soaring succulent vegetation in my life. 
As for the magnificent Staircase to Heaven, with vertiginous double spiral staircase and connecting bridge, the tiered walkways with splitting paths and the mysterious arches and open windows, - the latter really reminded me of Spanish/Mexican artist Remedios Varo’s paintings.  
As I wandered, I wondered how on earth I might translate such magnitude of scale, vertiginous height and depth, such profusion, brilliance and intricacies into a book. In my previous books I have always worked with a more manageable scale, so dealing with the vastness of this garden was a new experience for me, and an opportunity to think about my process, presenting a challenge to me.
I took many photographs of the garden, and once I had gathered enough I returned to my studio in Scotland where I began the process of thinking more concretely in terms of the book, following my usual process- that is starting by making contact sheets of all the images I had taken. The contact sheets allow me to get an overview of the entirety of the material I have gathered, they constitute an organized archive through which I can journey quickly and at ease and get an idea of the themes, my shifting pre-occupations, as well as the specific quality of shape and colour, the patterns and textural materiality within the images.

After that I began printing out a selection of images. I have always loved these early stages of the process, when originally with analogue I would have all the photographs to hand, in the box as it were, and look at them anew, away from the subject, as though in a reverie, seeing new things in them for the first time. Now, in a more digital world, my images exist at first on a computer screen, but I still try to print out as much as I can, even if it ends up being very expensive. These prints constitute my raw material, the beginning of the next stage in my thinking process: holding the printed image in my hands is the necessary starting point from which to make decisions about any of my books. Unlike a wordsmith I can’t pluck an image out of thin air.
I usually decide on the size of the book very early on, but in this case, given the enormous scale of the garden that was my subject matter - vast leaves, large panoramas, vertiginous view points - I kept several folders for different size prints and different scales, allowing myself to move between them along the way. When looking at the images and groups of images printed out in different sizes I started noticing how the different sizes created a different feeling in the hand, and how they provoked different ways of looking at and within the book: the larger ones provided for a broader sweep for the hand and eye, working better from a distance, whereas the smaller ones made the subject shimmer almost like a jewel in the hand.

Once I had my images, I began composing what I call “phrases”, sequences of four quite large landscape format printed images that follow one another, at first thinking that the book would eventually be constituted by a number of independent phrases/folios. But as I kept working I realized that there was a coherent narrative flowing from one phrase to the next, and that I wanted the phrases to be connected to incorporate this unfolding flow in the final book. That is when the issue of size and scale really began to work itself out more urgently in my mind: a concertina is a far more unmanageable object in the hand than a series of independent folio/phrases or a double spread codex book! Thinking of the book as one continuous phrase, rather than a collection of several shorter ones I began to have to consider the practicalities of folding the pages, manually or by machine. This dilemma also led to other dilemmas - which have continued - over methods of printing, gains and losses: inkjet quality/hand folding, offset quality/machine, press/sheet sizes and ultimately economics of production and economics of purchase: who gets to hold such a book. All of this gymnastics does my head in.
So returning to the subject and physical joy (rather than headache) of making my book, the garden was full of butterflies, birds and sounds, but these were incredibly difficult to photograph. However in Mexico City I spotted some old Mexican folk feather bird pictures that I just loved and photographed and found a way to incorporate these vibrant beauties into my version of the garden, giving them life in the garden and populating it within my memory and imagination in a similar way to how Edward James had done in real life when he came to Las Pozas, introducing his menagerie of birds, animals, including deer, boas and alligators!
All the time I was in Mexico I was also very conscious of wanting to evoke something of the ancient Mexican myth and include elements of indigenous Indian tradition and wonderful craft of Mexico. I was really moved by this. And wanted something of this feeling in my book. Martha is a great expert in textiles and together we looked at weaving, embroidery and beadwork made by Mexican Indians which I photographed and worked into my pages, as a vital element and another level of colour and texture in my book. In particular, I have attempted to translate with it that amazing and timeless feeling I got in the garden-jungle of the plants and foliage almost dripping over me. I have always loved textiles and the way they engage both eye and hand in their appreciation. For me “working” each page in the book is in its way analogous to the working of weaving and embroidery techniques: the eye and the hand teasing out the printed image as colour and surface in relation to the paper and the handling of the page. In this way the intimate nature of the book and its making is honored and hopefully it makes for an interesting material experience for the reader.

In relation to this intimacy, Frida Khalo’s small miniature self-portrait made for the hand also inspired me: so small yet so bold, I saw how this wonderful artist managed to combine such boldness of scale with such delicacy, intricacy and decorative detail all within a painting no more than 5cm high! Incredible. I thought if she managed to get such scale into such a tiny work then there was hope for me with the garden in my book!
When I start working out the physical book I need to consider so many issues: how to create the right tension and rhythm between the images within the phrases and between the phrases themselves, what size of page will work best for the image and subject matter, what distance do I want between the viewer and book- intimate and close up or slightly more distanced and table based. And then there is the agonizing consideration as to how to print to ensure the colours and blacks are as intense and saturated as I want them to be, and how to bind the phrases together so that the book will support the narrative conceptually but also remain affordable and therefore reach a wider audience, and so on. Printing methods are changing now and this affects the decisions I make, both compositionally and conceptually and, eventually, economically: whereas once I would have only been able to print 4 colour in offset litho on a specific sheet size, I can now use inkjet printing. The seduction of inkjet and its velvety matt black and intensity of colour makes it hard to return or convert back to offset: on coated stock with shine or uncoated with inevitable die back. But the former inkjet is very costly and hard to register back and front, and makes for small print runs and costly books. Offset makes for an affordable multiple if printing a larger edition. Depending on what I want and accepting differences there are different ways to realize the final printed book. It may be with this book that I output the narrative in two different sizes and print mediums, acknowledging the oscillating way I have been working and the dilemma I have found myself in. Both are relevant.
This book, like every one of my books before it, is an entirely new project for me, a place in which to pour my visual world anew. The beauty of a book is it can be opened and explored. You can lead the reader into the place of your vision - precisely where you want them to be - and then leave them there or bring them out. The cover closed, the place is safely held within the book and put on a shelf, awaiting to be discovered again. Within the constraint of a double page with a centre fold you can discipline your vision, contain and pace your whole visual universe in sequence. What is important for me about the book is the possibility to hold it in your hands, the condensed containment of that, and the intensity of material looking that this facilitates.