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The Artist and the Author

"The urge to make pictures that deal with the stories that other men invent and the myths that people live by is a very old one indeed." Lynd Ward acknowledged this fact and analyzed "…the different relations that an artist can have with the book…" in a public meeting at the Fogg Museum of Art in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1949. The books selected for this exhibition, Contemporary Artists' Prints in Books, can also be discussed in much the same way. A first consideration is the proportion of image to text; second is the artist and author association; third is the integration of pictures and words; and fourth is the design format incorporating the images and text. Using Ward's essay as a reference. I reviewed the books in this exhibition and selected specific examples to represent these relations between the artist and the author.

Ward devised four useful categories for describing the proportion of image to text: decoration, illustration, picture book, and artist's book. The use of image as decoration has a proportion of 10 percent image to 90 percent text. The most extreme example represented in the exhibition is the book Poems authored by Wallace Stevens. Here only one print appears as the frontispiece, a full page etching by artist Jasper Johns. The image as illustration incorporates 25 percent image in the entire book. The most recognized contemporary author and artist in this category are Stephen King and Barbara Kruger. Their book, My Pretty Pony, contains nine lithographs interspersed throughout the text. The picture book category, consisting of 50 percent image to 50 percent text, is the largest category in the exhibition with sixteen books equally sharing image space with text. Celebrated author Geoffrey Chaucer's text is shared equally with the silkscreen prints of Ronald King in The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. The final relationship is the artist's book in which images dominate with a minimum of text. The small accordion letterpress book, The Circus of Most Inventions by artist Shelley Hoyt, is representative of a few letterforms predominated by images.

In seven instances in the exhibition the artist is also the author and the books are image dominant. As authors these artists tend to write in either a mystical, descriptive or diary style. The most spirited and humorous of the group both visually and verbally is Mark Beard's chronicle, Utah Reader, illustrated with sixteen linocuts. Collaboration between artist and author often produce books that have a shared vision of the final result. The partnership of W. D. Snodgrass and DeLoss McGraw is described in the colophon of The Midnight Carnival as a "persuasive and particularly persistent example of the ancient Horatian notion of ut pictura poesis (This Latin phrase, as one reliable translation puts it, reads, 'as with the painter's work, so with the poet's)… Each artist possesses a vision of life, of art, which complements that of the other." The least interactive association of the artist and the author is the visualization of an existing text by an artist. Often the author is well known and deceased and the text is notable. This method produced the majority of books in this exhibition. The most visually haunting is the book Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus, with fifty-two wood engravings by Barry Moser illustrating the text by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. A visual opposite to Moser is the work of artist Enid Mark and her lithely subtle photographic lithographs interpreting the writings of Edna St. Vincent Millay in Grace From Simple Stone.

The integration of images and words extends from literal visual representations of the text to abstract visual interpretations of the text. Lynd Ward defined the characteristics of these two types of artists. "Some are serious students of their art and highly conscious of its social and aesthetic implications; others move by instinct, and under the stimulus of a variety of motives." Literal visuals realistically depict recognizable things. These literal images also tend to reiterate the text and provide a visual description. In Captivity Narrative of Hannah Duston, the artist Richard Bosman's wood block prints are true-to-text, page-by-page, visual depictions with picture captions describing each image. Abstract visual interpretations emerge with two variations. The more familiar form is interpretation of text with abstract non-recognizable imagery often consisting of shapes, lines and textures. Siah Armajani's book, Bridge Book, incorporates both literal and abstract visuals with poetry and quotes. Armajani depicted with photographic realism seven bridges he designed. Each realistic bridge image is supplemented with an abstract wood relief print. The extreme in abstraction is revealed in Nohow On. Robert Ryman visualized the writings of Samuel Beckett with increasingly more obscure etchings of textured rectangles, the same size and orientation as the text on the opposite page. Richard Diebenkorn took abstraction to a different less familiar level in Poems of W. B. Yeats. His etchings transform and assign new meaning to a recognizable coat image. In one instance the text speaks of death and the print is of a tombstone coat hanging on a hanger.

A concluding way to view the prints in this exhibition is by the design format of the book. Most of the books are traditionally-bound with images and text confined to the customary placement on the page. Images tend to be full page without text. The unbound books are either accordion fold or loose folio sheets contained in a box or wrapper. Ulysses with etchings by Robert Motherwell and text by James Joyce is the most massive book (835 pages) in the traditional design format. The text of each chapter begins on the right page and the prints appear on the left page of the spread with a title/caption underneath. A less traditional format exists in The Cycle of the Day: A Book of Hours, a letterpress book by artist James Trissel. Trissel combined a number of elements in a well-orchestrated design that tracts the passage of time with sequential imagery and text. Each numbered tri-fold folio consists of biblical text, quotes, poetry, and devotional prayers. The prints incorporated with the text include diagrams, realistic drawings and abstract shapes and textures. Nance O'Banion used the accordion fold as a means to crate short-sheet pages, fold-outs, and pop-ups in her book Domestic Science. The front accordion pages of text and linoleum block prints are backed with continued pop-up prints on the reverse side. This two-sided format allows the book's subject matter to neatly divide into two sections.

With these various ways to categorize the books in this exhibition, it still remains for the viewer to become a reader and take the books in hand. Handling them on an intimate level allows the viewer/reader to respond to the prints and the text at one's own pace and distance. This permits the viewer/reader to relate to "…a book form that seeks to be not a decorative or decorated object per se, but an integrated conception and an integrated experience…" I invite you to return to Special Collections after the exhibition ends to experience your favorite prints in the reading room.

Martha Carothers
Professor of Art
August, 1994.

1. Lynd Ward. "The Illustrator and the Book," in Graphic Forms, The Arts as Related to the Book (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1949

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