Artist's Note - Bound to Make Books
I make artist's books because I am a curious person who is not interested in producing academic papers with footnotes*. Visits to libraries and museums are an inherent part of my research, but travel in general feeds my desire to observe, collect and inquire. These investigations into cultures, habits and traditions lead to limited edition mixed-media creations, which at times resemble books. I feel no need to invent things, merely the need to select phenomena upon which I may initially expand and gradually contract, extracting the minimum necessary to convey each idea in the most concise, yet interesting way possible. I enjoy words, and find that at times they are effective even in absence of structures, images and sequences they complement, but I desire to communicate on many levels and seek to challenge myself with a variety of materials and techniques.
My curiosity extends itself not just to absorbing information, but to relaying it, using the most appropriate means possible. These means are translations of materials and methods of a great scope into things as closely related to books as possible. Wooden tablets and picture frames become cardboard, basket cane becomes textured paper, and crinkled Japanese paper replaces cloth to make paper hats. While these means are not necessarily evident to the viewer, they exist alternately in the history or the name of the typeface selected, the material used to make the printing plates, the binding materials, the container for the work, the format, the printing process or the support it is printed on, the color, the sequence or even the number of copies in the edition. Every aspect of the work represents choices, not for aesthetic reasons but for symbolic ones, wherever possible. I do not seek to be obscure. Neither do I want to expound exclusively common facts. Those who choose to discover all will do so, but there are many levels of appreciation. I am happy when my work pleases the child's eye as well as that of the specialist.
It has been remarked upon that the influence of Italy is very evident in my books. While I have over fifty partially developed projects in progress, each year I am only able to produce between three and five editions As research is such an important part of my works, and because I am living the majority of each year in Bologna, I have chosen to complete works such as Bologna Sample, which necessitated an on-site survey of the stucco facades in Bologna, and Urban Traces, which called for rubbings of reliefs around the city, with the technique known as frottage. The original library of the 900-year-old University of Bologna, the Archiginnasio, was appropriate for research on the history of clocks used in Librex Solaris and for the writings of Ovid for the background information of Wax Promises. The largest women's library in Italy, the Centro di Documentazione delle Donne in Bologna, was perfect for Pandora's Book and Pandora's Hieroglyphic Primer, culled from over twenty; books on women in history and myth. And a ceramicist on my street let me peruse her vast collection of books on antique ceramics for both the history and images for Paper Plates-She's A Dish. To avoid frustration from trying to research topics such as Native Americans, tobacco, gobos, blue stockings and regimental ties in inappropriate libraries, I delay certain projects. Also, some works may not be completed until a specific collection of things, like lost playing cards and grocery lists, reach a certain size.
I must agree, therefore, that Italy is indeed evident, although eventually works on Egypt, West Africa, India and other places will gradually counterbalance this bias. But being the selective trash picker that I am, a "cachivachere" for Peruvians, little lost Italian things in the form of buttons and irate notes to motorists will probably always figure in my work. And as long as Stamperia Valdonega in Verona agrees to print my ridiculously small editions of 12, 20 and 50 copies, Italy will continue to be present.
While sometimes baffled at my requests for typefaces that no one printing artistic volumes or ephemera would ever want, such as large sans-serif type for Noticing Death or commercial-looking brush script to mimic spaghetti for the menu of Paper Plates-She's A Dish, Stamperia Valdonega has always complied to my specific needs with great patience, precision and speed. I hope the ghost of founder Giovanni Mardersteig looks on with amusement, for he wrote of the importance of "searching for the best form suited to [the author's] theme." I'm not sure he would take it to the extremes I do, but thankfully we all may still benefit from his spectacular work as a type designer, scholar and printer, as fortunately not everyone in Italy is abandoning the family trade, as is so common here, from bookbinders to button sellers.
Although the field of artist's books is a rapidly expanding one, few people are aware of this movement in the visual arts. Any individual may make an appointment to view books for free, however, at an enormous variety of institutions in North America and Europe. At times I question the purpose of such limited edition creations. Then I commence working again and my inspiration to create things displaces these thoughts. But if I succeed in making people laugh or think, in the rare moments they may come into contact with an artist's book in an edition of few copies, that is a great blessing.
* I do produce bibliographies on request, however, for the truly curious people interested in the sources I consult for each work.