by Eleanor Garvey


The work of Angela Lorenz is charged with energy and experiment, with wit and adventure, for she is a book artist who shapes ideas and materials into unexpected forms, too variable for a single approach. A handful of titles suggests this variety: Paper Plates, Librex Solaris, Wax Promises, Pandora's Box, Bologna Sample.

In contemporary artists' books, conception looms large and sometimes uncomfortably, for it can outstrip execution. Angela Lorenz's work interweaves idea and craft, reflecting her education at Brown University, where she majored in art and semiotics, while at the same time studying book arts at the Rhode Island School of Design. During her junior year abroad at the University of Bologna, she apprenticed with the binder Paolo Bugetti. Such training and discipline have made her a fine craftswoman, and her work is presented with impeccable skill and finish. This formal sophistication is the structure through which Lorenz presents her ideas and imagery with a freshness and daring made possible by hr rigorous method. Her materials, however, are non-traditional, and surprise is part of their effect.

Her first books were produced in America, and Wetatonmi (1987) has an indigenous source, for the protagonist is a Native American woman, banished from ancestral land following the Nez Perce defeat in 1877. Her moving words of fatalism and courage in exile are printed in letterpress on a long folded sheet of earth-colored papers, cut with animal and figured silhouettes suggesting tribal images. The wrappers of this edition of four copies are rubber-stamped in color with stylized forms veined like vegetation and tied with leather thongs.

In the late 1980s Lorenz returned to Italy to live in Bologna, with frequent return visits to Manchester, Massachusetts, north of Boston, where she grew up. She was not born there, but, as she likes to point out, in a station wagon with the license plate BOOKS driving on Route 128, the highway surrounding Boston and connecting the north and south shores. An imaginative child in a lively and affectionate family, she was blessed with good schools and at an early age began to read and to create in a manner suggesting her future, for "almost everyone made books in school . . . but some people never stopped." At Phillips Academy, Andover she learned printmaking and graphic skills and became familiar with the collections of the adjoining Addison Gallery. Her year in Bologna was decisive, and after returning to her senior year at Brown, she learned papermaking, worked as an assistant in a library bindery, and took additional courses at RISD. After traveling in Italy and South America, in 1988 she was given a one-woman show in Monza, at the Laboratorio di M.L. Grimani, in which she exhibited eleven books. She has subsequently had a number of one-woman shows in Italy and America and has participated in many group shows in both countries. In September 1989 she returned to Bologna to live, not just to a familiar place, but to a city with a printmaking cooperative, a bookbinding studio, and important museums and libraries.

That same year, with Discover Italian Monuments she tried a large edition of three thousand copies in photo-mechanical reproduction, like its prototype fold-out postcard book for tourists. Venice appears on the upper cover with San Marco, and Rome on the lower with Fontana di Trevi. But look again. None of these monuments appears as expected, for each is shrouded with canvas and scaffolding, in restauro, which is the reality seen with dismay by many a tourist. These great buildings and spaces may be obscured for years and are transformed into an illusion of something else, as the sly captions remind us: "Bernini takes a bath" (Piazza Navona), "Michelangelo censored" (Sistine chapel), "Disney Miland" (Milan Duomo).

Lorenz has created more than fifteen books in the first three years of the 1990s. They represent such a range and variety that one cannot select "representative" items. They are all too different, so let us look at a few-small and large.

Glancing at Red Empire (1990), the viewer smiles at the echoes of American pop culture in this little shaped book on a single folding sheet in thirty-nine copies. The protagonist Red is a polymorphous creature in the game of human evolution. "If you think Red is king or is kong you are Red wrong." Like a comic strip character he scales the Empire State building, which "red uses for exercise and descends when the book bends." Very different are the next two items, elegant and evocative small books, Librex Solaris (1990) and Wax Promises (1991), both stemming from an ancient European culture.

Librex Solaris, (1990) in twenty-four copies, one for each hour of the day, takes the form of a portable sun clock, like a Renaissance dial for reading the hours. Ten small etchings, no larger than two by three inches, approximate the dials, and the text, printed at the great Stamperia Valdonega in Verona, ruefully comments on the elements of time. "To be on time in time took time. For timing, time and again, depended on elements other than men." Bound in stiff vellum and gold-stamped with a foliated ornament and the letter N to point the reader to the north, the etchings are threaded with a cord that casts a shadow to indicate the hour.

Wax Promises (1991) is a metaphor of love, ephemeral and insubstantial in material, yet as carefully crafted as the ancient tablets, now void of messages, that were its model. "Wax promises to be immortal, Wax promises to smell sweet, Wax Promises to strip you bare [as a Roman and modern depilatory], Wax wanes." This tiny book, about two by three inches, issued in an edition of fifty copies, is composed of five little boards spread with a dark red waxy substance, printed with linotype in Times Roman. The artist notes, "The book itself is a false promise; instead of sweet smelling wax, an ordorless plastilene is in its place."

Two satirical views of unthinking expectations of art are expressed in Picture Book (1991) and The Logical Way to Become an Artist (1992). The former, the artist reminds us, is about "easy art," a genre demanded by consumers to fit their preconceptions, or even their livingroom walls. Composed of seven small watercolors, each similar but unique in each of the twelve copies, these mundane little found objects-cherries, buttons, peanuts, olives-are realistically rendered on a white ground and traditionally matted in white with a black inner mat. Opposite each picture is printed in gray, in all its absurdity, a consumer's comment, while tucked behind each little watercolor is a rose-colored printed comment of the artist, seemingly out of context, but not irrelevant. The top cover of the binding is gold-painted silk over carved gesso, like a gaudy picture frame.

The Logical Way to Become an Artist is another example of teasing that springs from the artist's dismay at the superficiality of certain popular views of the arts. It begins by asking, "What do Artemisia Gentileschi, Mantegna, Botticelli, Lorenzo Lotto, Guido Reni, Rembrandt, Lavinia Fontana, Veronese, Tintoretto, Tiziano, Guercino, Van Dyck and Tiepolo have in common?" It seems that these artists painted pictures of an accompanying list of subjects, many of them violent or erotic. "So it logically follows that if you paint these subjects, you too will become an outstanding artist." Twelve blank postcards are obligingly enclosed for creative efforts. The text for both these satires was printed by Stamperia Valdonega, the latter in an edition of five hundred copies, enough to broaden the opportunities for many a self-made artist.

Paper Plates (1993) also comes from an Italian tradition, the Renaissance practice of creating ceramic plates with idealized women's portraits to commemorate such special events as engagements and weddings. There is no loss of dignity in Lorenz's treatment of her models, who suggest their noble forebears, but they have been treated with a light touch and a sense of fun. Since the full title is Paper Plates-She's A Dish, the pun's immediate appeal is to the American reader, who will not be disappointed in the appearance or the materials of these portraits, with printed frames and little hooks on the back for hanging. The technique for the twenty-four copies is collograph, a print process in which the surface is built up with various pasted-on or "collaged" materials, then inked and printed. In this case, with a willingness to experiment guided by an unerring sense of humor, the artist glued onto a cardboard surface her portrait designs in the very flexible medium of cooked spaghetti, which she then sealed with vinyl glue. Each plate was inked with at least six colors applied with brushes, rags, swabs, and paper, then carefully wiped, and run through an etching press. Instead of a traditionally-worded colophon, the artist describes her process in the form of a recipe, reminding any follower to boil and drain the spaghetti, using spaghettini no.3 and capellini no.1 for a variety of textures. The Stamperia Valdonega printed the text, and the publication is housed in a narrow wooden slotted crate suitable for shipping glass or china.

The majestic tradition of Italian architecture and its many components are suggested in Bologna Sample (1992), the first of a projected series of sample books. Bound in an ochre-colored cloth portfolio with an orange corded handle are fifteen folding leaves, each with twelve pasted-on swatches of watercolor ranging from rich siena red through brownish ochre to pale yellow. These are the colors of the facades of Bologna "la Rossa," the red city, and below each small sample color is a legend printed in blue identifying the name and number of the street portrayed, an echo of the blue and white ceramic tiles numbering the buildings themselves. The artist sees Bologna as a living color wheel, constantly changed by the elements and by time. There is a poetry to these abstract patterns of color, and a poetry to the names of the streets: Via Remorsella, Via dei Terribilia, Via Bocca di Lupo, Via Sensanome, Via Orfeo. There is also a documentary value to this handsome presentation, with the text printed by the Stamperia Valdonega in an edition of fifty copies, for future historians and city planners will be indebted to the care with which Lorenz has recorded the face of her adopted city.

In Pandora's Book (1992) a feminist view of myths and stereotypes is examined with an intensely feminine sensibility. The book is composed of five folders housed in a handmade box covered with woven paper suggesting a basket and topped with a padded red satin cover like a pincushion. This box case establishes the metaphor of the title, and the text reminds us that "When a woman / might have wanted / to turn to stone / She turned to cloth / and paper alone . . . Her touch metamorphosed a life with a stitch." The five folders, numbered with a strip of tape measure, present strong women from myth and history, women who were feared, and seldom admired. There are Lilith, Medusa, Dalilah, Salomé, Melusine, Theodora, Cleopatra ("The final ruler / for the scarab beetle / Left only / a monumental needle"). These ideas are impeccably presented, defined with cut paper and cloth, embroidered and sewn with a needlewoman's skill. The final folder closes with a chalk drawing of a dressmaker's dummy: "The box is closing / and she is in it / Will we escape it / or will we climb in it?" The text, printed in red, was silkscreened on cotton sheeting at Edizioni Grafiche Il Navile in an edition of fifteen copies, neatly cut with pinking shears by the artist. Pandora's Hieroglyphic Primer of the same year is a modified version, with similar pinked cloth pages. The words of the text are interspersed with images forming a rebus, and each of the forty-five copies, held together with a large safety pin, is tucked into a bright red grosgrain slipcase. It is dedicated to the memory of the artist's grandmother, Helen Laimbeer Lorenz, "and her wonderful sewing basket to which she never felt confined."

Widener Memorial Room Rotunda
Widener Library, Harvard University
September, 1994

Sponsored by The Department of Printing and Graphic Arts
The Houghton Library