by Richard Minsky

The inaugural exhibit at Colophon Gallery will survey the work of artists, designers and publishers who have worked with the book, or the book form, to create an object of art. The focus will be on twentieth century work, along with historical antecedents. The accompanying essay will be hypertext linked to the books in the gallery, offering the viewer a variety of paths between the works shown. The exhibit is being constructed online-- it's a work in progress. As images are added the links to other items in the exhibit will be updated.

You can begin looking at the exhibition anywhere, by clicking on the highlighted text. Every picture is linked to other images and back to the essay. There are some "thumbnail" size pictures which you can click on either to see the larger version or read more about the work.

There has been no attempt to make this a history of illustration, nor is a photo on your screen a substitute for the real thing. Holding a book, feeling its weight, the smell of the leather binding, the optical properties of handmade paper, the subtle variations in reflectivity of the ink on the page, are all important aspects of experiencing a book. And every copy of a book is a little different. If it has passed through many hands, the book becomes an artifact stimulating the reader with the faint presence of those who have perused it before. If you wish to study the history of illustrated books in depth, the bibliography provides some references to get you started.

Since the scrolls of ancient Egypt, people have used images with text. The styles have evolved with changes in technology. Wood engraving, etching, lithography, and photography have been used to illustrate everything from travel books and encyclopedias to industrial product catalogs and scientific treatises. Contemporary artists discover new ways to express metaphors which are relevant to our era. Exhibit categories include:

Hebrew and Islamic prohibitions against graven images led to exquisite calligraphic works. Historiated and illuminated initials decorated medieval manuscripts. The Victorian era saw the development of thousands of ornate typefaces. A major development in the 20th century was the integration of text as image in the creation of concrete and visual poetry. The Russian Futurists were leaders in this genre shortly after the turn of the century, and influenced such graphic design movements as the Constructivists and the Bauhaus .. Today the computer is making it possible for everyone to design their own type, and to manipulate words with 3-D modeling programs.

From cave paintings to web pages, individual artists and writers have felt compelled to make a mark that is more or less permanent and accessible to others. Bookmakers include William Blake, Dard Hunter, and many contemporary artists. In addition to their influence on graphic design, The Futurists were the conceptual forebears of the Dadaists and the Fluxus movement

The French tradition, from the Delacroix Faust to the Vollard editions, has been adopted by entrepreneurs around the world. They bring together famous artists and authors to collaborate on deluxe editions which represent the "high culture" of the society.

Usually thought of as a medium for children's books, active pages have become a popular medium for other visual literature. Claude and Sabine proved the popular appeal of contemporary adult pseudo-ephemera. Fine artists are mastering paper engineering and using it to make sculptural artist books.

Designer bookbinders often illustrate the text with figurative or abstract images rendered in tooled and inlaid leather. Today some artists are producing works in which the structure and form of the book is the content, or the content is created to occupy the structure. The Janus Press and the Paradise Press, for example, have produced new books in forms created by Hedi Kyle.

Some artists have taken the book as a totemic or iconographic form, and made solid objects in which the book-object itself illustrates the metaphor of the content. These are books which do not open and have pages, and which question our notions of what a book is.

Richard Minsky

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