For the past ten years the majority of my new paintings have migrated into books. The change occurred gradually, not as any kind of plan. No theoretical epiphany preceded the shift. The idea just caught up with me. As a bibliophile fond of travel, I succumbed to my fate without protest. It was liberating. Personal mobility actually expanded my artistic practice. Whatever materials I might need could be carried in my pockets, travel-vest or shoulder-bag.
Someone asked me, “Where is your studio”
“You’re looking at it” I replied
Having completed hundreds of page-spreads, the question that arose was how to exhibit them. The traditional solution would be to lay them out in vitrines, open to single page-spreads. Another method was to transform painting-journals into animations, such as those that greet visitors to this website’s homepage. Neither mode of presentation could simulate the experience of perusing one of these books manually. Given their nature, it would be complicated logistically, exposing the objects to potential damage. If I were to exhibit these works in the conventional way, I had to be open to selling the books without cutting them up to accommodate some form of wall-display. Receiving a list of book-binders from the Center for Book Arts in New York City I found a few who could build me an octavo-sized solander (clamshell) box in which the original painted books could be housed. Following every conversation I came away with a case of sticker-shock. Many of these skilled craftspersons had a backlog of several weeks. I decided to do more research.
In August of 2016 my wife presented a paper at a symposium at Tate Britain. After visiting several paper-shops and binderies in London I brought one of these books to Wyvern Bindery on Clerkenwell Road. Stepping through the storefront door transported me to a Dickensian workshop filled with rolls of fabric, glue-pots, bustling workers and front-man Mark standing behind a wooden counter. I described my predicament. At the end of the following day he presented me with the solution, at a lower cost than would have been possible in New York. Manhattanites presume that everything on the planet is for them just a cab ride away. Not so. During the past two years, we have witnessed the extinction of the last privately-owned full-service art-supply stores in New York. Many bookstores have suffered similar fates. My impression is that London retains a culture of artisanal binderies, and a deeper commitment to books as works of art–not just delivery devices for texts and images. There are exceptions of course–the museum shops and venues like Strand, Printed Matter, McNally-Jackson, relocated Rizzoli and others. Books seem to be gaining visibility in museum exhibitions. Vitrines displaying sketchbooks and ephemera were seldom seen twenty years ago, but now are de rigeur.
One question remained unanswered. As I continue to paint in books, how might I recreate for purposes of exhibition the experience of having a book in hand, open to a painted page-spread? I brought one of these books to a number of prominent New York art-dealers, who generously shared their suggestions.
With a wink, Dick Solomon wondered aloud what kind of lunatic would ever think that painting in books had any commercial value. The question he said, was “how to get the genie out of the bottle.” He suggested that I consider turning them into prints. A month later I found myself in Berlin, spending the better part of a day in the back room at Walther Koenig Buchhandlung, at 27 Burgstrasse, next to the Museum Island. While most of the books were by contemporary artists, historical precedents became obvious. Not only did I envision a dialogue with Claude Lorrain and Piranesi, but also with Hogarth and Turner. William Guy Wall’s Twenty-four Hudson River Portfolio, combined with Benson J. Lossing’s The Hudson from the Wilderness to the Sea, anchored my project within the history of American art, and with exploratory expeditions blazing trails that tourists would later follow. Pictures of the land were thus inscribed upon national identity.
These prints, developed with help from the production team at Brilliant Graphics in Exton, Pennsylvania, recreate the feeling of a whole book, open to a single page-spread. Some aspects of each painting is easier to read in this secondary iteration, than in its original book-form. For this reason, the print must not be seen as a reproduction, but as an enhancement of the original.
Look inside the chapbook:
For more information on the Hudson Highlands Suite, please see the PDF below: