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New chapter opens as American road trip inspires UK's first book arts centre: Papermaking, bookbinding and typesetting resources to be offered in east London
[January 01, 2013]

New chapter opens as American road trip inspires UK's first book arts centre: Papermaking, bookbinding and typesetting resources to be offered in east London

(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Some people travel the US to see the sights and bright lights, to maybe lose themselves in the kitsch of Vegas or Hollywood's craziness. Simon Goode, on the other hand, roamed the country to explore the joys of papermaking, typesetting and bookbinding.

"The trip was like a holy grail," he said, rhapsodising over three months travelling from New York to Los Angeles on a mission that has helped result in Britain's first centre for a craft that is in danger of disappearing: book arts.

That term may be a mystery to some. "It is a difficult one to define and still, to this day, a lot of people don't know exactly how to define it," admits Goode.

Essentially, it is creating art in book form. "Then you've got the question, what is a book " he added. "My experiences define it as using traditional techniques, like bookbinding and letterpress making - but not wholly, and not exclusively - for artists to produce their own works." If that's still fuzzy, then Goode hopes people might just come along to his centre to explore an art form whose practitioners have included Richard Long, David Hockney and Ed Ruscha, whose first artist's book was Twenty-Six Gasoline Stations, which featured 26 photographs of just that. In the UK the largest number of artists' books is held by the V&A, while Tate has about 5,500.

It could be said that book arts have been around since medieval illuminated manuscripts, but the craft as we know it emerged from the French tradition of the livres d'artistes, or livres de peinture, around the turn of the 20th century. Since then there have been futurist artists' books, surrealist artists' books, conceptual artists' books and more.

Goode said it was something of an anomaly in the UK that while there has been no centre until now, there are plenty of artists' book fairs and shops where the books are sold.

That's not the case in the US, where the first book arts centre opened in New York 38 years ago, with others in cities such as Chicago, Minneapolis, Portland, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Goode said his trip "visiting these incredible institutions" was a complete eye-opener and these experiences led him to create the London Centre for Book Arts in a 365-square metre space in Fish Island, Hackney, which has been funded by membership fees and benefactors.

The centre will offer classes and workshops for both beginners in search of a hobby and professionals who just cannot easily access the specialist equipment needed to create their own artists' books.

Clive Phillpot, a former director of the Museum of Modern Art's library in New York, said it was "remarkable that a capital city such as London has not previously had a specific centre for book arts".

Goode's mission has been driven by his experiences when he graduated from his book arts course - now earmarked for closure - at the London College of Communication (formerly the London College of Printing) in 2006.

"I soon found out there was nowhere for me to use all these bits of specialised equipment that I'd learned. I spent three years learning all these bookbinding and printmaking techniques, it was amazing and I had a brilliant time and I wanted to carry on, but there was simply no access," he said.

"Unless you can afford to buy all your own equipment, and you've got a living room with reinforced floors, there's no way of doing it." It took two weeks to move in the specialist equipment that Goode had been accumulating and storing in garages over the years, including an impressively intimidating Victorian guillotine once owned by Ted Hughes, who used it for his own small press publications. That has been donated by the University of the West of England in Bristol, while a wooden press from 1897 comes from a former printer in Birmingham who sold it ridiculously cheap so it went to a good home.

"It is a little bit dangerous, which is why it's chained up at the moment," said Goode. "It's not for use by anyone other than myself really. It looks nice though - and it does work." Goode opens the centre later this month and hopes to have about 2,000 people through the doors in its first year.

The opening has been welcomed by the book arts world. Sarah Bodman, senior research fellow at the University of the West of England's centre for fine print research, said the UK needed to establish something similar to the American example.

"The UK needs a model like this to open and support the creative economy and help artists to produce book works, build upon their skills and network with their peers," she said.

Captions: Simon Goode, founder of the London Centre for Book Arts, which opens in Hackney this month, and examples of the art form, which Goode defines as using traditional techniques for artists to produce their own works (c) 2013 Guardian Newspapers Limited.

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