Our latest exhibition was launched at the opening of the Livres d’Artistes: The Artist’s Book in Theory and Practice conference. It showcases the generous donation of artists’ books from Ron King and the Circle Press, gifted to Special Collections and Archives in 2014. Sample images from the exhibition are featured below, with captions taken from an interview with Ron conducted by Cathy Courtney (1999), which looks back on his career in book arts.
Contracted at this time to create print editions for Editions Alecto, London, I persuaded them to take on this first book [The Prologue (1967)]. On completion of the work with their imprint on the title page and stamped logo on the reverse of the images, they suffered a financial set-back and I was forced to take on publication myself as Circle Press.
I had been working on a series of mask prints, and I knew this was a solution I wanted to explore for the Chaucer rather than attempting to ‘illustrate’ it… The abstract mask provided the opportunity to express the pilgrims through the merging of symbols – symbols taken from heraldry or the Church, for example – rather than caricature. The Parson, for instance, is not just himself but also a symbol of the Church, just as the Knight is the symbol of ruthlessness and (at the same time) vulnerability but also, in heraldic terms, of the Crusade… I used colour to put certain moods across; for instance, the Knight is grey, black, and silver and rather rusty, whereas the Squire is bright and gaudy.
Ronald King, Geoffrey Chaucer
The Prologue (1967)
Originally produced for Editions Alecto, London; published by Circle Press with frontispiece and fourteen mask images titled and initialled in pencil – printed silk screen and letterpress in 24 pt Plantin. 125 signed copies, 15 proofs – 50 x 37cm – 15 unbound 4pp sections in J. Green rag-made paper wraparound in blue cloth folder and canvas slipcase. Separate editions of 50 plus 5 proofs were made of all the images except ‘Friar’ and ‘Franklin’ onto J. Green paper 56 x 38cm titled, numbered, and fully signed. Guildford, 1967 (second edition, 1978).
There was a room in the Victoria and Albert Museum that was devoted to artists’ books in [the 1960s], and some of them had a deep influence on me. Matisse’s Jazz (1947) moved me tremendously, a revelation in the strength of its colour, the economy of its drawing, the exciting presentation of something that had been worked out in cut paper and reproduced by a hand-cut stencil technique in a way that vitalized rather than diminished it… Miró’s A Toute Epreuve (1958)… had a strong influence on the second book I did, The Song of Solomon (1969)
Ronald King, King James Bible
The Song of Solomon (1968)
Over 30 screen printed images, including 8 double spreads – text printed letterpress in 30 pt Fry’s Baskerville, interwoven with the designs. 150 signed copies, 15 proofs – 72pp unbound on J. Green mould-made paper – 40 x 30cm – in gold-blocked red cloth cover and slipcase. 50 copies reserved for London Graphic Arts Inc. and 10 for Imre Maltzahn Gallery. Separate editions of 30 signed prints on Hosho paper of all double spreads and 2 single pages were issued without text. Guildford, 1968 (second edition, 1990).
Bluebeard’s Castle (1972-73) marked the beginning of [my] collaboration with the poet Roy Fisher [and] my first step away from the traditional book format… The extraordinary thing was that within three weeks of my having sent Roy a mock-up of the book, he had written a text in which we only changed one word. I’d never met him… I designed the whole thing, and making it was incredibly masochistic. Absolute hell. The difficult thing about a work like Bluebeard’s Castle is to translate the dummy into something that can be manufactured or constructed in an edition. I remember sitting at a desk and just cutting and chopping and gluing and looking at all kinds of different pop-up material until I turned out the first room, the Torture Chamber. Once I got the idea that to make something pop-up you have to have symmetrical folding structure, I began experimenting in various ways.
Ronald King, Roy Fisher
Bluebeard’s Castle (1972)
Based on the opera by Bartok, the visual theme of the book is represented by nine pop-up constructions; the portcullis, the castle and seven secret chambers with the verse incorporated into the design printed in Optima. 125 signed copies – 30 x 20cm made up of 10 loose 4pp sections silk screened throughout onto Hollingsworth paper placed into a cardboard folder and held in a black Perspex tray with a clear lid. Guildford, 1972.
I was born in Brazil in 1932. The Carnival was a three-day event just before Lent and was visually very powerful. I loved the spectacle of the fancy dress, the masks and hobby horses. I spent a lot of times making paper toys and kites. Kites have a tremendous masklike presence, and they have appeared in my adult work; for instance, I used them in my Antony and Cleopatra (1979).
Ronald King, William Shakespeare
Antony and Cleopatra (1979)
Over 30 screen printed designs for the full text of the play; printed letterpress in 11 pt Baskerville with screen printed handwriting for annotations by Keith Please. 300 signed copies, 40 proofs – eleven 8pp unbound sections – 38 x 29cm on Cuve Rives Blanc paper in a quarter-bound leatherette and canvas portfolio. Guildford, 1979.
The Left-Handed Punch (1986) and Anansi Company (1992) are the two most elaborate books Roy and I worked on. The Punch is my favourite of all the books I’ve done; it holds together better than Anansi and has more dimensions. Punch’s moveable puppets, on-stage descriptions, the large chunks of the original Cruikshank version of the text, and the drawn Victorian tableaux scenes (spoofs of famous drawings and paintings) all fit together easily, and the photo montages and collages are relieved by the inclusion of the poet’s (Roy’s) handwriting to strong effect.
Ronald King, Roy Fisher
The Left-Handed Punch (1986)
The fifth collaboration of artist and poet in a modern version of the Punch and Judy drama. Entirely screen-printed with the exception of the introduction, titles and colophon, which were printed letterpress in 14 pt Baskerville. 80 signed copies made up often 4pp French-folded sections – 38 x 28cm on Somerset mould-made paper. The six scenes and epilogue (which include 1 articulated puppet designs) are held in cartridge paper folders within a red cloth-covered folder inserted into a hand-printed striped cloth slipcase. Guildford, 1986.
The Anansi book is more spectacular with its removable puppets made of wire and card – the whole book is like the Brazilian Carnival scene as I knew it, lots of noisy music and revelry coming from all directions.
The Anansi Company (1992)
The seventh collaboration of artist and poet with thirteen screen-printed removable wire and card puppets. Introduction and accompanying verse printed letterpress in 14 & 18 pt Walbaum. 120 copies, 10 proofs – one 8pp section, thirteen 4pp French-fold sections, and one 4pp section (40 x 29cm), all loosely inserted into card wraparound and held in large colour-blocked solander box. London, 1992.
If I am to criticise other works, I would say that, too often, one look through is enough! That does not mean that I can’t enjoy that ‘one-look’ type of book; not only do I have a large collection of them, but my own wire-printed productions, Turn Over Darling (1990) and Echo Book (1994), are books of that nature… I try to make even those ‘one-look’ books tactile and pleasing to handle and the printing relevant to the content. As in good speech, the message is not enough, the quality of delivery is vital.
Turn Over Darling (1990)
A series of six double-sided blind-embossed images printed in wire, which, when folded and juxtaposed in sequence, make eleven reclining nudes which change position from front to back view. 75 signed copies – six 4pp sections – 20 x 15cm on RWS hand-made paper and an unsigned, unlimited edition on Khadi Indian hand-made paper, both bound into tan hand-made paper covers and inserted into grey card slipcase. London, 1990.
Echo Book (1994)
A small booklet with the words ‘ECHO BOOK’ printed in wire and blind-embossed to read ‘BOOK ECHO’ on the reverse of the page. The impression fades as the pages are turned in sequence. 75 signed copies with three 4pp sections – 20 x 8cm of Khadi hand-made paper and an unsigned and unlimited edition with two 4pp sections, both sewn into a blind embossed black paper cover. London, 1994.
Although I was never a wholly traditional printer, I was closer to that stand-point when I began than now, when much of what I do might be described as the work of an experimental book artist. For many years now I have been using materials such as wire, wood, mirror and stone and exploring the elasticity of the book form itself. In selecting slides for lectures, I’m often aware of how my approach to the book form has developed. From the conventional solution of image and text in the format of the Chaucer Prologue in 1967 – through pop-up books, mirror books, wire-embossed books with double images, stone books, sawn and laser-cut ones – to the hollow log which I cut earlier this year into forty sections and bound in the inner ring to make four quarter-circle books that fit together into the original log form, is a long way.
Log Books: Hollow Log (1995)
An on-going project, begun in 1995, for a series of book-works which explore the possibilities of sawing a log of wood into book sections, or pages, which can be reassembled into their original log form. In the case of Hollow Log, pages are cut from the circumference of a hollow log, divided into four codex-bound books of equal size.
Hick Hack Hock (1996-7)
A series of book-works varying in size (7 x 5cm – 13-18cm) based on the ‘paper, scissor, stone’ game. The scissors are blind-embossed onto a concertina of hand-made black paper with split stones (which act as covers) adhered to both ends of the folded pages. Text printed letterpress in 8 pt Helvetica. Each book contained in a hinged custom-made box. London, 1996-7.