26 August 2013: A NEW BOOKMy biography and bibliography of Richard Austin, father & son, is finally available. Here are the details:
Alastair M Johnston
Long thought to be one person, Richard Austin turns out to be a father and son who shared the same name. Although Austin's importance to the history of typography was never in question, his (or rather their) dates and final resting place were forgotten. After a decade of research, Alastair Johnston has written a biography of the Austin family in which he assesses their contributions to the development of book design and typography at a crucial time in British publishing history. Richard Austin (1756-1832) took the innovations of John Baskerville and, through the sharpness and delicacy of his type cutting, perfected the typefaces of the period between the Old Face of Caslon and the Modern faces of the Didots and Bodoni, an era described as 'Transitional' by Updike, which saw the first flowering of the British fine press. In his later work, Austin pulled back from the impractical hair-lines of the Modern style to a workable type now known as Scotch Roman which became the workhorse of many sensible printers in Britain and North America.
This book includes the complete 24-page 1827 Imperial foundry specimen; pages from an unrecorded specimen book of George Cawthorn; a Fry & Steele broadside of display types; samples of the Porson and Sarcophagus greek types, Austin's 'Scotch' types and more.
Austin's son and namesake Richard Turner Austin (1781-1842) was a commercial wood engraver, producing blocks for scores of works in the first three decades of the nineteenth century. He was not a Bewick pupil but did learn by copying the work of John & Thomas Bewick, working alongside his father in Paul's Alley, St Giles Cripplegate, London (that's St Giles at left, on the cover). He also exhibited paintings at the Royal Academy. In 1819, Austin Jr relocated to Edinburgh and began illustrating children's books for the house of Oliver & Boyd.
Johnston documents 130 works illustrated by Austin, with complete bibliographical details, known variants, illustrations of title-pages, and many of Austin's over 1000 known engravings. Along the way, Johnston introduces the reader to some fascinating forgotten authors, bringing to life the world of Macklin, an Irish actor who stabbed another thespian in an argument over a wig in the green room at Drury Lane, and Captain Pasley, a Scottish soldier with a romantic heart who was a friend of Coleridge and the Wordsworths.
Johnston uses his knowledge of printing and publishing history, as well as his wide reading, to evoke this era of revolutionary change in the world of printing, during which Britain not only emerged as a major publishing centre, but also became a world power.
Note: The first 300 copies are accompanied by an actual size duotone facsimile of the previously unpublished 1790 Stephenson broadside.
28 May 2013Each year I print Award Certificates for the Northern California Book Awards which recognize outstanding work by poets, translators, novelists, writers of children's books and so on. This year I was pleased that Art Beck won the Translation Award for his Opera Omnia of the Roman poet Luxorius. In 1990 we published his first draft as Simply to See, in a coptic binding, letterpress (copies are still available). For two decades Art has continued to work on the poems and now finished this mammoth task though the question still remains, Did Luxorius actually exist?!
The Award committee had this to say about his book: "Opera Omnia or, a Duet for Sitar and Trombone is an exceptional work of discovery, scholarship, and poetic re-creation. Not only has translator Art Beck unearthed a virtually unknown peer of the likes of Catullus, Martial, and the Greek Anthology poets, he has accomplished the next-to-impossible feat of making him sound at once contemporary with the reader and authentically ancient. With a subtle ear for the rhythms of American vernacular and a style that is both lyrical and conversational, he has given us a highly persuasive version of this Latin poet of sixth-century North Africa. Luxorius is one of those prickly old goats with a vulgar yet infectious voice that Beck catches in fresh English, seemingly without effort. If translators channel their original poets, Beck is an excellent example of trans-world and time-traveling ventriloquism. Opera Omnia is a gift to readers enamored of an ancient clarity and directness of expression. It is an impressive work of transubstantiation."
Earlier in the month I visited New York and was pleased at the reception for my talk on Richard Austin's type at the Fashion Institute of Technology, organized by Paul Shaw and Doug Clouse of the American Printing History Association. While my book on the Austins is finished there are always more leads to pursue. Austin had cut two blocks reading "New York" obviously for use on title-pages; on one of them the initials G.W. are visible so I assumed this had to be George Waite of the firm of G & R Waite. So I spent two days going through all the G & R Waite imprints in the Arents Collection of New York Public and to my amazement, found the block I was seeking in a supplement to a pamphlet advertising newly imported English books for sale. This scarce, undoubtedly unique item from 1800 is printed in Fry & Stephenson types which, like the books, had just arrived from England.|
While at the library I also took in a comprehensive show of Mary Cassatt's prints (from their Samuel P Avery collection). She learned some tricks from Edgar Degas which made her etchings come alive. The show had several states of each of her colored engravings.
For a truly mind-boggling experience visit the Federico Garcia Lorca exhibit at NYPL, through July 20th. The show, "Back Tomorrow," documents his Poet in New York, the manuscript of which resurfaced recently. The story of his trip to New York (& Cuba) in 1936 is told in letters, drawings and photos. When Walt Whitman comes up, the NYPL has thrown in a Whitman manuscript for good measure, and when Lorca mentions "The Waste Land" of T.S. Eliot, they have that manuscript also!
5 May 2013My talk at the Clark Library (UCLA) was a success, thanks to Gerald Cloud & staff and Dr Stephen Kanter for inviting me. I have updated the Rogues Gallery part 2, and Book Arts in Film, with new entries. Stay tuned for announcements of new books in the coming months. The image at left is the announcement of my talk, featuring wood engravings by Mark Head. For a wild time, check out Mark's animation (featuring me on piano), here.
December 7, 2012I was thrilled to be asked to design the typographic style for David Mamet's new broadway play THE ANARCHIST, which premiered on 2 Dec at the Golden Theatre in New York, starring Patti Lupone and Debra Winger. Mr Mamet also commissioned me to do a short run of letterpress wood type posters.
Another noted author, Rebecca Solnit, asked me to design & print a broadside to commemorate a talk she gave at Stanford University on the occasion of their acquisition of a collection of maps of "California as an Island." The Glen McGlaughlin Map Collection, now at Stanford, is quite remarkable for its holdings of early maps showing us (California) detached from the American mainland. It's actually a state of mind found throughout the Golden State.
I've printed up some seasonal greetings cards which I will be selling, along with broadsides and perhaps some books, this Sunday at a Craft Fair in Oakland (It's noon to 4) at 6131 Baker Street, Oakland and will feature many other craftspeople as well as the Baker Street Irregulars. I have made Christian, Jewish and Secular greeting cards. If they go over well I will see about consigning some to University Press Books on Bancroft Way in Berkeley. So if you can't make it to Oakland on Sunday, check out UPBooks in Berkeley if you need letterpress yuletide greeting cards.
I've been blogging weekly on www.booktryst.com. My November posts included a three-part checklist of the publications and job printing of Tom Raworth at Matrix and Goliard Presses, a piece on the earliest American publications of Robert Burns, a review of Ian Hamilton Finlay's Selected Poems, and a review of Controversies, a book about ethics and photography. I caused a huge uproar with a post on "Why I hate Helvetica" on Smashing Magazine's website, based in Germany. It generated 75 replies in less than 24 hours, which is double their normal response rate. I don't know how many people have read it, but I guarantee it's full of bluster and bombast.
Update Oct 23, 2012Announcing a new book from the press: Docteur Nico Discography, Second Edition, by Alastair Johnston. 88 pages, perfectbound paperback, with indexes, $19.95.
The internet is an incredible place, as you know. Among all the esoteric topics we have covered as a small press, none is more obscure, perhaps, than my discographic study of Nicolas Kasanda (1939-85), the Congolese guitarist who earned the nickname "Dieu de la Guitarre." When I started my world music website, one of the pages was devoted to establishing a checklist of his music (one of several discographic projects on my site). The page grew exponentially and I soon found a devoted legion of Nicophiles who sent me more information to add to it. From London, Holland, Denmark, France, Japan and Congo itself, people wrote to give me information. A colleague in London told me he had catalogues of the two labels founded by Nico, Editions Vita (1962-5) and Editions Sukisa (1966-74), which published his records as 45s. When I asked to include them on my site he complained that making such information freely available on the net was driving up the prices for collectors because if someone found an obscure record and googled it, they would discover a whole world of information and, more to the point, evidence that it was not only scarce but in great demand, and then crank up the asking price.
I agreed to remove my web page and put the information into a book. This had two drawbacks. I couldn't afford to include the images in color, nor could I update it monthly as new information came in. However I published my site, as it existed in 2009, as a paperback book.
Since then the information has continued to arrive, and I have corrected my own copy in ink as copies sold. Now the first edition is sold out! and I have published a Second edition, corrected and expanded.
Although Nico died in 1985, interest in his music continues to grow and there have been quite a few reissues in just the last few years. More importantly, a Danish scholar discovered more documents in Parisian libraries and archives and sent me details on 45 releases on Decca's "Surboum Africain" series (1961-5), and Ngoma's recordings which were made in their own Congo studios from 1966 to 71. Finding a checklist of this was a stroke of luck, since much historical material perished during the most recent civil war in Congo. This same scholar completed another part of my checklist, so I was able to add ten pages of new material to the work.
Now most visitors to this website will not be interested, but thanks to the internet a circle of melomanes de la musique Congolais has drawn closer.
In other news I continue to post weekly on booktryst. My most recent posts are on the discovery of the remains of Richard the Third, "My Kingdom for a hoax", a piece on the work of the Regency era artist, William Marshall Craig, a review of Bill Traylor, Drawings from the Collections of the High Museum of Art and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.
In October I have published a review of the show of Children's Book illustration from the collection of Malcolm White at San Francisco Public, a review of Hendrik D. L. Vervliet's Vine Leaf Ornaments in Renaissance Typography. A Survey, a critique of the typography in the BBC period drama, The Mystery of Edwin Drood (which has generated more than 750 hits so far), and today, a review of Kay Larson's new bio of John Cage.
Update Sept 15, 2012Announcing a new work from the press: The Thirteen Curves by Tinker Greene, celebrating a winding stretch of Highway One that bypasses Bolinas, California. It comes from his latest book Who I Was which he self-published in San Francisco. The illustration is by Jinny Pearce, a Berkeley-based artist, with whom I have previously worked on broadsides for Watershed (In fact we are working on a new one, a poem by Joy Harjo, for the next Watershed Festival later this month.) The work is printed on a full sheet of Kitakata paper, measuring approx 17 x 21 inches, with deckles on four sides (not the best for registering multiple colors on the press). There are 45 copies in the edition, of which 14 are for sale. The work is signed by author and artist. Price $75, shipping extra.
My latest Booktryst post is a review of Matthew Young's Rise & Fall of the Printers' International Specimen Exchange, just published by Oak Knoll Press.
Update Aug 26, 2012Through the tenth of September you can get 30% off our titles in stock at Small Press Distribution here.
I've joined the staff of BOOKTRYST, America's premier blog about rare books and related topics. They've written such generous things about my books in the past I felt sure they were desperate for material, so have contributed columns on Basil Bunting's Persia, souvenir postcards, Henry Lemoine and W A Dwiggins' use of color, and most recently a two-part article about bookplates. Hopefully I will come up with more things to write about in future.
Steve O Saxe sent me a wild Stanhope image (one I have framed on the wall in fact). I had not included it on my Stanhope post because it is so erratic (even though it looks rather like the Cruikshank one shown at the top of the page as THE THING), but have decided to add it in, on the Stanhope page.
Art Beck's complete Luxorius translations have recently been published by Otis Art Institute Press in Los Angeles. Nice work, Art! And yes we still have copies of the limited edition we did of some of these poems, in Latin and English.
Nice review of Hanging Quotes and Kevin Power's Where You're At on RAIN TAXI.
Update April 3, 2012Nice piece on the Press' 37th anniversary over at Jacket magazine.
I uploaded Darrell Gray's poetry reading from the Black Bart Poetry Society Benefit at the On Broadway in San Francisco in 1983. There are two parts, dont miss part two.
We have three of his titles in print: Halos of Debris (his last collection of poetry); the new book of collaborations with GP Skratz called Everything Else (see below), and an older book of collabs between Darrell & Alastair Johnston, titled Wreck O'Lections.
A new book from the press
Typographical Tourists, Tales of Tramping Printers, edited by Alastair M. Johnston.
¶ 178 pp., paperback, includes bibliography, $20.
Praise for the Book:
"What we have here is an extremely colorful, often wildly amusing, ink-stained On the Road, with Johnston steering us through the world of printers with type in their blood but ants in their pants, compelled by personal demons to a precarious existence leavened by an adventurous, if impecunious, black-ink life rich in colorful anecdotes and stories. Johnston has performed a fine service by collecting them here in one place from diverse sources, known and unknown. It's a crazy-quilt history populated by drifters, wanderers, dreamers, vagrants, and transients, a movable type feast, accent on the movable, the don't-miss world of the vagabond printer."
Back in PrintWe discovered a box of unbound book blocks and have bound them up. Fans of Tom Raworth will be pleased to know we are now offering two of his early works which are back in print as long as stocks last. Logbook, 1976, illustrated by Frances Butler. Written in Colchester in 1970, Logbook comprises random pages from a ship's log that were found floating in the poet's imagination. Frances Butler illustrated the book with elaborate Rapidograph drawings that echoed images in the logbook as well as her own fascinations with wood, stone, crumpled & torn paper, Japanese aesthetics, and the battle between the vegetables and the rocks! Alastair Johnston hand-set the text in great primer Bulmer and 60 copies were printed on dampened Arches and bound in fabric. The same year we produced 500 copies by offset-lithography in black and white, but it has long been out of print. Limited quantities are available at $25 each. Note: You can hear Raworth reading from this work on the University of Pennsylvania website.
Nicht Wahr, Rosie? also by Tom Raworth, appeared from Poltroon Press in 1980. The book was written while Tom was studying Spanish at the University of Essex in the sixties. In 1972 a small press edition appeared in England but was destroyed accidentally in a flood at Villiers Press after only one or two advance copies had made it into the world, so we were pleased to see this major work back into print. Typeset in Sabon by Alastair Johnston. Our apprentice, Marilyn Perry, did the layout and our former professor of calligraphy, Arne Wolf, designed the wonderful cover. In 1980 the book won the Award of Excellence in Typography from the American Institute of Graphic Arts. Again, limited quantities are available, at $25 each.
Cover photo by Shelly Vogel
Update January 10, 2012It's always a pleasure and a joy to read Darrell Gray's poetry. Allan Kornblum & I have talked about doing a Collected or Selected Poems for years for the many fans and readers of Darrell, however that has not happened yet. Meanwhile, musician and author G.P. Skratz submitted a manuscript to me that consists of collaborations he wrote with Darrell in the decade between 1975 and 1986 (the year Darrell died). Darrell lived and breathed poetry so it was hard not to be involved in collaborations with him: whenever you visited him there would be a sheet of paper in the humming Selectric on the kitchen table and as the wine flowed, & the stereo blared, crazy ideas would be committed to the paper. I printed my own collaborations with Darrell -- Wreck O'Lections-- soon after he died, but here 25 years further on are some gems that were the fruitful result of many sessions with G.P. Skratz and the odd line from Pat Nolan or Andrei Codrescu, who happened to be present at the time. The book is divided into five sections; one of them the spurious translations from the French of Anton Laplace, inventor of the shoe-horn and gnasher of the ankles of princesses. It also includes a wonderful expansive introduction by Skratz on the history of Actualism, the mysterious poetry movement that Darrell founded in Iowa City in 1972 while he was a student of Ted Berrigan and Anselm Hollo at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Another of the key exponents of Actualism, Dave Morice, aka Dr Alphabet, provided two drawings to accompany Skratz' introduction. In order to create a parallel visual narrative I invited New York-born photographer Shelly Vogel to contribute some of his dramatic city nightscapes and urbane California moments to the book.
72 pages, paperback. Available at Moe's, trade orders from Small Press Distribution, or directly from us (write if you want to pay by paypal). Retail price is $18, post free in the US.
Cover art by Frances Butler
Update November 6, 2011The first printing of the Kevin Power book Where You're At is sold out and so we are reprinting it. This is exciting as the book is just selling by word of mouth, no major reviews having appeared yet.
Congratulations to Lisa Rappoport of Littoral Press, Oakland, the winner of the 2011 Alastair Johnston Award from the Pacific Center for Book Arts for her work THE SHORT GOODBYE, an imagistic recreation of Philip Marlowe from Raymond Chandler's novel. Her work was selected for purchase and presentation to the Special Collections of San Francisco Public Library from the many entries in the 14th Triennial Members Exhibit of the PCBA. -- Yes, it's a bit awkward having a prize named after me, while I am still alive, but it's better than the alternative...
Speaking of me, I have a new book out from Cuneiform Press, titled Hanging Quotes, a compilation of 19 interviews I conducted over the last 40 years with important figures in the worlds of typography, type design, book arts, small press publishing and poetry. It's a large paperback, heavily illustrated with the work of the people in the conversations. The oldest conversation in the book was with Noel Young of Capra Press, Santa Barbara, which took place in 1974. At the time Noel was publishing books of Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Diane Di Prima and many others and also printing the early books of Black Sparrow Press. I was finding my way in printing but at the time writing a column for the local free papers the Santa Barbara News & Review and planning a move to the Bay Area. This conversation has never been published. The most recent is a great long rambling discussion with Walter Hamady held this June and drawn from three hours of taped chatter (there were four hours on tape, but by the fourth we were into whisky & Walter was modeling his druze and bedouin outfits for our amusement). This conversation which covers his career and his thoughts and opinions on other book artists has also never appeared before.
One of the longest and most engaging discussions is with Dave Haselwood founder of Auerhahn Press who gets indiscreet about Kenneth Rexroth and (like Meltzer, Hawley, et al) tells wonderful anecdotes about the poets of the 50s and 60s: McClure, Lamantia, Snyder, Whalen, and Wieners. I was aware during many of these discussions of the historical import of getting these memories down. While I had spoken to and indeed had wonderful chats with Jonathan Williams of Jargon Press and Asa Benveniste of Trigram Press, I never taped them and so I wanted to elicit memories of them from others who had known them too. The resonances bounce around as I also chat to the late Holbrook Teter about his work at Zephyrous Image. Not only is this the only interview he gave about his work with Michael Myers, it's the full unedited interview, published here for the first time.
Update July 15, 2011We are pleased to announce a new publication: Kevin Power's book of interviews Where You're At: Poetics & Visual Art. 210 pages with index. Cover painting by John Altoon. This book contains eight insightful interviews conducted in the mid-seventies by Power, then a graduate student from the Sorbonne in Paris, writing his dissertation on the conjunction between contemporary American poetics and art. Power traveled to Buffalo to interview Robert Creeley who was teaching there. Then he visited Jerome Rothenberg, living on an Indian reservation in upstate New York to talk about "Ethnopoetics." Back in Buffalo, Robert Bly gave a reading: Power remembers him floating across the stage in a white cloak. This was the era of the VietNam War and Bly was very vocal in his resistance with works like The Teeth Mother Naked at Last. They had a discussion about subjective poetry and myth. Then Power came to the West Coast to interview Robert Duncan, George & Mary Oppen, David Meltzer, Michael McClure, and Robert Duncan. This group of brilliant conversations records each of these writers' thoughts about poetics and how they relate to visual art. Abstract Expressionism, Surrealism, West Coast Expressionism and Assemblage, are all discussed in fascinating exchanges. Along the way there's a lot of personal anecdote and revelation. Creeley talks about putting a drunk De Kooning to bed, then checking out his studio; McClure mentions his encounter with still-inebriated De Kooning 3000 miles away when the artist makes clay animals with his daughter. The Oppens admit they don't approve of Ben Shahn because he began to imitate himself. They tell startling stories about the expatriate Jewish community in Mexico City. Berkson discusses the New York School in relation to painters like Guston, Katz and Rivers, while Meltzer brings Berman, Herms and Conner to the discussion. I had wanted to publish this collection 35 years ago, but was refused permission by one estate: that obstacle has now been surmounted and it was worth the wait. In fact, the book has improved with age -- the conversations with Creeley and Duncan particularly are often cited as important in-depth discussions of their poetics and philosophy, but until now were only available in obscure little magazines such as Niagara, Line and Spanner. $19.95 a copy. Free shipping in the US. Paypal accepted (write for details).