Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Bertram Rota on Book Patrol

We are excited to have joined forces with Michael Lieberman of Wessel and Lieberman Books in Seattle to share our passion for books. This month Nancy starts contrbuting to Book Patrol, a blog founded by Michael which covers international news on bibliophile subjects.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Bertram Rota in America (again)

I've just completed a trip around America, visiting New York and the Midwest. In Wisconsin I visited the fabulous book arts collections in the Memorial Library of Madison-Wisconsin, the Kohler Art Library and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. All these three institutions have astounding resources for research. Wisconsin, with its connections with Walter Hamady, proprietor of the Perishable Press (who taught at Madison) has a long tradition of firing the imaginations of book artists. I saw wonderful work by artists Pati Scobey and Tracy Honn, as well as catching up on new publications by Janus Press and Mare Blocker.

Pati Scobey’s book, Evening Susurrus,inspired by the Chinese whirlwind example, Wuzhai xiongji fa (‘Divination of Fortune and Calamity’) in the British Library. Whirlwind bindings, with their stacked leaves within the scroll format, were a midway point between the scroll and the development of more practical forms of bookbinding in China. Although they were predominently used for reference works, very few whirlwind bindings survive. An edition of two copies only, I decided to bring one home with me for our shelves.

In Michigan I caught up with Lynne Avadenka, whose new work, Six Poems, publishes translations of Dan Pagis’ work, and is featured on the cover of our new catalogue of American Artists' Books which can be down loaded from our website . I also encountered the work of Diane Fine, an impressive artist whose book works are moving and exquisitely executed (see below).

Back in New York I caught up with Roni Gross, printer and designer, and heard about the progress of the Vandercookbook, a project incorporating artists from all over the States in celebration of the Vandercook Press’ centenary. Watch this space for more on this exciting publication.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Dead Man's Patterns by Hormazd Narielwalla

Hormazd Narielwalla wears an elegant polka-dot necktie which might have caused Jeeves to raise an eyebrow, and a bright white kurta under a Burberry Macintosh. His outfit perfectly corresponds to the crisp white and fawn tones of his new book, Dead Man’s Patterns. I wonder if other book artists dress in ways which reflect their printing and binding styles. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a well-worn metaphor for personality, but it is given a new slant in the opening pages of this book: “We only ever see the cover, never the book; the skin, never the man; the suit, never the pattern. We are denied intimacy.”

Intimacy is only permitted to the bespoke tailors, who know every irregularity of their clients’ bodies and design outfits accordingly. The world of tailoring is secretive. Measurements are kept close and patterns preserved long after a client’s death. In Dead Man’s Patterns Narielwalla unwraps some of the mysteries of the trade. During an apprenticeship with Dege & Skinner in Savile Row he worked with the fastidious master cloth-cutter Robert Whittaker. Despite his fragile relationship with this exacting tutor, the book contains reverential photographs of Whittaker at work. Narielwalla describes the seductive sound of scissors moving evenly and surely through cottons and silks. He has a fetishistic delight in cloth and the art of its control. His attention to pleat and seam remind me of Alison Watt’s paintings of fabric, with their large-scale images of tiny folds and ambiguous shadows.

Narielwalla talks of his amazement at discovering the dead man’s patterns of the title. The patterns, folded up with “dead for ten years” chalked on, remain on the shelf long after the bodies they delineate are ashes. It took an artist’s insistence to allow these to be displayed publicly: “Hidden beneath the bespoke menswear, there is a secret… Everyone sees the suit, yet few are privy to that private dialogue which assesses, measures, and catalogues the subtle details which make up one single man.”

Dead Man’s Patterns is shrouded in original tissue paper tailor’s templates, which rustle as they are unfolded. The book itself is weighty, case-bound in ordinary brown wrapping paper, suggesting a long-awaited parcel. It is printed offset on a variety of inoffensive contemporary machine-made papers. These, and the white stock paper of the final section, provide a neutral background for Narielwalla’s digitally manipulated drawings and photographs. The subtle tans and sepias in which the book is printed, and occasional interleaved pages of tracing paper, recall past media and resonate strongly with the brown paper patterns which are enclosed with each copy of this book. These large pieces of paper are marked only by the tailor’s pencil notes: numbers and dates recorded in a codified and fascinating script, perforated by pin-pricks and cross-hatched by contours describing the absent body.

These fragments of paper are a poignant memento of the knowledge one man had of another’s body. The book charts the end of the relationship between a man and his tailor - not only for the individual, whose patterns now lie dormant, but also marking a change in the status of bespoke clothes as a craft form. Now, the timeless ‘classic’ is frequently replaced with a more fickle ‘fashion’ item. The rare and recherché nature of the subject itself drew Narielwalla’s attention to consider tailoring, formerly considered a craft, as ‘Art’, and artisans, as ‘artists’. Yet this is not a nostalgic or naïve work.

The latter part of the book documents the artist’s creation of a shirt influenced by the dead man’s patterns, the lines of the original fitting tacked on the front of the new shirt in silk thread. Narielwalla talks about his own experience of being measured by Dege & Skinner and seeing his ‘imperfect’ (his words) body recorded in the occult language of the trade. He believes that “shapes created by and for a body long-since dead can give new dimensions, new perspectives for the body of someone alive.” Narielwalla’s designs use the existing patterns in new ways – an abstract paper template fitted against a model’s chest, bodice or shoulder. Pockets become epaulettes, arm panels become the two sides of a waistcoat. The final pages of the book form a paper catwalk in which digitally drawn models parade outfits of Narielwalla’s creation. It is said that fashion is cyclical, and always repeats itself, but this recycling of a means of production rather than the style itself is very unusual. As well as being venerated for their past usefulness, the dead man’s patterns have taken on a life of their own.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Bertram Rota, Spring 1964

We recently re-discovered this photograph of Bodley House, Vigo Street, the home of Bertram Rota from 1937 to 1965.

We have identified the 1963 First English Edition of Alex Trocchi's Cain's Book as one of the newly published books displayed in the window (in the doorframe, second down on the right). This, together with the daffodils flowering on the balcony above the shop,dates the photograph to the Spring of 1964. Trocchi was a regular visitor to Bodley House and later to our Savile Row shop when he was supplementing his income as an author by bookdealing.

Can you identify any of the other books in the window display? If so, please let us know.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

The Falcon Bride by Carolyn Trant

Carolyn Trant came by the shop to show us some recent work. Carolyn is one of my favourite book artists – what is there not to like about someone who creates a book called My Mackerel Lover? She has been extremely busy recently. The Falcon Bride, an installation or ‘room-sized book’, was exhibited last year at the Star Gallery in Lewes. It is book art taken to the very boundaries of the gallery space, an orchestration of found objects, painted books and sculptures, works which were created after a visit to Kracow.

The birds of the title were inspired by the mummified falcons in the Department of Ancient Art at the Princes Czartoryski Museum. These falcons appear frequently in her new work, interchanged with the figures of decaying Dickensian brides. The exhibition prompted several books, including Kracow Pages and Boat Book, which range from unique works bound in conventional codex form to multi-dimensional boxed work and prints – all imbued with images of skeletal remains or departing vessels in sombre greys and sepias.

Over lunch at the Poetry Café Carolyn tells me that the works in the show were ‘constructed from basic organic materials such as feather, bone, wax, wood, or recycled paper.’ Such transient and unexpected materials are also present in the book works – some of which feature collages of lace, dried grape stems, scrim and newsprint, as well as a free attitude to washes of paint. The organic approach is also apparent in another, more conventional two-volume work, Hunting the Wren and Love Poems and Curses by James Simpson, in which Carolyn’s illustrations take the form of collograph prints made with the impression of fern leaves and twigs. Carolyn delights not only in the texture of found materials but also in the range of papers available to her, and in this book she interleaves the printed text with papers featuring natural inclusions or punctured with holes by the maker. These are sensitively used to suggest sere winter hedgerows, the world of birds and their predators.

Carolyn has also added to her recent series of Carnival Boxes, exquisitely made reliquaries each containing a concertina of prints. I particularly like the Dr Caligari version, the varnished millboard box with its hand-incised design in the lid depicting a shadowy studio lined with frames and its painted borders. The cut-away base reveals a further collaged compartment, on which the sequence of prints joined with buckram hinges rests. In true carnival tradition, the colourful images, which at first glance seem joyous, incorporate sinister political processions, the forms of mythical animals, fierce beasts and masked or naked figures.

All these books will be available at Bertram Rota for the next few months.

Friday, 29 February 2008

Los Angeles Book Fair

Not long back from the ILAB International Book Fair in sunny Los Angeles. I received online severe weather warnings most days I was there, but these actually seemed to mean it was going to be just a little bit misty or breezy. Enough books were bought and sold to justify the cost of the trip - just about. Something of an achievement given the exchange rate, and it's always good to see what books other dealers have and to catch up with friends, particularly our dear friend Judy Cohen, who specializes in books on the decorative and applied arts as does Dorothea Rota at Bertram Rota Ltd. Here's her website:

Our website

Here, rather belatedly, is a link to our website