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2004-06, 341, 342, Exhibitions, Michael Taffe

Kickshaws of Paris: Funky?

In appreciation of the exhibition at Adelaide Old Books, October- November 2003,

‘True To Type: An adventure in creative typography from Kickshaws, Paris.’

Oh well it takes all kinds; ‘funky’ was the enthusiastic response of my medical student daughter and mother of three when she described her visit to the Old Adelaide Books exhibition in 2003, featuring Kickshaws of Paris. For myself, I think “Wow!” would probably do. What took my daughter’s attention was the use of colour; her father was more taken with the creative aspect of the books, not only the treatment and production of colour but the graphics and typography as well. Some of the type styles I had not seen before. The range of types used at Kickshaws by John Crombie has generally been obtained from Parisian printers when they were converting to offset printing in the 1970s.

Already having the first book with the Kickshaws imprint in my collection, The Erring Sister from 1980, I awaited the exhibition with anticipation. The day dawned, finding me trapped by mundane circumstance, work and study commitments in my home at Ballarat Victoria. Therein lies the tale of my daughter’s visit to Old Adelaide Books on her father’s behalf. Such enthusiasm I had not expected and the result was several works travelling courtesy of Australia Post across the border. But before the exhibition ended, your writer did have an opportunity to visit the city of churches, and Voilà!

It is a sad indictment of the appreciation of this art form, or the love of the book in Australia, that it has taken twenty years for Kickshaws to appear at an exhibition here since it was first exhibited at the Museum of the Book in The Netherlands at The Hague. This private press has shown the way for the use of print as an art form in an age when it seems to have become superfluous as a transmitter of news or instruction, given the electronic mediums of the third millennium. In the introduction to the exhibition booklet, we are reminded that a mere handful of enterprises inspire us with such innovative and creative typography today. The booklet produced by just such an Australian printer, Wayzgoose Press, provides a wonderful overview of the history and work from Kickshaws. It is also desirable in its own right as an essay to be read by all interested in typography and the creative process, in the manner we have come to expect from Jadwiga Jarvis.

The first work in the exhibition to hold my attention was Overcoated(1982) where the text is gradually overwhelmed by the narrator’s overcoat, a different example of intertextuality. Contrasted to this is Stitches in Time (1985) illustrated and printed by Sheila Bourne. In this she has used an embroidered sampler in producing hand-lettered text on pastel photopolymer plates. Probably the best example of such a technique is in Neither – Nor (1990) with its rainbow coloured fish or birds and transposition of words across the folded pages. For the true impact viewing is essential. My daughter insisted that I had to buy this, but finances precluded such a luxury.

For my own collection I added A Rolling Stone (1989) which, over twenty five pages, depicts the life of a primeval monolith until it is reduced to a pebble, ultimately ending its days as a paper weight in an office. Both the story, graphics, use of colour, typeset and Bourne’s illustrations combine to make this a landmark work for me, as well as giving me a good sample of the works produced by the press. In addition to this, the tactile quality of the BFK Rives paper is always an important consideration to me.

Having shared my own collecting preferences, which regrettably must be regulated by finances, there are other works which demand the attention of the bibliophile. Of these, Curtains (1985) tells the story of the fading light as night approaches with the change of light and focus progressing page by page. While this appealed to me for all the reasons mentioned in relation to others, it also demands the attention of the reader for its use of alliteration, ‘The gloom glutted eye’ and the ‘To distinguish the dial will night have drawn.’ So we have a wonderful selection of both sound and concrete poetry.

Some of the books were fourfold in their structure, hinged with ring binding on four sides. Here again John Crombie’s originality and vision helps us explore language and words in even more diverse ways. By changing the order of the unfolding the pages, one reads the texts in different ways. Across the range of exhibits we are presented with photographic and electronic processes as well as more traditional typography.

As an exhibition this one was a success not only in terms of the innovation and the art of the book, on display, but in the venue and presentation of the exhibition itself. All praise to Jaqui for the professionalism of the exhibition. Gloves at the ready, pleasant surrounds, good lighting, display techniques, labelling, cataloguing, and personal attention to the customer (addict). For my daughter, with two small boys in tow, to come away with such enthusiasm and a new appreciation for the qualities of book production as an art form is a strong affirmation for the exhibition.

In the introductory book to the exhibition, Jadwiga Jarvis draws together the abstracts involved reminding us that Kickshaws books must be “seen, touched, read and manipulated -.” The works on display appealed to all the senses and exhibited good poetry, prose and illustration as well as good book production. Works in both English and French were on display. Such an exhibition appealing to so many tastes is rare today, even more so in Australia.

Having handled my indulgences from the exhibition, my book collector friend, the late Jim Stewart of Melbourne with his love of good typography, also bought some examples and suggested I submit this overview of the exhibition even if belated. I do hope other book lovers have had the opportunity to enjoy the work of John Crombie and Shiela Bourne.

Michael Taffe

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