24 April – 18 June 2012
Pallant House Gallery presents an exhibition of work by the prolific printmaker and book artist Ron King, in the De’Longhi Print Room.
Best known for founding the Circle Press in 1967, a specialist publishing house for artist's books, King has collaborated with more than 100 artists, writers and poets to produce an extensive body of work unique in its variety and quality. This exhibition, which marks King's 80th birthday, looks back over the artist's career both ‘on and off the page' and includes some of his best known artist's books as well as examples of his paintings and sculpture.
Born in Brazil in 1932 King was trained as a painter rather than a printer, although he later discovered that he was descended from an uninterrupted line of printers and binders dating back to 1735. King's interest in artist's books began with visits to see the V&A's extensive collection of ‘beaux livres' by artists such as Matisse, Picasso and Derai, and in 1967 he produced his first book, 'The Prologue' to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. It was, as King himself testifies, a world away from ‘the usual illustrations of 'horse-back' pilgrims': Chaucer's motley troupe are depicted as mask presences rather than human characters, incorporated with heraldic symbols and bearing the influence of his interest in African mask designs. Examples of his characters such as The Monk, The Squire and the Friar are included in the show.
‘The Prologue' had initially been commissioned by Editions Alecto however the publishers failed to fulfil their contract and King was forced to publish himself, ultimately leading to the forming of the Circle Press. The name reflected King's vision of a group of like-minded persons working within a shared, supportive framework, an ethos which has remained central to the Press. Since 1967 King and his circle have worked with over 100 artists and poets and considerably contributed to the expansion and legitimacy of the artist book scene in the UK. The exhibition includes examples from some of King's key collaborations such as his first with poet Roy Fisher (also his first pop-up book) called 'Bluebeard's Castle' based on the story in Bartok's opera with its seven secret doors. Fisher's verse is incorporated into each design so that it appears to come from inside the chambers.
King has always been interested in the drama of story-telling, evident in his many and varied exercises in ‘pushing the book form'. He was born in Brazil so the carnival loomed large in his background and many of the works in the show are theatrical in character. These include 'the seminal ‘Left handed Punch', constructed as a modern day Punch and Judy show complete with photo collage vignettes, drawn tableau compositions and twelve movable puppets; and 'Anansi Company' based on the Caribbean folk stories, featuring removable puppets made from hand bent brass wire and card. ‘I love the way you can put on a complete show with books', says King.' You are responsible for the performance and the action so it is like a theatre in miniature.
Timed to mark his 80th year, the exhibition elsewhere reflects the breadth of King's work and his resistance to a signature style or method. Other exhibits include his spare, minimal cut-outs in the Alphabet series (1984), the embossed wire ‘drawings' of Turn Over Darling (1990), the sculptural seven drawer cabinet, Tabernacle (2001) designed to celebrate seven generations of printing in the King family and Log Book (1995-present), a series of book-works made from sawing a log of wood into book sections and re-assembling them into their original log form.
Ron King will give a talk at the Gallery on Thurs 14 June, 6pm. Tickets are £8.50 (Friends £7, students £7.50).