Sunday, January 17, 2010

Artists’ Publications, Andi McGarry

The title of my talk is Artists’ Publications. I'd like to start by giving a bit of
background about myself and my activities. In 1986 I formed the Sun Moon and
Stars Press having graduated from Brighton two years previously. I’d fallen in love
with a girl who lived in Wexford and I spent a long time trying to convince her of my
intentions. This involved a lot of travelling back and forth to Ireland and eventually
moving over. During that summer Id been working on a fishing boat in the Irish sea
and had produced along with a few boxes of fish - a catch of poems. My first book
was born -Rhyme of the unseasoned mariner. I made the book by hand physically
typing each copy then hand painting each illustration and stapling the spine. I had
worked up a master copy from which all the books were subsequently generated- a
bit like a mad monk. Each copy was a version- similar but different to every other
version. A unique edition in fact. Making a copy from the master copy was a method
that worked for me. This set up the modus operandi for future sun moon and stars
press book production.

Between 1986 and 2007 I produced 180 titles using this method. My mission
statement in 1986 was to "Circulate Organic Ideas" - what I meant by that was I was
going to produce books with my take on things, made in such a way that the
evolution of the works and Ideas and means of production would all be connected via
strong themes and a recognisable house style. I was the most cookie publishing
house that I knew.

I wanted to test the water -I felt I was on to something and using the book form
seemed appropriate. I received some interest in my publications via reviews
particularly Stephanie Brown's column in Artists’ Newsletter, there were also cheques
in the post and publicity. This was great encouragement and feedback. I decided to
explore other Ideas in book formats. I quickly established certain themes and styles
in the books.

The books featured figurative scenes with words tumbling alongside. Words of a
poetic nature - but not necessarily poems. Images and words combined sometimes
a little haphazardly. Juxtaposed maybe.

My books were certainly recognisable - the papers I used I tore down from big
sheets creating a characteristic (a false deckle I would call it) Hand typing and writing
the words ensured plenty of typos and spelling mistakes.

For me the content and the format of the publication are all parts of the same circle.
In book terms "Totality" in the words of Keith Smith not just the content, binding,
paper, covers how it moves everything and I would even include the marketing in

Being in charge of the totality of the book was essential in my book making
activities. In most of the 180 titles created I was the Author illustrator poet

Being involved in all stages of production in the commercial book world is unusual.

Organising a book is a bit like organising a film there are many parts elements that all
need to come together to make it work as one. I like putting a thing together.

When I started making books they were priced at £2 each. Today they might be £50-
£300. My anvil has been constantly clanging with new Ideas and a hotly forged book
can sometimes made within hours of the inspiration happening. I revel in this idea of
"speedy production”, no queues or waiting in lines, I had recipes sorted for" Insta-
book cooking. ”Speedy books" in the words of Radoslaw Nowakowski. Sometimes a
book would grow out of several different experiences over a long period.

The figurative elements would usually be some form of depiction of humans in the
landscape and this remained fairly constant through the years- inky figures in
landscape paddling boats across a horizon, or jumping cracks on the Burren, maybe
figures in love running and leaping with fiery desire. These figures have been
teeming through the pages gallivanting cavorting singing dancing and drinking and
dishing out kisses via twists and turns just as in life. My narratives have twizzled
around these figures never shy of poetry or humour.

The themes and Ideas bore some resemblance to my situation, the current
landscape, the state of mind, they might loosely describe events they are often
disguised with a little poetics, or a little invention for flavour or spice.

Via the Wexford Artists Book exhibition which I conceived and co organised for 10
years I was able to see a lot of Artists Books 1st hand. This exposure had quite an
influence and effect on my practice and my continued involvement in Book
arts. I also went to lots of Artists book fairs in London-I liked the fact that my own
works were nicely different from most other makers. I took a stand at Frankfurt
Bookfair in 2000 and also went to Seoul in Korea. Selling work behind a table is quite
hard, but marketing/networking is an important part of the process and at the end you
see a work go all the way thru from Idea to sale-You certainly need a hard head and
be in for the long haul.

Such testing encounters really do call into question why an artist would go to such
lengths to publish at all?
I think it comes with the territory, it’s a part of their remit, part of their artistic licence,
like lettered rock they will strut their stuff - because they need to/ want to /have to.
Exhibitionists is a word containing exhibition. We need to show others fellows
strangers colleagues- that we are alive and kicking- Did I show you this yet?
Exhibitions are often called "Shows" and it is the showing that the other magic
ingredient is finally released and realised - when the people see the creation.

In 2007 several things occurred which changed the way I was publishing, what I
published and how I published it.

Sarah Bodman had sent me a questionnaire asking me amongst other things
"Did I think computers would impact on the way I produced work?" the Luddite in me
chortled as I picked up the quill pen to produce another hand made copy.

Then I won a folkatronica bursary with Visual Arts Ireland, this enabled me to run
some Ideas in a DVD Video format and produce a DVD with a soundtrack. The DVD
featured lots of underwater imagery and was also turned into a book- but this got me
thinking - making movies was such fun, and there were a host of new challenges.

Simultaneous acquisition of a laptop and a digital camera allowed me to explore the
possibilities of movie making using a simple editing programme (movie maker) it had
all become possible. I began making movies at a feverish rate.

A trip to Geordie land for a birthday to go play with the old band, stirred up longings
for music making. On my return to Ireland I said to my partner "I wish there was
someone here to make music with." The next morning as the fates would have it a
guy approached me asking would I like to form a band to do a benefit. Working with
other people making music has all kinds of bonus features - a perfect antidote for
isolationists, as collaboration is the order of the day - and the house is filled with

With in a year, and after several band reformations, recording music, coupled with
movie making, creating soundtracks, editing the film and producing DVDs, and then
publishing them- sun moon and stars press films swung into production and
has produced 30 DVD films to date. Visual Publications in the form of DVD movies
opens up whole new area of possibilities.

In my films I often use myself as the figure running through the landscape. Further
collaborations are required in movie making finding a good cinematographer for
example. The figure moves through animating the landscape providing a focus.
Running jumping leaping walking. There are still elements of fun humour and like all
good artists books - surprises. My ideas always want to be blurting our side outdoors
taking you some place you didn’t quite expect.

The movie camera allows for a different kind of landscape appreciation, via editing
and with inclusion of sound track the synthesizer makes an entirely new form of
artwork. I want my films to retain a notebook scrapbook journal feel. In my film" flag
man" it was the soundtrack that I decided upon first- we then went out and filmed the
Ideas that came from those words. I think of the music as an audio narrative- in lieu
of acting and drama perhaps.

I have published a number of films on you tube and as an outlet you tube and similar
sites are an interesting starting point. The work is available for free - thus the return
of a kind of cheap multiple.

I love seeing my work on a big screen too at festivals and in new situations, there is
lots of potential for these visual publications-and this makes the making worth while.
Its great to follow a thing through from Idea to consumption.

My most recent film Gone in 38 seconds was a commissioned documentary
film featuring a guy who bought his partner a double-decker bus, the shortened
version you will see contains lots of the elements of fun and landscape which interest
I intend to develop my interest in documentary films as a route for uncovering other
In September 2009 I am co organising 1st Wexford ~Independent Documentary Film
Festival - which will take place in the village where I live.
I am delighted in the films and what is now possible with simple equipment. These
are indeed exciting times for artists to be publishing in.

Andi McGarry 2009

The above copied from:
This location also has an audio copy of the above as a talk.

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