To understand the act of translation is to read it, see it, trust in the meaning of another’s language, and ultimately surrender to an intuitive understanding. No amount of awareness will ever completely capture all the subtleties of a place or voice that is not one’s own. Translators contend with this task. There are so many points of view, so many arguments for and against circling around this need to communicate in ways that our human frailty can comprehend. Then there are the complexities of metaphor when translating image into text, text to image, or taking the additional leap of image/text into object. The struggles inherent in the making of a book are akin to how one moves from one language to another. Each translator along the way then must attempt to capture this in a way that holds in place (or at least attempts to) the fragile world of conviction.
Artists’ books are like this. There are so many types, and equally so many skilled hands and minds that go into their development. Many fail or never reach the deeper meanings of what was intended. Many surprise, not only the makers, but those who come upon them.
To look back at the fifty-one books we have made is to summon up the mysteries of our failures and successes. The second half of our first centum of books is underway.
These books represent our efforts to make objects of beauty and meaning. Our trust in both owes a debt to the people of words and images. Behind each and every book are numerous and thoughtful translators of places and voices, those willing to struggle through the details of bringing an idea forward.
It would take many more pages of effort to elaborate on the act of translation and its relationship to artists’ books. Instead I suggest you read Swan’s Way (Marcel Proust), translated by Lydia Davis, or, at the very least, read her introduction.
—Bill Kelly, Founder
At Brighton Press, our aim is to use and enrich the elements and forms that a book possesses to translate thoughts, feelings, images, and information to the viewer in the form of a journey. The idea behind the book is central to all aesthetic and practical decisions made during its creation. The craft should push the idea forward rather than be used to call attention to itself. When readers enter our books, we want them to experience the physical reality of the book as part of the concept behind it—something to encourage involvement and dreaming. This participation helps readers forget about us as makers while they are inside the book. After that, the artisanship provides evidence of our commitment to the work and its concept. The craft behind the book involves complex and time-consuming processes, giving us the opportunity to reflect on all of the ways we can imbue the structure (one that is taken for granted and trusted by most people) with layers of underlying, related, sensual experience. It also gives the book lasting power.
—Michele Burgess, Director
One move allows another and so goes the process. A mistake may be forgotten, or may hold a place of special significance, however, it is inevitable and only adds to the memory or muscle reflex of how ideas come into being. Mistakes and steps and time, conversations, corrections of course, new direction and analysis, all in the name of craft. A sense of well-being or uncertainty is felt as others before us laid claim to the same territory. The discipline is unimportant, it cannot make a thing art or artistry, but the sense of building and accomplishment is the stuff of exploration and in the arts it is the one thing that anyone who practices a method, whatever it might be, knows—that to fail at the craft is to not fully realize a form. Success, on the other hand, is the lightness of realization and the ease of accepting ones work. I feel grateful that the work becomes an idea, seen, sensed, and felt by others. I am not certain I can explain this struggle of craft but I know it is part of the process.
—Bill Kelly, Founder
“…invoking a natural theater
where the arenas of possibility
in the speechless intense camaraderie
— Olga Broumas, “Mitosis”
I know that it is a carefully orchestrated, but organic beast. It slows you down; thoughts emerge. A terrain is discovered and there is a suspension of time; a pause. It compresses thought; expands ability; and creates a tension between memory and reflection. Forms emerge by stroke, gesture, or physical influence.
Like poet Olga Broumas’s “memoryweed,” it is a small, measured affection that grows in the wildest places of our imagination and yet slowly but surely seeps through the masses, creating conversations.
—Nelle Martin, Master LetterpressPrinter
and Associate Director
Essay by Leah Ollman
Mesopotamian scribes, some 4,000 years ago, used reeds to write on clay tablets shaped like eggs, prisms, and animal paws. Ancient Egyptians wrote and illustrated papyrus scrolls, rolled them in linen, and sealed them in earthenware jars. It was common for Chinese scrolls to be folded into fan or accordion-style books. Medieval manuscripts were written with organic inks and illuminated with gold, hammered as thin as a butterfly wing.
Books today are gray, lifeless things in comparison. Uniform, rectangular stacks of generic paper, mechanically printed and bound in cheap, cardboard covers, they are designed to accommodate the bookstore’s shelf more than the author’s intention. The book’s legacy of sculptural richness and textural complexity has been betrayed.
While the books of Brighton Press seem radically sensual next to the mass-produced volumes churned out by big publishing houses each year, they are actually extensions of some of the oldest and most fundamental traditions in bookmaking. Whether one-of-a-kind or printed in small editions, they are crafted individually, their materials purposefully resonant with the images and ideas within. Brighton Press books embody a peculiarly tight fusion of intentions, content, form, and design, a democratic union of words, images, and structure, sculpture and literature.
The books may be linked to tradition but never are they bound by convention. Bill Kelly, Founder of the Press, speaks of a desire to “break the square.” The results are intensely tactile: small aqua folios that evoke the fluid undulations of water (Poem Made of Water), or torn edges of a print that, like tense caresses, define the contours of the model’s neck (She Said: I Tell You It Doesn't Hurt Me). If the books begin with the human touch in mind, so do they become fully realized only in the hands of the reader. The reader—viewer, user, or more accurately, reveling collaborator—completes each work through a rhythmic ritual of opening, uncovering, turning, and unfolding. It is a dance of sorts, a performance that cannot be passive, for in touching these pages, the reader confronts the passion of their makers. Mallarmé once compared the typographical arrangement of a poem to a musical score, for we hear it as we read. Just as words become sounds, so too do they become images, and the images, sensations. Aspiring toward an art that engages hand, eye, and mind with equal fervor, Brighton Press encourages the components of a book to shift and share roles freely. Words and images transcend their presumed boundaries to spawn verbal sculpture, visual poetry, “syllables that are rattles that are seeds” (Octavio Paz, Convergences [San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987], p. 8), images that echo sounds, pages that embrace as they are embraced.
Brighton Press books are difficult to categorize. They belong, albeit as rebellious offshoots, to the family tree that William Morris planted in
England in 1890, when he started the Kelmscott Press. Aiming to reprise the dignity of craft in an era overtaken by vulgar, anonymous, industrial production, Morris wrote, “I began printing books with the hope of producing some which would have a definite claim to beauty.” Kelly and the Press’s Director Michele Burgess, certainly value a fine product as well, but they also have a profound commitment to the exploratory process itself, the intuitive tumble into unfamiliar terrain. Questions and tangents guide them more than formulas, assumptions, and patterns as they continually push to reinvent and redefine the book. They choose artists [and writers] to work with, according to Burgess, “based on their ability to help us expand how we see.”
The Press’s products could just as easily be labeled “artists’ books,” for the privileged access they grant the reader to the maker’s unmediated expression. They are intimate and immediate. They nurture a new kind of literacy, a sensual literacy beyond the direct reading of words and images. In the variety of their materials and approaches, Brighton Press books undermine assumptions about what a book is supposed to be, even as they celebrate the bookmaking tradition.
Broadly defined, books are “a collection of surfaces to receive writing for the purpose of communicating ideas” (Leila Avrin, Scribes, Script and Books [Chicago: American Library Association and London: The British Library, 1991], p. 1). But it takes two to communicate, and the creations of Brighton Press propose that a book is, fundamentally, a confluence of relationships—between text and image, type and the page, form and function, writer/artist and reader, space and time, poetry and music, prints and passion, potential and actuality.
—Leah Ollman, January 16, 1993, Brighton Press Catalog for Palomar College Retrospective Exhibition