| Artists’ Books
University of the West of England, Bristol, UK
Special Collections Room, Bower Ashton Library
Bob Cobbing and the Book
Curated by Lawrence Upton
2nd December 2011 - 31st January 2012
In Hendon, in the early 1950s, Bob Cobbing (1920 - 2002) was Organising Secretary to a number of local artistic groups including writing, painting and drama under the title Hendon Experimental Arts Society.
Writers Forum eventually separated itself; and, in 1963, started to become a major small press which, by 2002, had published over 1000, perhaps as many as 1300 titles.
In this collaborative enterprise, Cobbing was first among equals, as recognised by the title of the 1974 Ceolfrith Arts Centre exhibition Bob Cobbing and Writers Forum.
Others came and went; but Cobbing persisted until, in 2002, a day before he died, he handed the running of the Writers Forum workshop and Writers Forum publishing to Adrian Clarke and Lawrence Upton, the product of several years consultation with the two.
Clarke resigned in 2010; but Upton continues, assisted by Tina Bass.
Upton has written extensively of Cobbing’s use of the book as a medium for visual poetry in Bob Cobbing and the book as medium; but this exhibition concentrates upon introducing some of the publications themselves, especially of Cobbing’s own work. Those who would have more background are referred to the unparalleled 1970s essays by Eric Mottram listed below.
Cobbing was a painter initially and then a poet. As Lawrence Upton said of the exhibition he curated at Space Studios, March - May 2011: “I can state my overriding thesis very simply: Bob Cobbing, the painter, was poetic; Bob Cobbing, the poet, was painterly.”
Cobbing resisted the notion that his books were “artists’ books”, which might seem strange; but his policy was, in Mottram’s words, “enabling most people who wanted to buy poetry not to be drastically out of pocket”. To that end, he often published at below cost price; and, often, he used the simplest production methods, including ink duplicating and, later, office photocopying. Binding was by office stapler.
Alternatively, he printed on cards and “bound” them in envelopes and later, when they became commonplace, in plastic document wallets.
When it was possible to use other printing methods, he did so; and the 500th and 750th Writers Forum publications were perfect bound litho-printed books, thanks to grant aid.
Using appropriate materials, Cobbing published a wide range of artist-writers in a wide array of formats, sometimes rather large, which made them difficult to display but formally reflected their content. He took great care in the making of the books, literally by hand in the majority of cases: “The standard of production, however inexpensive, began well and improved over the years, but never exceeded the price the majority could pay.” said Mottram.
A prosthetics of poetry: the art of Bob Cobbing by Eric Mottram is available as a pamphlet from Writers Forum.
Bob Cobbing and the book as medium by Lawrence Upton is web-published by Readings magazine at www.bbk.ac.uk/readings/issues/issue4/upton_on_cobbing
WRITERS FORUM: A Successful Campaign by Eric Mottram is to be found in Bob Cobbing & Writers Forum edited by Peter Mayer, 1974, now reprinted by Writers Forum.
Download the exhibition notes (pdf)