Book Arts

Artists’ Books Exhibitions
University of the West of England, Bristol, UK

Obscure Small Press Publications and Unfinished Books
Stephen Fowler
1st August – 15th September 2011

Stephen Fowler has collected obscure small press books for nearly twenty years. This has flourished in recent years because of his working within the second hand bookshop district of Charing Cross Road, London. ‘Travelling between jobs I have to walk past Koenig, Any Amount of Books and Quinto, I frequently come across small press editions of psychical societies, local history buffs and rectors pamphlets documenting ancient frescos or graves stones.’ These have been a welcome addition to his booklets on folklore, cyptozoology, Loch Ness Monster newsletters and religious tracts.

‘There seemed to be a real dedication to a sincerely held conviction in bizarre beliefs in those books.’ This appealed to Fowler. ‘Looking at the design, paper and printing of the publications, one opens a door into the worlds of secret societies, cults and meeting houses’. Worlds, which Muriel Spark describes in her early novels such as ‘The Comforters’ and ‘Memento Mori’. Through reading the text within the pamphlet’s pages the imagination can begin to flourish and encourage the reader to see and invent the world in a different light. This has begun to liberate Fowler’s ideas and image making.

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The naïve nature of some of the design, the primitive printing methods, use of type, the limitations of the designer, printer, author or the sometimes all-rounder is an immense influence and inspiration to Fowler, and this is evident in the unfinished books he’s exhibiting alongside the aforementioned collection.

‘I suppose the feeling of possibilities and the humble beginnings of so many of the booklets have given me more confidence and enabled me to visualise many more concepts and starting points.’

Not having any real training in graphic design has influenced the making of Fowler’s books. And like the makers of obscure booklets he works within the technical printing and binding limitations that are at his disposal. The development of research and collation of ideas have feed into Fowlers work of late, there now seems to be a desire to inform the reader/viewer of his particular preoccupations and notions. He has also begun to follow a tradition of visualising ‘evidence of the unseen’ through automatic drawings, rubbings and plaster casts.

The acquiring of naïve and ‘home made ‘ or untrained art and design has been an ongoing preoccupation for Fowler. He has published over a hundred found ‘home made’ record sleeve covers in three volumes, the best of which has been printed in the ‘greatest hits’ poster print.

Stephen Fowler’s artists’ books have been exhibited across the world and are housed in national collections, such as The Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tate Gallery, Leeds University and the University of the West of England. He has exhibited in Tate Modern, White Columns in New York, Beaconsfield and Kalied Editions.

Stephen runs printmaking and bookbinding workshops and teaches drawing at Kingston University, University of the Creative Arts and Oxford and Cherwell Valley College.