|Exhibition in the Artists' Books Study
Area at the Library
School of Art, Media and Design, UWE Bristol:
5 th December2005 - 9th January 2006
Tony Kemplen’s peak production of artist’s books was between 1994 and 2000. He was inspired to explore the book as a medium by a visit from Ron King to the fine art course at Sheffield Hallam University where he was doing a BA and concentrating on printmaking.
His first editioned artist’s book, SK329858 1944-1994 was in the form of a pack of playing cards which, drawing on both historical and contemporary imagery, told the story of a wartime American bomber crash in Sheffield. The pack was bought by several collections, including the Arts Council of England, and was shown in the Tate Gallery’s Artist’s book show in 1995.
There followed a flurry of books in a range of media from offset litho to rubber stamp. Conventional and innovative binding methods were explored, and a number of larger one-off books were produced. In 1995 he co-curated Rebound at the Site Gallery, in which 101 copies of a hardback biography of Jeffrey Archer were variously re-worked by 101 different artists.
Books made during this period include A Long Tour of Paris on Foot, a Michelin Guide style publication giving directions for a walk around the French capital, following a route which traces out the outline of the Eiffel tower on the map, and Ursa Major, a twelve page graphic novel in which the dark details of an ancient Greek myth are locked away until the reader painstakingly releases them.
There is an element of humour in many of the books, ranging from the childish punning of Read All Over, to the more sophisticated referencing of contemporary works by the YBA generation, for example What’s that got to do with the price of fish? is a sideways nod in the direction of Damien Hirst, and The Man pays homage to a bookwork by Fiona Banner.
A mixture of old and new technology has had an input at times. In Kubla Can’t, the words of Coleridge’s poem were set using a low-tech toy version of the letterpress process; as characters ran out substitutions were made and the text gradually lost all meaning. Later, with the appearance of speech recognition software, poems and texts were generated from various sources, such as the background sounds from Princess Diana’s funeral in The Half Muffled Clappers, and a performance of Schwitters’ Ur Sonata in Our Son Arthur.
His interest in the print media, though centred on book art, has encompassed artist’s multiples and ephemera. He was a contributor to six of the ten editions of Jane Pollard and Iain Forsyth’s Words and Pictures and has made work for numerous mail art projects and other artists’ initiatives. Again a sense of the absurd is not far beneath the surface, with bizarre classification systems, as in Victorian Pottery Fragments and the playful punning of E by gum.
After completing his MA in 2000, Tony’s focus moved to sound and installation, though he has never lost his fondness for the artist’s book, and hopes to revisit the medium before too long.