If you saw the Lindisfarne Gospels in Durham last year, you will have marvelled at the artistry involved in making such a beautiful book and at the fact that there was a time when a book could be unique.
But the same holds true today. While high street shops stock mass-produced titles, this weekend’s Artists’ Book Market at Baltic will demonstrate that there is still an art to book-making that goes above and beyond the words and illustrations that books contain.
At the book market, which takes place on Friday and Saturday (10am to 5pm), you will rub shoulders with artists, book-makers (probably not those of the turf accountant variety), small press publishers, bookbinders and zine artists (a zine, traditionally, being a work reproduced via photocopier).
While the visual accompaniment to music is disappearing as people download tracks rather than buy CDs and records, the e-book has not quite done away with reading’s attendant pleasures.
As Andi McGarry says: “In this day of computery everything it’s nice to have something that bats for the opposite team, the old pen and paper and ink.
“There are lots of pleasures in a book that you simply can’t get from a computer. A book is a tactile thing.”
Andi was born in Gateshead but has lived for many years in Wexford, Ireland. This weekend he will be heading back to his old stamping ground with a consignment of some 200 books, all lovingly made by him and the vast majority containing his own words.
You might imagine a large and very heavy trunk but Andi says: “Some of the books are very small. Often when I’m making my stuff I think of haikus (tiny Japanese poems). You can read many of my books in about 40 seconds.”
He describes himself as “a bit of a wordmonger”. He did a foundation course at Gateshead Tech and then a degree in fine art at Brighton University, graduating in 1984.
Two years later he moved to Wexford, having fallen in love with a girl, and got into “the book thing” via a job with a local fisherman, bizarre as that might seem.
“I was working on this fishing boat in the Irish Sea and spent a lot of time kicking my heels, so I ended up writing some poems. Then the need for a book arose. I ended up making it myself and became curious about the whole process.”
That first book contained his poem Rhyme of the Unseasoned Mariner. He typed every word and painted every single illustration before binding the pages together himself. That became the master copy from which he produced other similar ones (same words, same illustrations but all individually done every time).
Andi set up Sun Moon and Stars Press to produce this book and others. Over a period of about 20 years he turned out 180 titles, working, he says, in the manner of “a mad monk”.
He was gratified when some of these books got picked up and reviewed. There were sales, resulting in welcome cheques in the post, and now Andi’s books are in collections including that of the Tate.
He doesn’t claim to be the world’s best speller and says typos also appear in his books but they are as much objects to be appreciated and handled as conveyors of information. For him, the artist’s book is the work of the artist in every sense.
Andi is looking forward to his weekend back in Gateshead, viewing it as “a busman’s holiday” but also as a chance to see his dad and catch up with old friends.
“I haven’t been over for a couple of years, since my mum passed away, so there is lots to do. Another attraction is the Baltic. I don’t think the locals realise what an amazing piece of stuff that is. It’s world class.
“So I’m looking forward to all of that and if I make a few sales as well that would be nice.”
Over the two days of the Artists’ Book Market there will be workshops on book-making, book-binding and e-books (it’s a broad church).
There will also be talks by the likes of book artist Ruth McCann and (this one at the Mining Institute, Westgate Road) by photographic artist, publisher and educator Taj Forer.
While the stalls will be on Baltic’s Level 1 (admission free) there will also be a ‘mobile, interactive pod’ from NewBridge Books where discussions about digital publishing will take place.