Colfax, WA: Timothy Ely, 2015 [-2016]. Unique. Hardcover. 25 spreads of original art and unique binding by Tim Ely. Signed by the artist.
"Phial is an excursion into the transformation of surface and thought. It is an alembic, an alchemical vessel which is used for distillation. In Cockerell’s famous book, Bookbinding and the Care of Books (p. 37, 1901 first edition) there is a diagram of page imposition, something a binder must deal with when receiving a book in sheets. Flat sheets, upon which several book pages are printed together, are folded down in a prescribed way that turns it into a section of pages in proper order. All sections are then sewn together to form a book.
I found this diagram in the 1980s, and it seemed to possess an odd dimensional structure, for when the sheets are laid out flat, page one naturally is not next to page two, but if the whole sheet is folded down correctly, the proper order of pagination is intact. order created out of a swirl. I found this idea to be compelling visually. I could compose a large formatted drawing, a plan view of an alchemical motif or a diagram for transmission. When the sheet was cut down and folded, the dimensional shift would occur. To me this formatting device was an alembic. This alembic would take diagrams that were first composed with a certain order or discipline on the full size sheet, and shift them to another plane, or intersect that plane from an unplanned angle when folded down into folios. I use this method often to defeat the idea of ‘‘knowing too much,’’ and to introduce an element of chaos into the process.
Alchemy is a secret art, and I have always liked the persistent idea that the work is occluded. Personal transformation is secret, and even our attempts to reveal what goes on within the self are often, or always, beyond words. Alchemy may have been a discipline that was erroneously thought to be teachable. it seems not to be. in any event, the pertinent ideas for me are to convert something like mud from a specific location into a functional surface, or a metaphor, or into a material with which to make a mark.
As with alchemy, I seek ways to get materials to transform or for surfaces to respond to my drawing methods. Acting upon pigments with water or heat or grinding can change its character. I size the paper with glues or glaze a mix of marble or plaster into areas that seem too restrained. These surfaces can be delicately carved into and worked with additional information until it all reads. The boards of Phial are also special. I used Sitka spruce, which is an ideal wood for guitar tops. Though the natural wood is beautiful, I wanted a depth and character change as well as some unity with the spine. I used enamel on the wood, scraped, sanded, waxed, scraped again for days until a surface was achieved that could take gold tooling, stamping, and other treatments. Once I was satisfied that the wood would not curl divergently from the form, it was drawn over with a cribriform layer in gold and given a final wax job. A bit of hot rod red pulls it together." [Artist statement]
Timothy C. Ely is a renowned and enigmatic figure in the book world. His one-of-a-kind manuscript books combine elaborate and often mysterious painted and drawn folios contained within finely crafted bindings, most of which are original designs or variations on traditional binding techniques. Each book carries layers of both materials and meaning. Each drawing and element elicit revelations, personal to each viewer.
“For the last forty years, his books and other works have sprung from a central core of concepts, owing to a fascination with obscure or seemingly incomprehensible forms inspired by science and other projections from the history of the human imagination. This spectrum of inspiration includes such things as fractured and whole grids, cypher systems, landforms and landscapes as viewed from a satellite, and the archeological overlay of some of these sites, especially those containing libraries. Originally, the atlas format provided a platform for the rendering of his complex maps, which gradually gave way to an expanded psychological viewpoint of a larger universal scheme.
Much of Ely’s work is richly annotated with his own glyphs he calls “cribriform.” While they are made up of a finite set of marks, they take on many different “meanings” depending on the tool with which they are drawn. He has written and spoken often about the roots and evolution of these drawings. Gestural in their formation, these trailings evoke a sense of language and meaningful discourse. Though suggestive, they never yield up a firm translation.” [A. Schoolman]. Fine in Fine Archival Box. Tight, bright, and unmarred. Planetary Collage Standard binding, conventional sewing on small cords, black leather spine; Sitka spruce wood for cover boards, painted, scraped and waxed, gold foil tooling, largely cribriform writing, and stamping on the boards; edges treated with a spectral range of dry pigments and wax, hand-sewn endbands matching the top and bottom edge decoration; 25 full spreads, including the painted and illustrated endpapers. Custom drop back box, interior with large cement-like border around the book; box covered with a stone-like textile, an embossed paper with an ink painting adorns the upper tray. Small 8vo [15cm x 19cm]. np. Illus. (color plates). Item #9761