Monday, August 22, 2011

The Artists' Book Manifesto of American Painting in the 1960s

by Stephen J. Gertz

Walasse Ting

Until the late 1950s, the creation of artists' books had been primarily an European phenomenon. But 1¢ Life, a collection of poems by Chinese-born American painter Walasse Ting (1929-2010), and published in 1964 with sixty-two lithographs housed within silk-screen printed boards, represents an early example of a shift to the U.S. for their production, an extravagant declaration their migration to, and presence in, the New World, a flag boldly planted to stake their claim.

"The book very quickly became the manifesto of a new generation of painters and the expression of the new pictorial research that they were engaged in."

Kiki O.K. [Kogelnik]

Although 1¢ Life was Ting's conception, it was painter Sam Francis who drove this huge project to its conclusion; he recruited the artists and organized their work. Francis also sought and received funding for the project and brought in Swiss publisher Eberhard W. Kornfeld. The works were then exhibited at the Kornfeld und Klipstein gallery in Bern.

Tom Wesselmann

Sam Francis

Robert Indian

The sixty-two lithographs (the images, heavily, although not exclusively, in the Pop idiom),  were created to accompany sixty-one of Ting's "raunchy pidgen English" poems based upon his observations of city life, snatches of street conversation, etc., i.e.:

Walasse Ting

Sun in my stomach
New moon in eyes
I want a hamburger
Loan me two dollars

Mel Ramos

In the poem above, Ting, who had ties to the Paris-based COBRA group of avant-garde artists, captures what could be a street person barking a command, startling,  a bit scary, a bit nuts, annoying, amusing and painful at the same time. Or, perhaps, a Pop snapshot  influenced by cartoonist E.C. Segar's popular character, J. Wellington Wimpy, the ground beef gourmand, Popeye the Sailor's gluttonous friend, and world-class mooch renowned for his 1/4 lb. entreaty to anyone he runs into, "I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today."  Or, that friend who's loaded but never has any cash. All the poem lacks is an appropriate coda:

Sam Francis

Parched is my throat
Thirsty my heart
I want an Orange Julius
Loan me 25 cents more
See you later buddy

Roy Lichtenstein

Ting "wanted to publish the most international illustrated book, intended to illustrate his text, uniting tachisme, neo-dadaisme, pop art, and all other artistic movements.

Pierre Alechinsky

"The idea was born from global experience, close contact with culture, pseudo-culture, primitive existential worries, urban erotic and eastern wisdom. It was a Herculean task, for which only a Chinese would have been able to muster the perseverance" (publisher E. W. Kornfeld).

Andy Warhol

Blending Pop, abstract, and Conceptualist sensibilities "the pop artists formed the central core of the group. The book very quickly became the manifesto of a new generation of painters and the expression of the new pictorial research that they were engaged in...." {catalog excerpt from Gemini Fine Books & Arts, Ltd.).

Cover by Walasse Ting and Roy Lichtenstein.

TING, Walasse. 1¢ Life. Edited by Sam Francis. Bern (E. Kornfeld), 1964. Trade edition, limited to 2000 copies, numbered in color stencil. Folio. 163, (11)pp. Sixty-two original color lithographs, including  thirty-six double-page, by Alan Davie (2), Alfred Jensen (3), Sam Francis (6), Walasse Ting (6), James Rosenquist, Pierre Alechinsky (5), Kimber Smith (6), Alfred Leslie (2), Antonio Saura, Kiki O.K. (2), Robert Indiana (2), Jean-Paul Riopelle (2), Karel Appel (5), Tom Wesselmann (2), Bram van Velde, Joan Mitchell, Allan Kaprow, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, K.R.H. Sonderborg, Roy Lichtenstein, Oyvind Fahlström, Reinhoud, Claes Oldenburg (2), Jim Dine, Mel Ramos (2), Enrico Baj (2). 19 illus.  Lithography by Maurice Beaudet, typography by Georges Girard.

Cloth portfolio, silkscreened in color, designed by Ting. D.j. Slipcase.

A limited edition of 100 numbered copies signed by each artist was also issued.

Castleman p. 208f.; Manet to Hockney 135; Grolier Club 55; Bibliothèque Nationale: 50 livres illustrés depuis 1947, no. 32.

Images courtesy of Ars Libri Ltd., currently offering a copy of 1¢ Life, with our thanks.

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