BLAH, BLAH, BLAH - An Appreciation of Mare Blocker and The M Kimberly Press
To have witnessed the infancy of anyone in the face of their survival of the caprices of time, perhaps even to share in some small way in their flourishing, is certainly one of the primary pleasures of living. We learn something about how we are connected and what it means to be touched by the life of another. In the case of a friend who has survived with creativity intact, engaged and productive, that experience is enhanced. Not only do we have the pleasure of their company and our shared history, we have a record of their achievement. So it is with Mare Blocker and her marvelous books. Revisiting these books I remember fantastical desserts, canine capers, the best Mayday parties ever, fire in all of its forms, twelve distinct hairdos, the worlds funniest socks. The complete composite of beautifully textured blah, blah, blah that found its way onto paper, into shapes and colors, folded, sewn, cut up, collaged, boxed and bound invites renewed surprise and embroiders memory. It happens every time I open one of Mares books.
Art History Notes (1984) presaged all books that followed in its rude, highly personal and funny attitude toward tradition. Over the years we have been treated to bestiaries (Animal Facts), books inspired by Aesop, the Dance of Death and the Thousand and One Nights, and a collection of floral emblems- in fact, emblematic literature generally (ReetaR17;s Garden, The Clavicle). Traditional games invite experiment and reinterpretation: decks of cards, traditional and mystical; Separated at Birth was born of a game of exquisite corpse and ArtistR17;s Party Games offers yet another version of art history as play. Traditional book forms and techniques themselves, especially those that are not frequently explored or reside outside of the main stream, inspire marvelous projects. The Mystery Girls Circus is born out of the discovery of old time circus route books. Shaped books, one-of-a-kind books, books with pop-up elements, unusual binding styles, decorative hand stitching and embroidery come to mind. The Printing House in Hell, the first book that I commissioned from Mare, stunned me on delivery. The effect is extraordinary. The imagery is unmistakably Mares but the coloration bears an almost hypnotically parallel relation to Blakes own. A seriousness and a profound respect, then, underlies the experimentation and the fun. The transparent ease of contemporaneity is fueled by the dialogue, the workshops, the hard research.
Tradition is reflected in the more social aspects of printing at The M Kimberly Press as well. Note the collaborative nature of so many M Kimberly books. The sense of home industry that we read about in accounts of the Kelmscott Press or the Grabhorn Press pervades the work. Artists and printers, the community of friends, are engaged, energizing each other. Projects are discussed and imagined. Some even come to be. Not uncommonly, the children who visit in the course of this activity or those in the neighborhood who get in the habit of dropping by partake in the ensuing industry. A free-floating, unarticulated sense of guild operates effortlessly. An unmistakable dynamism survives the passage of time, the moves and the changes. The books just get more interesting.
Time passes, traditions become established, work is finished and work continues. Anniversaries celebrate longevity with increasing reverence. Somehow, in the middle of it all, we are struck by the simple fact of it all and are amazed. James Merrill, in his poem Lorelei says it beautifully. We see, with the woman in the poem, that much further into the golden vagueness/ Forever about to clear. Promise is ever-present. What will the next M Kimberly Press book be? Little matter. It will provoke and delight. It will have us asking for more.