The Limited Editions Club - The Symbiosis of Style

(Portions of these notes excerpted from the February 18, 2009, issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper Art Review: ‘Inspired by Literature’ by Helen Schwartz)

Books. Most of the time, it’s about the words. Other times, words take second place to pictures. But for an exceptional few, words and pictures are just the beginning, and the book takes on an artistic life of its own. Called livres d’artistes (artists’ books) these deluxe editions are the product of a creative dialogue between artists, writers, typographers, designers, master printers, and the craftspeople who produce the superior materials from which these lavish books are made. They provide a rare opportunity to display the complex range of artistic possibility in the artist-illustrated book. The graphically diverse array of individual pages and bound volumes, produced in recent decades by the Limited Editions Club, is a virtuoso demonstration of the genre’s richness and range.

Illustrated with original prints by modern masters, the like of Balthus, Henri Cartier Bresson, Leonard Baskin, Willem de Kooning, Jacob Lawrence, Robert Motherwell, and Faith Ringgold, these lavishly produced books and individual pages result in a sublime metamorphoses of text to image to material, at last emerging into productions of inspired beauty and quality.

Such was the vision of George Macy Established The Limited Editions Club in New York of 1929, it was originally restricted to 1,500 members. Subscribers received 12 fine press books each year .Early editions were illustrated by the cream of contemporary artists including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Edward Weston.

There is much to think about here. To begin with, the LEC functions, importantly, as fine art. In looking at these works thought must also be given to the graphic weight of typography, the effect of paper quality, impact of page size, the roles played by placement of the image and sequencing. The interaction of format, content, and illustrative style also provides an opportunity to seriously consider the variety and complexity of connections between image and word, the impact of the works of great writers on contemporary artists, and the important aesthetic role played by materials and scale.

The range of limitless graphic possibilities fuels both creators and collectors. Some productions such as Faith Ringgold’s illustration for Martin Luther King’s, “Letters from Birmingham City Jail,” are presented in the traditional book form.
Alternately, Sean Scully’s non-objective illustration for Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” crystallizes the soul of great fiction.
Further pushing the design envelope, was Robert Motherwell’s tonal and linear lithographs engaging in textual and graphical symbiosis with a poem by Octavio Paz finally presenting a unified image on a heroically scaled single page.
A series of 12 poems by Frank O’Hara, illustrated by Willem de Kooning, presented on large single sheets of handmade paper, organized to be viewed as unique works of art.
A series of Fifteen Balthus illustrations of Wuthering Heights for which he and girlfriend posed as models, which brilliantly capture the haunting psychology of Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw's ill-fated love.
The Limited Editions Club persists in its reputation of producing the finest and most desirable examples of American livres d’artistes.