In this paper I will argue the value to be found in the visual analysis of text, drawing upon the artists’ books of Czech-born Australian artist Petr Herel (1943–2022) as case study. A seminal figure in the development and dissemination of the artist’s book in Australia, the complexity of Herel’s work lies in part through his use of text that conveys meaning without necessarily being conventionally ‘read’. This paper takes concepts rooted in traditional and conventionally rigid semiotic frameworks,including the relationship between text and context and the polysemy of meaning, and applies them in a flexible and contemporary approach that facilitates new visual analyses of the text present in Herel’s books. The artist’s use of unfamiliar alphabets, familiar alphabets and unknowable alphabets calls for a new iteration of analysis that encourages and celebrates visual meaning(s) from text.
Taking individual and self-contained production of hand printed books as a case study, this paper explores if a close reading of an art object – an artist book – and the solitary work and practice of a studio artist could be a model for less jangly relations with a turbulent world. The role of artist agency is discussed via a close examination of the decision-making process of creative visual art production, drawing on the works of Agnes Martin as exemplar.
This paper references the writing of the Australia Council funded verse novel The Sorry Tale of the Mignonette and the additional print folio created as a practical example of using formal and informal archives and the extent that places, people, and material form enabling networks for the production of new work. Because I trained as a visual artist rather than as a writer, I find it very difficult to confine myself to working solely in one medium. Archival material is not merely stored as a static and revered object but is capable of becoming mobilised and motivated by use, and to affect the practice of the artist/writer through ideas, travel and social contacts. The archive grows through the networks it assumes with the past and new material created from it, showing the circularity of creative production around archival material and its sites.