The Holloway Press, 1994–2013: A checklist of publications, edited by Francis McWhannell (Holloway Press, Auckland, 2014). Published on the occasion of the exhibition ‘Dark Arts: Twenty years of the Holloway Press’, Gus Fisher Gallery, Auckland (4 July to 31 August 2014); 16 pp., $30
2014 saw the unfortunate sudden demise of New Zealand’s Holloway Press. Thus, the Gus Fisher Gallery exhibition became a retrospective, as opposed to the original intention of a survey of Holloway Press books and ephemera. To review the above booklet, then, is to also review the publication history of the Holloway Press.
Although this booklet is outwardly quite an insignificant object when first held, it quickly asserts itself as an invaluable record of the publishing activities of one of New Zealand’s most important and respected private presses. This humble booklet carries within its linotype-set and letterpress-printed pages the activities and contributions of some of New Zealand’s most highly regarded writers and artists and, just as importantly for me, the letterpress printers who designed and printed these books, who brought their existence to fruition. And this is one of the most significant aspects of the Holloway Press: the fact that it enabled these printers to produce substantial and sumptuous books on a scale that is often beyond the means of many private press printers in New Zealand due to the high costs involved. The press has employed New Zealand’s finest handcraft printers at various times, including Alan Loney, Tara McLeod and Brendan O’Brien, all of whom operate their own private presses (Electio Editions, Pear Tree Press and Fernbank Studio respectively).
The Holloway Press, 1994–2013 lists no fewer than 34 titles, quite an achievement over a 20-year period. As an art historian, certain titles appeal more strongly to me than others, and these are the books in which writers, artists and printers are brought together by the press’s director, Peter Simpson, as collaborators working towards a common goal.
Simpson has stated:
You could see the Holloway Press as an anachronism … Why bother to keep this ancient technology alive when it’s completely impractical for modern needs? But I follow the Marshall McLuhan idea that when technology becomes obsolete for practical or business purposes, it becomes available for art.1
This is certainly true of the Holloway Press, for which Simpson and his resident printers accumulated several presses and cabinets of metal type, while the publications have focused on art, the art of the writer, the artist and the letterpress printer. (This equipment is now in storage and will one day hopefully be brought to life again.)
One of the finest books published by the press is Fishwork by Alan Loney and Max Gimblett, produced in 2009. With Fishwork Loney wore two hats: those of poet and printer. Having written poems that responded to a series of Gimblett’s paintings viewed in the artist’s New York studio, he then designed, hand-set and hand-printed this text along with images supplied by Gimblett, which had in turn been drawn by the artist in response to the poems. Beautifully bound by Wolfgang Schaefer, a craft book-binder in Melbourne, this book is simply a joy to hold, read and soak up, and to generally experience the quality of the writing, the drawings – many of which have been hand-coloured by the artist – and the printing. The images and text are elegantly married on each page, often overlapping and unified, the one contributing to the other, a true collaboration of poet/printer and painter.
The Gimblett/Loney partnership is the most prominent in the Holloway Press checklist. Other titles on which these two collaborated include Max Gimblett’s Searchings: Selections from the artist’s journals, selected and edited by Loney, and Robert Creeley’s The Dogs of Auckland, featuring illustrations by Gimblett and handsomely designed and printed by Loney.
Another of my favourites is Michele Leggott and Gretchen Albrecht’s Journey to Portugal, published in 2006. Leggott provided a poem based on a trip she had made to Portugal, a country to which Albrecht had also travelled. Albrecht responded to Leggott’s poem not with drawings or painted images, but with bold and colourful hand-cut collages that were fixed to the page as chine-collés. This highly labour-intensive method involved each separate piece of paper being fixed to the page by hand and pressed tightly in a book-binding nipping press – quite a feat given the number of artworks required in each book and the total edition of 100 copies. As a result of this hands-on approach, each book is unique and each image differs from one book to the next. The manner in which this project grew and developed from Leggott and Albrecht’s collaboration stands as a testament not only to the Holloway Press, but to Peter Simpson’s unfailing faith in the writers and artists he employed.
Other collaborations between writers and artists of note include Gregory O’Brien’s Two Walk in Edinburgh (2011) with photographs by Mari Mahr; Murray Edmond’s the fruits of (2009) with photographs by Joanna Forsberg; and Dinah Hawken’s page stone leaf with illustrations by John Edgar. Collaborative books such as these have the strongest appeal to me. They provide an intimate art experience that differs greatly from looking at art on a wall or perched on a pedestal. Delving through the book the experience unfolds with each page turned, and the reader becomes an active participant with the artwork.
As co-founder Simpson declared:
Holloway publishes two kinds of book. One brings writers and artists together in some sort of collaborative partnership. The other grows out of my scholarship in New Zealand literature. In doing my own research I occasionally come across interesting unpublished material that I think is worthy of being made available.2
The other aspect of the Holloway Press publications identified by Simpson here, that of historic New Zealand literature, is as important as the writer/artist collaborations certainly, but these lack the immediacy and vibrancy of the collaborative partnerships. They tend to be designed and printed in a more traditional style that suits the historic nature of the content. That said, books such as Colin McCahon’s Rita: Seven poems (2001) and Robin Hyde’s The Victory Hymn (1935–1995) (1995) are invaluable examples from this aspect of Holloway Press’s output. These two books published for the first time poems that had not been put into print and, even more importantly, included handwritten versions by the authors printed on the press from polymer blocks. In both works, these often appear opposite the hand-set letterpress version of the poem.
The list of publications in The Holloway Press, 1994–2013: A checklist of publications is undeniably impressive and it is impossible to discuss all the individual stand-outs in this review. But as Francis McWhannell correctly observes in his introduction, the press has certainly followed in the tradition of other notable small presses from New Zealand including Griffin, Unicorn, Caxton, Pelorus, Pegasus, Nag’s Head and Hawk. Perhaps even more importantly, through its example it has encouraged fine printing by other contemporary New Zealand private presses, such as Otakou, Pear Tree, Fernbank Studio, Puriri, Frayed Frisket and Kowhai. As a letterpress printer myself, the production qualities of the Holloway books – not only the printing but also the use of fine papers and binding materials coupled with beautiful typographical designs – are something to strive towards. The Holloway Press, in its short 20-year life, has set a benchmark for hand-printed books in New Zealand and rightly deserves to be listed among great New Zealand presses.
PETER VANGIONI is a curator at the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, and has curated exhibitions on the art of Jason Greig, Ralph Hotere, Julian Dashper, Petrus van der Velden, and contemporary New Zealand private presses. Currently he is co-curating the Christchurch Art Gallery’s re-opening exhibitions in December 2015, post the 2011 earthquake. Vangioni owns and operates a private press in Christchurch.
1. William Dart, ‘Building on a tradition: Auckland’s Holloway Press’, in Art New Zealand, Summer 2007–08, 125.