Experimental Layout

Interview with Mark Pawson London College of Printing, London March 2001

from Experimental Layout, R. Bestley & I. Noble, 2001, Rotovision.

Q. Where do you think your work might be placed in relation to other art and
design practice what is your main area of employment?

MP. I support myself largely through the sale of my work, some bits of teaching
and writing and also run a mailorder catalogue selling other artist's books and
small press zines. In the past I've done exhibition and installation projects, but
since then I have decided to focus more on bookworks which I almost always
manufacture, distribute and sell myself. Its very important to me that the work is
accessible and affordable, sold through diverse outlets from record shops to
clothes shops and artists book stores, so that people can decide for themselves
where it fits into the continuum of art, or design, or fashion.
Q. How is the work produced?
MP. Very little of my work has been screenprinted or commercially reproduced
all my books are photocopied, sometimes onto old magazine or poster stock, or
rubber-stamped, and some have been reproduced on Roneo and Gestetner stencil
machines. I did recently undertake a brief commissioned by Levis Vintage, to
produce a large one-off piece which was screenprinted directly onto a 15 ft
long strip of blue denim. This was then photographed and reproduced as a limited
edition printed poster. Quite a few of my books also have a matching T-shirt,
which I design and then have commercially screenprinted, and I also manufacture
button badges by hand.
Q. With the rubber stamp and photocopy books, do you produce them in this way
because it is cheaper than commercial print?

MP. Its probably cheaper to produce the books that way, but I mainly choose to
produce by hand because I can have full control of the process stamping in the
Living Room, binding on the Kitchen table, you could say its the original desktop
publishing! Also I enjoy labour-intensive processes, and the satisfaction of having
a stack of new books after a days work. The downside of this way of working is
that I'm currently reaching the limit of the number of books I can produce this
Q. Which was the first book you created?
MP. Postcard sized books of photocopier-generated patterns and textures, which
were blank on the reverse and could be used as notebooks, this was 1983/4 when
I was at University studying sociology. I just kept making things ever since I was
a kid, and when I was 17 discovered the international mail-art network, which
was my art education really, a ready-made, worldwide group of artists
enthusiastically exchanging work. When I made Marks Little Book About Kinder
Eggs, I didn't really anticipate that it would become a best seller! I have sold
around 7,000 of those at around 75 pence each. The original idea was to produce
a book which was roughly the same size and price as a Kinder Surprise
Chocolate Egg. Produced on a manual typewriter (I didnt have a computer), it
was done as a diary. I wrote it in one day, then typed it up and made 200
photocopied books, it was spontaneously put together in three days. I was just
personally interested in the subject, collecting hundreds of the toys and wanted to
write about them in a factual documentary style, not precious or saying Ive got
the biggest and best collection or whatever.
Q. Have you updated the book over the last ten years?
MP. Not really. I intended to, and there is one additional spread of several
newspaper clippings about Kinder Eggs which wasn't in the first copies, but I
soon realised that I needed to do a completely new version rather than just keep
updating the existing one.I do try to keep as much as possible of my work in
print, try to make them available for several years. With a few exceptions, I'm
not interested in doing small limited editions of expensive books, although they do
sometimes have a place obviously.
Q. How do you come about ideas for your books is it a process of research and
development, or personal inspiration? Do you consider the audience for your
work when you are developing an idea?

MP. Definitely a chaotic mix of inspiration and constant experimentation! I always
have lots of ideas, too many ideas, which I keep in notebooks. If an idea stays
with me for a while I will make it into a book, or a postcard, t-shirt or badge,
wherever it belongs. I dont really think about the audience for my work too
much, I know from experience that it will sell. I think it is interesting work
produced mainly for my own satisfaction and over several years have found
markets for it, and figured out things like how many copies to make and how
much to sell it for. The work isnt produced for serious collectors of Artists Books,
who often look for expensive limited editions. My work doesnt fit into those
categories its cheap, its usually still in production, and often small in size.
Q. I can imagine youre always picking things up in the street, always collecting.
MP. I'm an image junkie, constantly picking up bits of image material, trying to
categorise images, filing them for the future, some of which ends up being used in
my work. For instance, when I was sorting through a box of printed ephemera, I
found four or five different plug wiring diagrams, which fit over the prongs on
British three-pin plugs. This collection had started to come together by chance,
and I wondered why there are so many different variations of the diagrams. I
asked people to send me any wiring diagrams that they found and ended up with
about 60 different ones, all using different colours and shapes. The book presents
them very straightforwardly, with just a short accompanying essay, the colours in
the book are true to the original diagrams, and each book is bound by hand with
thread the same colours as the wires in the plug.
Q. You use a lot of found imagery; how is that affected by copyright laws?
MP. As I said, I'm an image junkie. There's enough images in the world
already, why create more? Of course, there are questions of copyright, but I think
I take images far enough away from the original source, and re-contextualise
them, making something new from them.
Q. Much of your work appears to be concerned with the process of manufacture;
the reader can sense a feeling of real enjoyment in the methods of production.

MP. For the MaPK naBCoH photocopy book, I got hold of a large ammount of
unused, printed billboard paper from eight-sheet advertising posters. This was a
wonderful stock to work with. On the front are very large colour halftone images,
intended to be viewed from about 20 feet away, and on the back a flat grey tone. I
had been producing black and white photocopy mail art for some time, and I
decided to use this material in the production of a new book. I cut the poster
sheets down to A3 and photocopied a range of my artwork; intricately detailed
collages, patterns and textures onto them, doing multiple passes on the copier,
enlarging and reducing between passes. Every page is photocopied up to four
times, you can see and feel the build up of dense black toner on the page. Each
copy of these books is unique, because I was playing around so much with my
stack of images, and the photocopier. I also had access to single colour red, blue,
green and brown photocopiers, where you change the colour of the toner cartridge
between print runs. Through time the books have changed with the different
copiers I had access to, particularly now you dont often see the single colour
machines. I made this book continuously for ten years, and round about the same
time I finally ran out of the billboard poster paper, I'd just taught myself
bookbinding, so producing a hardback version seemed an ideal conclusion to the
project. For the cover, I used my name, and a portrait, kind of vain, but both are
hard-to-recognise, MaPK naBCoH is my translated into name in Russian and the
picture is a blown-up photobooth picture of me side-on with dreadlocks flying
Q. How did the Life has meaning book come about?
MP. That book was created after I met KNUST, a group of Dutch artists
who run a print studio in Nijmegen using Roneo and Gestetner stencil printers
(duplicators), they saw my work, and invited me to go and produce something
there. Stencil printers use wet inks and photo-stencils in what is basically a
screenprinting process. These machines were used quite widely up to 20 years ago,
but have been replaced entirely by photocopiers. It is possible to do colour
separations with them, and to reproduce full-colour work. Life has meaning is the
successor to MaPK naBCoH, expanding and building on what I had done with
photocopiers. The originals were created on black and white or full colour copiers,
and then translated to the other technology. I invented special effects on the
photocopier by, for instance, enlarging to various percentages from an original and
overlaying through multiple passes.
Q. Does the technology lead you or do you have a brief in mind which you then
seek the technology to produce?

MP. A lot of the work is produced through play, through experiments with simple
processes. I like to push the boundaries of the machinery. The photocopier is
probably the ideal tool for me, sometimes I find myself spending an hour on the
computer to create something which I could do in seconds on the photocopier. I
don't do anything that I would be termed digital work, I still work in a very
manual, hands-on way and I think my work always will be like that.