Working Press, books by and about working class artists 

The experience in Brixton Artists Collective led me to think about my other identity - that of being working class. I had many arguments and discussions on this basis in the Gallery. Then I met Graham Harwood at the Bonnington Square Festival for Peace in November 1985. As well as producing vibrant paintings he had worked as a graphic artist. We decided to form a group of working class artists who wanted to self-publish offset-litho books under a collective imprint. This project became Working Press and we published our first self-funded titles in 1987 being fortunate enough to get Central books to be our distributor.

I invited every working class artist I met to self-publish their work, whether written or graphic, in offset book form. If their work would clearly benefit from this form of presentation I was more enthusiastic. Few artists have the energy, self confidence and multiple skills to self-publish but the open invitation seemed a good way of validating artists' work and generating some mutual recognition through informal meetings and one more formal networking day conference.

In the ten years that followed our first publications we published eighteen original titles. These included high profile names like Conrad Atkinson and others who have become well known like Alison Marchant, Shaheen Merali and Mathew Fuller.[1] At one point Tracy Emin brought an ephemeral work on tissue paper, but it didn't seem suitable for offset-litho printing.[2]

 

With the help of the Arts Council I researched the British Artists' Book scene which at that time had no focus or joint promotion. I used the research and a conference to make the book artists aware of each other and to raise the profile of books by artists. This work was continued by the artist Tanya Peixoto with her three Artists' Book Yearbooks and by the art dealer Marcus Campbell with his annual Artist Book Fair. [3] My attempt to promote the ideology of inclusivity into the artists book scene was not welcomed by those who defined 'artists books' as 'the book as an Artwork'. My more open definition which included such formats as 'Zines, comix and polemical pamphlets has not been generally adopted.

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[1] A detailed account of this history was published as 'Working Press 1987-1997: ten years of an umbrella imprint for working class artists who wished to self-publish' (El Djarida No 14, Oslo, spring 1998). A revised version with the same title was published in the Artists Book Yearbook 1998 -99, (Magpie Press, summer 1998). An earlier illustrated article, 'What is Working Press?' is included in the Sensoria from Censorium, a compendium edited by John Marriot with Ich Neuman (Mangajin Books, Canada 1993)

 

[2] For more on the Tracy Emin connection see Stefan Szczelkun 'What is the fate of the Brit Art Phenomenon?' in Make: the magazine of women's art (Issue 88 June/August 2000 p15)

 

[3] These yearbooks published by Peixoto's Magpie Press covered the years 1994/95, 1996/97, 1998/99. The Yearbook has recently been revived by Sarah Bodman with support from the Centre for Fine Print Research UWE Bristol. The new edition of the Yearbook covers 2001-2002 (Impact Press, September 2001). This edition carries an article by Peixoto about her new project Book Art Bookshop in Hoxton, London.