Victoria Cooper+Doug Spowart Blog

Archive for December 2012


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Ruby Spowart  Photo: Doug Spowart

Ruby Spowart Photo: Doug Spowart

I visited my mother last month just after the family birthday celebration given by her three sons and their families. 85 is a big number when it comes to years lived on this planet and one of Ruby’s recent projects gave me an opportunity to reflect on the life that she has witnessed. Ruby just finished an Apple iPhotobook entitled Meet my ancestors which contains family portraits, group photographs, texts and personal visual ephemera from the last 170 years of her, and mine–Ancestors. This is the third book she has made of this genre, the first being an artists book made from collected images of each year of her life from 1 to 21, and the second, a photobook entitled Bringing home the grain in which she describes the agricultural processes of grain growing and harvesting she encountered in her childhood on a farm in Northern Victoria.

Ruby's 'Meet my ancestors' book

Ruby’s Meet my ancestors book

The Meet my ancestors project brought me in contact with the value of the family photograph, either professionally made or made at home as a box Brownie snapshot, in its ability to provide proof of existence and the aging process encountered by a subject over many successive portraits. Another feature of Ruby’s assemblage and ordering of these family photographs is that they all have a connected linage. This is distinctly different to family photos encountered in junk shops, antique shops and car boot sales. In these circumstances the photographs are separated from their meaning, they become isolated examples of someone and not ‘a’ specific ‘known’ individual—a kind of image orphan.

Ruby's 'Meet my ancestors' book inside

Ruby’s Meet my ancestors book inside

These family portraits are not just photos as she has added a text as well and linked it to other records like personal correspondence and newspaper reports—usually of obituaries. A picture may be worth the proverbial 1000 words but a picture and an appropriate amount of text can place it within a context, a time and ancestral linage. John Berger wrote about this necessary liaison of photo and text in his book Another way of telling1. He says: ‘In the relation between a photograph and words, the photograph begs for an interpretation, and the words usually supply it. The photograph, irrefutable as evidence but weak in meaning, is given a meaning by the words.’

In contemporary society with the popularity of TV programs like Who do you think you are and the online availability of genealogical information there is a heightened interest in our family trees and ancestry. And, as Ruby has lived half of the time covered by her book it is important for her to be engaged in such a project. What is equally exciting for me is that she sits before a computer, sending and receiving communiqués and images from the extended family, she orders, optimizes and designs the pages of the book (with a little help from me): when she was 3 could she have ever dreamed of such a thing…

Ruby Spowart aged about3

Ruby Spowart aged about 3

SEE earlier post about Ruby and her work

Ruby can be contacted through LINKEDIN

Happy Birthday Ruby,

Son Doug, and Vicky


1. Berger, J 1982, ‘Appearances’, in Another way of telling, Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative Society Ltd., London, UK.

Written by Cooper+Spowart

December 28, 2012 at 6:44 pm

‘BOOKPLATES UNBOUND’: The Cooper+Spowart contribution

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Here are our contributions to the Bookplates Unbound project – SEE previous post for details


VICTORIA COOPER: ex libris, dedicated to Dr Dorothy Shaw

Victoria Cooper's Bookplate

Victoria Cooper’s Bookplate


A statement about this work…

Dorothy Shaw devoted her life to mycological research. When I met her she was ‘retired’, which for her meant time to work exclusively on her personal research projects at the Queensland Department of Primary Industries. Dorothy was held with high regard in both the Australian Plant Pathology and wider international networks for her specific areas of mycological research.

To many of her colleagues Dorothy was enigmatic and modest about her personal and past life. Under the surface of this quiet and reserved nature, she had an inquiring, creative mind.  I always found her willing to venture into the unchartered territory of the imagination, while still grounded in the everyday physical world.

Dorothy also had distinct methods of working: I could always count on her typewritten notes clearly outlining for me the information on her specimens intended for deposit into the Plant Pathology Herbarium. These typed notes may seem a standard communication—but Dorothy used a typewriter, similar to the old black 1940s Imperial machine. It seemed that this was an idiosyncratic protest against the unwanted aspects of the digital paradigm invading her world. It must be noted that although Dorothy did not utilise aspects of digital communication, she was readily accepting of the digital world. Dorothy not only embraced fully the digital art I was creating but she also recognised the important role of digital technology and work practices necessary in contemporary scientific research.

In the visual work for my PhD—involving fresh water aquatic fungi—I consulted Dorothy’s considerable knowledge on these organisms. Our exchanges were creative and fertile, inter-relating knowledge and concepts from both science and visual art. The designs and patterns in this bookplate were selected from a collection of microscopic photomicrographs of aquatic fungi I created for the visual component of my PhD. I also chose the typeface Courier, for the bookplate to reflect the typewritten notations that were emblematic of Dorothy’s recordings.

Dorithy is passed away now and although I did not get to see her library, I am sure it was diverse, interesting and informative. I am equally confident that she would have a manually typed (non-digital) catalogue and reference list for each book. From these connections and perceptions of this creative, dedicated scientist, I created this bookplate—I have made it to evoke the life of Dorothy Shaw as a Library: one full of mystery, knowledge, life’s challenges and experiences.

Victoria Cooper


DOUG SPOWART: A homage to a Walter Benjamin comment about book collecting

Doug's Bookplate

Doug’s Bookplate


A statement about this work…

In Walter Benjamin’s 1931 essay, Unpacking My Library: A Talk About Book Collecting, I found a discussion that echoed my desire for accumulating books and their assembly into a personal library. In the text Benjamin shares his love of the process of: finding, acquiring books, building a library, and what it means to possess books—many of them.

In this bookplate I make reference to Benjamin’s comment that a collection may include books from other libraries that were loaned and never returned. This covert act has historically been something I’d encountered from others who did not return books. After a time, if I approached the borrower seeking the book, their usual response was the denial of ever borrowing the volume – or – that it had already been returned.

I cannot deny that I too have lusted after books seen in private libraries, books in bookshops and catalogues that I could never afford, or books held in institutional repositories. I have thought, like Benjamin, of borrowing and then never giving them back.

However this bookplate* is pure fantasy and not an admission of guilt. It is my commentary on Benjamin’s proposition in the form of a modified bookplate to indicate the changed ownership, dubious provenance as well as a signifier of obsessive possession.

Doug Spowart

* I must acknowledge that I do have a book in my library that is stamped ‘The Kodak Technical Library’ over which is confidently signed ‘Julian Smith’. And there are annotations and marginalia in the same pencil that are indicators of Smith’s provenance. I bought the book from a respectable Melbourne bookseller in 2002.

EX LIBRIS: WHO OWNS THIS BOOK? A Queensland artists’ bookplate project

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Zealous book collectors have always prominently placed inside the first few pages of a book their Ex Libris bookplate as a sign of ownership of books that they acquire. Over time these bookplates became a kind of specialised artwork created by artists and designers—not only for their own collected books but also for the libraries of serious book collectors. Bookplates then, are not just the carriers of the name of a book’s [one time] owner, but are also a thing of artistic integrity and beauty. Indeed there exist a large number of book-collecting dilettantes who are more interested in the bookplate and less in the book in which it is fixed.

The origins of the bookplate can be traced back to the 15th century and the artists who made them include Albrecht Durer and Hans Holbein. In Australia the most noteworthy bookplate designers include Norman Lindsay, Adrian Feint and G.D. Perrottet. Most significant state and national library collections include bookplate works. The Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery has a collection of bookplates as part of The Lionel Lindsay Gallery and Library Collection (Also known as the Bolton Collection) and in 2004 Patrick Corrigan AM gifted to the gallery a collection 318 bookplates, mostly by Australian artists, including John Shirlow, Lionel and Norman Lindsay, P. Neville Barnet, George Perrottet, Lloyd Rees, Pixie O Harris and Brett Whiteley.

"Bookplates Unbound" limited edition set (two views)  Photos: Doug Spowart

“Bookplates Unbound” limited edition set (two views) Photos: Doug Spowart

Into this bookplate space a new and ambitious project is set to provide a contemporary view of the bookplate by Queensland artists. The project, entitled Bookplates Unbound, was inspired by conversations between artists Gael Phillips and Wim de Vos around the role of printmakers in the creation of fine art bookplates. The details of the Bookplates Unbound are as follows (from the frontpiece):

As the project evolved we decided to invite 29 other Queensland artists to collaborate in a project to make a limited edition folio of fine art bookplates mounted on sheets of art paper, unbound, in a clam shell box. The artists were also requested to supply an Artist’s Statement to accompany the prints. Any hand printmaking technique was allowed as well as digital prints. The size was restricted to no more than 90mm by 130mm and the bookplates were to be printed on acid free paper of a weight up to 100gsm. Since we are now in the 21’t century, digital prints were also allowed and, if submitted, these were to be printed using archival inks on acid free paper.

Some of the 'Bookplates Unbound' printing plates   Photo:Doug Spowart

Some of the ‘Bookplates Unbound’ printing plates Photo:Doug Spowart

The Bookplates Unbound set of bookplates is a limited edition production with each artist receiving a copy. The remaining copies will be made available to collectors. The coordination of the project was undertaken by Gael Phillips and Wim de Vos at The Studio West End and was supported by Adele Outteridge.

'Bookplates Unbound' wall @ The Studio West End   Photo: Doug Spowart

‘Bookplates Unbound’ wall @ The Studio West End Photo: Doug Spowart

Anne Jolly, of Novel Lines Bookshop, launched the Bookplates Unbound set at a special event at The Studio West End on November 24. Accompanying the launch was an exhibition of artists books from friends of Studio West End that was opened by Helen Cole, Senior Librarian, State Library of Queensland. Wim de Vos also gave the audience a performance of two new tunnel books, one on Venice and the other referencng the Chrysler Building in New York that he has created [SEE the video in this post]. The openings concluded with a musical 6 song set by ‘Rock and Roll’ impresario Wim and fellow band members Neil Anderson and Robin Webb [SEE the video in this post].

Gael Phillips talks @ 'Bookplates Unbound' launch  Photo: Doug Spowart

Gael Phillips talks @ ‘Bookplates Unbound’ launch Photo: Doug Spowart

Wim and Gael thank Anne Jolly   Photo: Doug Spowart

Wim and Gael thank Anne Jolly Photo: Doug Spowart

Helen Cole opens the Studio West End artists book show   Photo: Doug Spowart

Helen Cole opens the Studio West End artists book show Photo: Doug Spowart

Helen Cole opens the Studio West End artists book show   Photo: Doug Spowart

Helen Cole opens the Studio West End artists book show Photo: Doug Spowart

Studio West End artists book show   Photo: Doug Spowart

Studio West End artists book show Photo: Doug Spowart

Studio West End artists book show   Photo: Doug Spowart

Studio West End artists book show Photo: Doug Spowart

The Band - Wim, Neil and Robin   Photo: Doug Spowart

The Band – Wim, Robin Webb and Neil Anderson Photo: Doug Spowart

The contributing artists to the Bookplates Unbound and their respective print media are:

Janette Bailey                     Line etching / aquatint

Graham Bligh                     Linocut

Susan E Bowers                 Sugarlift etching and embossing

Victoria Cooper                  Digital print

Geraldine Connolly           Soft ground etching

Philomena Drake               Etching / aquatint

Malcolm Enright                Digital print

Barbara Heath                    Digital print

Tabitha Ford                       Line etching

Lynne French                      Line etching and relief roll

Teresa Jordan                     Digitised linocut

Jeraldene Just                    Line etching

Sharon Lee                          Digital print

Chris Ling                            Line etching

James McDougall              Photo etching

Julanne McDougall           Photo etching

Fiona Medhurst                 Line etching and rubber stamp

Karla Meursing                  Linocut

Anita K Milroy                   Three hand pierced plates, line etching and embossing

Katharine Nix                    Lino etching

Adele Outteridge               Line etching

Gael Phillips                       Line and photo etching on three plates

Pip Reid                               Line aquatint etching

Anneke Silver                     Engraved lino print

Doug Spowart                    Digital print

Stephen Spurrier               Digital print

Madonna Staunton           Wood cut and rubber stamps

Jonathan Tse                      Screen print

Geoff Thompson                Line etching

Wim de Vos                         Line etching on four plates

Sheryl Whimp                     Open bite etching



The Colophon for Bookplates Unbound

This Edition consists of forty copies, of which this is number 11

The bookplates were mounted on acid free cartridge paper and the cover titles embossed in “Times New Roman”. The font used for the Artists’ Statements was “Centaur”, designed by the late Bruce Rogers. The clam shell boxes were made by a craftsman bookbinder, Tony Gibaud at “Craftsmen Bookbinders”, Geebung, Queensland, who also made the blocks for the cover, spine and title page to a design by Gael Phillips and Wim de Vos. The text was printed by Drawing & Drafting Digital, Bowen Hills, Queensland.

The copyright of the bookplate images is retained by the individual artists.

ISBN: 978-0-646-59203-9

Published by Alumni Publishers

© 2012 Brisbane

SEE ALSO: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/wealth/telling-a-book-by-its-inside-cover/story-e6frgac6-1111113127290

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