The Work of Rigby Graham: ‘Kippers & Sawdust’ from The Old Stile Press (1992) and ‘Pennant and his Welsh Landscapes’, from Gwasg Gregynog (2006)

{Books and Vines contributor Neil provided this excellent article/pictures on the artist Rugby Graham and two books containing his work}.

Rigby Graham is one of the most important landscape painters of the late twentieth century.  His archive, lodged at Manchester Metropolitan University, is a central resource for the study of landscape and topographic painting, the neo-romantic movement, lithographic and wood-cut printing, book-illustration and production, and private presses. Graham has illustrated and published several hundred books since the 1950’s.  His book illustrations include almost every graphic format; woodcuts, linocuts, lithographs, etchings, screen-prints and line drawings.  His output has been diverse, ranging from single page broadsheets to lavish private press publications.  He has run a number of private presses in England, including the Cog Press, the Brewhouse Press (with Trevor Hickman) and the Pandora Press (with Patricia Graham and Toni Savage).

Francis Spalding (art historian, biographer and exhibition curator) says of Graham:

Compared with some of his better-known contemporaries he has ten times as much to say…..It is Graham and not Rowland Hilder to whom historians will turn in future years to find out the look of the late twentieth-century landscape.

Books and Vines is happy to look at two fine press works highlighting Rigby Graham. The first, Kippers & Sawdust is both written and illustrated by Rigby Graham, published by the The Old Stile Press in 1992. The second, Pennant and his Welsh Landscapes, is illustrated by Graham and was published by Gwasg Gregynog in 2006.

Kippers & Sawdust

From Rigby Graham’s introductory note:

In hospital after an operation, I lay tethered and triangulated by drip, drain and catheter.  Movement was restricted, ease  of position impossible to find……………To escape during those hours before daybreak, in my mind I turned the pages of my sketchbooks and lay on headlands looking out to sea; or, lingering by bastion and rampart, drew once again vistas and images which had moved me, at earlier times, almost to tears……..In those bleak periods of fear and fright I wondered whether I  would ever visit such places again, and quickly tried to reassure myself that I would.  Then the idea struck me that here perhaps was a subject for the book which Nicolas and Frances McDowall had asked me about…………..Woodcuts.  I had always liked the stiff angularity of woodcuts.  The wood was not only unyielding, it bit back with a ferocity more readily associated with a rabid dog…………Kippers & Sawdust, then, is primarily a collection of woodcuts of places I remember…………There are also ink drawings of many of those places, which have meant much to me and some justify a mention in the fragmentary text.

In Kippers & Sawdust, Rigby Graham has much to say about the woodcut:

Sadly the woodcut, in direct contrast with what has gone on in Europe, has been overlooked and ignored to a large extent in England, in favour of the wood engraving, with the result that as the following has increased so the general standard of that craft has declined until in many instances the art content is negligible.  The private press movement is largely responsible for this state of affairs with its frequent insistence on following what is often little more than a fashionable fad…………..Many who should know better seem unable to distinguish between a wood engraving and a woodcut.  Today these activities have little in common, the engraving is done on endgrain boxwood, occasionally on holly.  The engraving is usually small because box doesn’t grow very large, and a large wood-engraving would require several pieces to be carefully joined together, and this an expensive undertaking.  The end grain is dense, the resistance of the wood to the graver is usually even.  With a woodcut, the wood is cut on the side grain, that is on the plank, and the wood has traditionally been fruitwood- cherry, apple or pear, but sycamore and other woods have been used.  Today all sorts of timbers, including plywood, veneered chip or blockboard can be used.  Each kind of material has its own distinct characteristics, resistance is considerable, and the print records the struggle between the wood and the knife or gouge which attacks it.

Kippers & Sawdust is one of Rigby Grahams favourite books – mine too!

Pennant and his Welsh Landscapes

Thomas Pennant (1726-1798), was born at Downing near Holywell. Flintshire.  He undertook many tours including Ireland, the Continent, Scotland and the Isle of Man.  He was a naturalist and writer and published many books including; British Zoology (1765-77), British Quadrapeds (1771), Artic Zoology (1785) and The History of London (1790), but is remembered for his Tours in Scotland (1771-75) and Wales (1778-81).

He was revered by his contemporaries, gaining praise from the likes of Samuel Johnson.  Although he came from Wales, he was anglicised and could speak only a few words of Welsh.  Nevertheless, he was fascinated by his native country, and whilst others of his class were off on the ‘Grand European Tour’, Pennant set off on a tour of Wales accompanied by an interpreter and a painter-servant.

Pennant and his group made there way through a Wales that had no signposts and distances were a matter of guesswork.  Much of the time they were drenched to the skin.  It’s easy to admire them trudging through the country in such conditions.  He provides an absorbing narrative with flowing descriptions all sorts of things including; scenery, ruins, castles, fortifications, people and the contents of houses.

The descriptive writing is typical of the 18th century, with the highlights coming through the dry humour.  There is the 90-year-old giantess who could outrow, outshoot and outwrestle all men who ‘gave her hand to the most effeminate of her admirers’ and on seeing the town of Conway Pennant writes, ‘A more ragged town is scarcely to be seen, within; or a more beautiful one, without.’

What makes this edited selection of Pennant’s Tour of Wales different and exciting are the vibrantly coloured woodcuts from the wayward Rigby Graham.  Graham has presented us with a contemporary view, rather than reproduce that of Pennant.  He has compressed time so that past and present often co-exist within a single image.  For instance, he has Harlech castle dwarfed by an old cart in the foreground.  Under a tree you see an 18th century goat-herder playing pipes while a jet hovers above.  You turn the page just to see what he will come up with next!

Tasteful wood-engravings would have made this a beautiful book.  The provocative Rigby Graham makes it dynamic, stimulating, controversial and fun!!

About the Kippers & Sawdust Edition

  • Text and illustrations by Rigby Graham
  • Made and published by the Old Stile Press – 1992
  • A big book – 385mm X 280mm
  • Set in Baskerville type
  • Printed on Lana Royal Crown paper on a FAG control 900 press
  • All woodcuts printed from the original ‘blocks’
  • 4 double-page woodcuts printed in four to six colours
  • 5 single-page woodcuts printed in three colours
  • Endpapers consist of double-page woodcuts in four to six colours
  • Line illustrations throughout, printed in green from blocks made at the press
  • Bound in fine natural linen
  • Slipcase covered in sage-green Ingres paper printed with Graham woodcut (28″) ‘wrapped’ around it
  • 150 copies – this is 117

About the Pennant and his Welsh Landscapes Edition

  • Pennant and his Welsh Landscapes
  • Designed by Robert Meyrick
  • Edited and with an introduction by Gwyn Walters
  • Introduction to Rigby Graham’s woodcuts by Robert Meyrick
  • Published by Gwasg Gregynog in 2006
  • 350 X 240mm
  • 168 pages
  • Printed by David Vickers in Monotype Baskerville on Velin Arches 160gsm pure cotton mould-made paper using a Heidelberg cylinder press
  • Rigby Graham’s woodcuts printed from the blocks using inks specially formulated by Cranfield Colours of Cwmbran
  • Bound in quarter-leather with cloth sides by John Sewell

Pictures of the Kippers & Sawdust Edition

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Kippers & Sawdust, The Old Stile Press, Book in Slipcase
Kippers & Sawdust, The Old Stile Press, Cover and Spine
Kippers & Sawdust, The Old Stile Press, Cover
Kippers & Sawdust, The Old Stile Press, Title Page
Kippers & Sawdust, The Old Stile Press, Title Page
Kippers & Sawdust, The Old Stile Press, Sample Illustrations #1 and Text
Kippers & Sawdust, The Old Stile Press, Sample Illustrations #2 and Text
Kippers & Sawdust, The Old Stile Press, Sample Illustrations #3
Kippers & Sawdust, The Old Stile Press, Colophon

Pictures of the Pennant and his Welsh Landscapes Edition

Pennant and his Welsh Landscapes, Gwasg Gregynog, Book in Slipcase
Pennant and his Welsh Landscapes, Gwasg Gregynog, Spine and Cover
Pennant and his Welsh Landscapes, Gwasg Gregynog, Back Cover and Page View
Pennant and his Welsh Landscapes, Gwasg Gregynog, End Pages
Pennant and his Welsh Landscapes, Gwasg Gregynog, Frontispiece and Title Page
Pennant and his Welsh Landscapes, Gwasg Gregynog, Contents
Pennant and his Welsh Landscapes, Gwasg Gregynog, Note on the Text
Pennant and his Welsh Landscapes, Gwasg Gregynog, Rigby Graham
Pennant and his Welsh Landscapes, Gwasg Gregynog, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
Pennant and his Welsh Landscapes, Gwasg Gregynog, Sample Text #1 Introduction
Pennant and his Welsh Landscapes, Gwasg Gregynog, Sample Text #2 Introduction
Pennant and his Welsh Landscapes, Gwasg Gregynog, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
Pennant and his Welsh Landscapes, Gwasg Gregynog, Sample Illustration #3 with Text
Pennant and his Welsh Landscapes, Gwasg Gregynog, Colophon

2 thoughts on “The Work of Rigby Graham: ‘Kippers & Sawdust’ from The Old Stile Press (1992) and ‘Pennant and his Welsh Landscapes’, from Gwasg Gregynog (2006)

  1. Two of the most distinctive and beautiful private press books I have seen, neither of which I was previously familiar with. The small monochromatic line drawings in ‘Kippers and Sawdust’ are elegant and the large, multicolored woodcuts spreading across an entire page are quite special as well.

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