Poems of Frank O’Hara, Illustrations by Willem de Kooning, Limited Editions Club (1988)

Frank O’Hara (1926 – 1966) was a leading poet of what was known as the New York School, until his life was cut short in an unfortunate and freakish beach accident. His reputation has grown considerably over the years to where he is now considered one of the great American poets of the mid-twentieth century. O’Hara served in the U.S. Navy in World Was II, after which he attended Harvard, where he received a degree in English. While at Harvard, he began publishing poems and met a number of fellow artists, including John Ashbery. He worked at the Museum of Modern Art and was very well known and liked in the artistic community. His writing shows the influence of writers such as Arthur Rimbaud,  William Carlos Williams and Boris Pasternak. His poetry is personal in nature, often surreal, and seems to co-exist on a plane with artistic Abstract expressionism, which makes this collections association with his friend Willem de Kooning both inspired and natural.

Here is a small sample of some lines from O’Hara:

From: Poem “A la recherche d’ Gertrude Stein”

when I am in your presence I feel life is strong
and will defeat all its enemies and all of mine
and all of yours and yours in you and mine in me

From: ‘Hotel Transylvanie’

Shall we win at love or shall we lose
can it be
that hurting and being hurt is a trick forcing the love

From: ‘Three Airs’ (to Norman Bluhm)

Oh to be an angel (if there were any!), and go
straight up into the sky and look around and then come down
 
not to be covered with steel and aluminum 
glaringly ugly in the pure distance and clattering and
buckling, wheezing
 
but to be part of the treetops and the blueness, invisible,
the iridescent darknesses beyond,
silent, listening to
the air becoming no air becoming air again

Willem de Kooning (1904 – 1997) is considered one of the greatest abstract expressionist artists. Like O’Hara, he was part of the New York School. His works are represented in, or have been exhibited in, scores of museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the National Gallery of Art. His painting, named Woman III, sold for $137.5 million in 2006, making it the second most expensive painting ever sold as of that time. De Kooning was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964 and in 1986 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.

The Limited Editions Club website explains how de Kooning’s illustrations for this special edition of O’Hara’s poems came into being:

The Museum of Modern Art honored Frank O’Hara with a memorial edition of his poetry illustrated by artists who knew and loved him—foremost among them, William de Kooning. De Kooning made his drawings on mylar which he then presented to the Museum.

A quarter of a century later, the mylar drawings were transferred to lithographic plates and printed under the supervision of the artist and the Museum of Modern Art solely in order to illustrate the Club’s edition of those O’Hara poems that had so moved de Kooning.

Seventeen of de Kooning’s eighteen charcoal drawings are reproduced here for the first time as originally intended‑-with their subtle strokes and wide tonal range.

In the small sample of illustrations you will see below, you will see how lucky we are for the Limited Editions Club (LEC) to have produced this livre dartiste edition. One gets a good feel for O’Hara’s work with the many poems represented, and the quality of the printing of de Kooning’s work is as good as it gets. The book is huge (17-3/4″ x 22″), though beautiful in every regard.

About the Edition

  • Designed and edited by Benjamin Shiff
  • Seventeen lithographs by Willem de Kooning
  • De Kooning’s drawings were transferred from their original mylar sheets to lithographic plates at American Atelier by Benjamin Shiff, and printed under his direction at Trestle Editions, on hand­-made ochre‑tinted Kitakata paper
  • Each print was torn by hand and pressed into the book’s pages by the intaglio method at Wingate Studio and Renaissance Press
  • Introduction by Riva Castleman
  • Text set in English Monotype Bodoni 135 by Julia Ferrari and Dan Carr at Golgonooza Letterfoundry and hand-composed by Arthur Larson at Horton Tank Graphics
  • The display type is Bauer Bodoni
  • Text printed at Wild Carrot Letterpress
  • Paper made by Cartiere Enrico Magnani
  • Bound in black Nigerian goatskin by Garthegaat Bindery and at Jovonis Bookbindery
  • The book is set in a black fabric covered and lined case
  • Edition limited to five hundred fifty numbered copies
  • One Volume, 17-3/4″ x 22″

Pictures of the Edition

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{Ed. Note: the color variation in the cover below is an artifact of my poor lighting and camera work, not the cover itself!}

Poems of Frank O'Hara, Solander Box, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O’Hara, Solander Box, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O'Hara, Macro of Solander Box Spine, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O’Hara, Macro of Solander Box Spine, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O'Hara, Book in Solander Box, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O’Hara, Book in Solander Box, Limited Editions Club (iPhone for size comparison)
Poems of Frank O'Hara, Front Cover, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O’Hara, Front Cover, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O'Hara, Macro of Front Cover, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O’Hara, Macro of Front Cover, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O'Hara, Macro Side View, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O’Hara, Macro Side View, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O'Hara, Title Page, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O’Hara, Title Page, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O'Hara, Macro of Title Page, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O’Hara, Macro of Title Page, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O'Hara, Copyright Page, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O’Hara, Copyright Page, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O'Hara, Sample Text Page - Introduction, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O’Hara, Sample Text Page – Introduction, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O'Hara, Macro of Text - Introduction, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O’Hara, Macro of Text – Introduction, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O'Hara, Poem Title, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O’Hara, Poem Title, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O'Hara, Sample Text Page with Illustration #1, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O’Hara, Sample Text Page with Illustration #1, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O'Hara, Macro of Sample Text #1, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O’Hara, Macro of Sample Text #1, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O'Hara, Sample Text Page, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O’Hara, Sample Text Page, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O'Hara, Sample Text Page with Illustration #3, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O’Hara, Sample Text Page with Illustration #3, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O'Hara, Colophon, Limited Editions Club
Poems of Frank O’Hara, Colophon, Limited Editions Club

3 thoughts on “Poems of Frank O’Hara, Illustrations by Willem de Kooning, Limited Editions Club (1988)

  1. Livres d’artiste books are a case of feast or famine and the proprietor of a private press assumes enormous risk in committing limited finances and resources to one. Get it right and it becomes a superb private press book with the talents and imagination of a world class artist enhancing your book design and execution. Get it wrong —- when the artist produces a series of illustrations that have nothing whatsoever to do with the book or, even worse, illustrations that are not to the liking of most private press collectors —- and you have a real stinker that undermines what may have been a wonderful undertaking. Sidney Shiff’s decision to transform the George Macy era LEC into a pure livres d’artiste enterprise was risky in the extreme, not least of which was because the cost of these books exceeded the grasp of nearly all book collectors. That said, Shiff had uncanny taste in selecting his artists resulting in a high percentage of “hits” —- for this book collector, anyway. I can think of only two obvious LEC Shiff-era misses in this regard —- the irrelevant illustrations by Sean Scully for ‘Heart of Darkness’ and the strange illustrations by Francesco Clemente that add nothing whatsoever to Ezra Pound’s poetry collection ‘Cathay’.

    The LEC edition of ‘Poems of Frank O’Hara is a livres d’artiste book at its best, with an important world class artist (Willem de Kooning) producing a heartfelt series of illustrations that greatly enhance the specific poems in this collection. The art is meticulously reproduced and no expense was spared in this production and it represents one of the high points of the Sidney Shiff LEC era. A strange problem with this book, however, is its enormous size and heft. I believe the only book Shiff produced that was larger is ‘The Book of Genesis’ and this book, when enclosed in its clamshell box, actually measures 19″ x 24″ and weighs over 10 lbs. It is near impossible to find a place to store or shelve this book making its purchase somewhat problematic for most mortals or book collectors who do not live in a McMansion.

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