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An Ocean Between Us, Martin Machado, The Prototype Press (2015)

As many of you know, The Prototype Press, along with the fine/private press community, suffered a great loss late last year with the tragic and unexpected passing of David Johnston. The press lives on under the direction of Mark Sarigianis, under whose guidance the latest release, An Ocean Between Usis now available. An Ocean Between Us contains short stories, poems and art works by San Francisco artist Martin Machado. The writing and artwork is directly related to Mr. Machado’s fifteen years of experience at sea as a merchant marine, commercial fisherman and sailor. The prospectus says:

Seen through the eyes of a sailor at sea on an international containership, ‘An Ocean Between Us’ by Martin Machado reveals the connections that link modern ocean commerce to the maritime endeavors of European colonialists. Reverberations from the not-so-distant age of exploration are felt in the imagery as Machado often appropriates elements of historically significant marine etchings with scenery from his own voyaging.

Mr. Machado’s imagery, as reflected in his magnificent illustrations presented here, are fantastic. The prospectus mentions that the art work is reminiscent of old master book engravings, a sentiment I certainly share. I could only imagine what Mr. Machado could do illustrating works of Melville, Richard Henry Dana Jr., or Conrad. One can dream!  Sometimes the images can be shocking in that the traditional look lulls you into the romantic, dreamy eyed vision of sea-faring, but then you see something out of place, reflecting reality of today’s modern world (such as the images of containers riding the waves with pigs on them, or with a man holding an RPG).

Most of the book’s content was created last spring in Mr. Machado’s cabin while on the Pacific, between China, the mainland US, and Hawaii. Mr. Machado mentions that “the results are a series of short stories about shipping life and poems that mirror the fragmented subject matter and style of my images.” In this first example I will share with you, from his poem also titled An Ocean Between Us, Mr. Machado gets us into the mindset of the enormity of sea:

In the middle of the Pacific all is forgiven, the shipyard dust, the filth of the past, it slowly settles down to the endless depths
The ancient sea remains, so pure an unimaginably blue that it draws one in like a siren
To drown, peaceful, in the womb of our birth

The short story The Revolutionary Within tells the story of a man’s quest to rally the men to his socialist cause, the temporal nature of which gets overshadowed by the beauty of the sea (again, the enormity and beauty of the sea transcends, or perhaps swallows up, the minutia of men):

As I climb the ladder well up toward the bridge the light blue glow of the sea foam reflecting the moon catches my eye. The workers look up and even the revolutionary stops shouting to take in the sight. The wind is lifting the crests of the waves, sending veils of shooting stars to leeward across the endless expanse of sea…At least for now, the revolution will have to wait for another day.

In A Growing Divide, Mr. Machado reflects on the globalized world, concluding that the smaller the world has become, the greater the divide between its inhabitants has grown.

A new fleeting immediacy
Information, commerce, globalization
A tent city forms behind the massive data-housing center on the outskirts of town
Zeros and ones, and hearts and bones
Materials crisscross the globe and pass hands as they take shape
Processed, picked, woven, cured, manufactured, assembled, tested, encoded, packaged, shipped

Eyes peer over the lawn at the manicured lawn
Gaps form between them
As wide as oceans
As thin as tent walls
An indigo eternity

Blue-Water Birds is a short essay concerning the mystery of birds found far out to sea, perhaps a metaphor for the mystery of the sea itself.

Typically the birds disappear from deck within a few days, to the wind or to the drink. Only they know.

The Trouble with Landmarks presents some quick thoughts on time, its passage and its seeming non-existence when at sea:

Out at sea there are no landmarks from which to measure the passing of time. Try to focus on a dark ripple that shapes a wave and it will dip and disappear, possibly becoming another or perhaps being lost forever. If it were not for the movement of the sun, moon, and stars, time would almost seem not to exist at sea.

The above is just a sampling, but gives you a general idea of the writing style and content (which I found appropriately thought-provoking).

As for Mr. Sarigianis and The Prototype Press, this is their best and most elaborate production yet. Like all Prototype books, it is cast, printed and bound by the press. The prospectus mentions that it is typographically inspired by the Captain Cook Adventure Logs of the 1700’s, especially in its use of Caslon types (both Monotype and hand-set). It is printed damp on super luxurious Rives BFK paper. I just LOVE that paper, and am thrilled that the Press printed damp, which, ala Allen Press, always provides an extra tactile delight in look and feel. The images are printed from photopolymer plates made by the press. The book is a large 15” x 11” in size, and is 40 pages in length. It is hardbound in black cloth foil stamped in gold with an original illustration. This is a very, very limited edition — only 15 copies! The price is $1,000. In short, Mr. Machado and Mr. Sarigianis have created one excellent livre d’artist. I look forward to more from each of them!

Note that Mr. Machado has turned one of his ink on paper works from this edition into a magnesium etching plate, from which a limited edition of 55 etchings was made.  The etching print is 30×11″ on very nice French cotton rag paper. Such are very reasonably priced at $100.  You can contact Mr. Machado here and put in a request while they last.

Lastly, take a look at this video from Martin Machado. Six Months In The Merchant Marine is a short documentary concerning his six month journey around the world on a container ship which was on a run between New York and Singapore via the Suez Canal. Excellent film, and it gives further context and meaning when then reading An Ocean Between Us.

About the Edition:

Pictures of the Edition:

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An Ocean Between Us, The Prototype Press, Cover
An Ocean Between Us, The Prototype Press, Macro Side View
An Ocean Between Us, The Prototype Press, Title Page
An Ocean Between Us, The Prototype Press, Macro of Title Page
An Ocean Between Us, The Prototype Press, Sample Text #1
An Ocean Between Us, The Prototype Press, Macro of Sample Text #1
An Ocean Between Us, The Prototype Press, Sample Illustration #1
An Ocean Between Us, The Prototype Press, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
An Ocean Between Us, The Prototype Press, Sample Text #2
An Ocean Between Us, The Prototype Press, Sample Illustration #3
An Ocean Between Us, The Prototype Press, Sample Text #3
An Ocean Between Us, The Prototype Press, Sample Illustration #4
An Ocean Between Us, The Prototype Press, Colophon
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