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Production Narrative

by R. Minsky

Originally (1987-88) the line art for the initial letters was photographed and stripped in negative with text composed in WordPerfect (originally DOS, then Windows/386) that was sent to an output service, and printed in black ink from zinc photoengravings. The printed pages were hand colored with watercolors and gilded with 23K gold leaf. A prototype of the edition was exhibited in a one-man show at the Zabriskie Gallery in New York City in 1988. One chapter was completed and bound into a book with blank pages filling out the proper dimensions. The book was sewn on double raised cords. The cover was purple leather that I hand dyed, with brass bosses (lost wax castings) of a copulating couple, sculpted to be the same height at four rotations, and placed in a different rotation at each corner of the cover. A brass chain was attached to the book with a lost wax casting of a penis entering a vagina, and at the other end of the chain were handcuffs attached to a brass bedrail. In the period of the incunabula (1455-1501) books were often chained to the reading table. Shortly after the exhibition was over, Canon announced the release of the BJ-130 wide carriage inkjet printer, developed as a low-noise alternative for the insurance industry. I called and asked if I could try running some thick, rough handmade paper through the machine. They were cooperative, and I discovered that a particular Richard de Bas paper took the ink very well. What amazed me was that the “impression” of the image reminded me of letterpress, as it changed the surface of the paper due to the water in the ink causing the paper fibers to expand and then shrink. I purchased the machine and a scanner, and developed a method of combining the text and image to print on it. This was before the desktop publishing programs that exist today, and it was necessary to create files in Postscript and use a Dos-based Postscript interpreter to print them on the BJ130. The printer was black ink only, and the initials were hand colored and gilded as before. I acquired a stylus and tablet, and upgraded to newer printers, operating systems and programs (such as Xerox Ventura) as they evolved. I now felt this was a true computer incunabulum, with the artwork created in the computer, typography and page makeup done in the computer, and printing directly from the computer. It combined the newest printing technology with the oldest, hand coloring and gilding, very much as new and old technologies were combined in 15th century books. Then I hit a snag. Richard de Bas apparently changed the formula for its paper, as the next batch I bought did not take the ink properly. This was 1990, and I had been invited to be Artist in Residence at the papermaking studio of OxBow, the summer school of the Art Institute of Chicago. In between doing pulp paintings I developed a dozen or so formulas for pulp and pulled sheets to test on my inkjet printer. One of them produced even better results than the Richard de Bas, so I took the formula to Paul Wong at Dieu Donné Papermill in New York City and commissioned the replication of my formula, with MINSKY and DD watermarks. I wasn’t able to write the book in my studio, which was too busy, so each year I took a vacation in the Caribbean and hand wrote the texts on the beach while working on my tan. After the text was entered into the computer, I created initial letters and edited the texts to fit the design of each page. In this sense the text functions as a visual element, and becomes concrete prose.

Critical Analysis

by R. Minsky

Design Features

typographic: ITC Bookman chosen for open readability for the text, and Palatino was chosen for the commentary, in a smaller size, for a modern classical feeling.

imagery: : The initials function as they have for thousands of years, providing both a decorative feature and a telling of the story. Their style is influenced by European, Asian and Middle Eastern miniatures, as well as American comic books. Initials are variously historiatied (a pictorial story framed by a letter), illuminated (the use of gold), and inhabited (the characters use the initials as props).

graphical: The pages are designed to evoke the style of early printed books, with a text and inset commentary.

openings: A classical proportion of margin and gutters is used, with composition in two-page spreads.

turnings: The reader turns back and forth through the text, following a narrative and a commentary.

development: Chronological.

structure: Two of the copies are bound in a form similar to 15th century books, as raised band leather chain bindings with bosses. Handcuffs are at the end of the chain, in keeping with the book's subject.

scultpural features: The leather copies have sculpted bosses made from lost wax castings in the form of copulating couples. The original wax was made to be the same height in all horizontal rotations, and is in a different rotation at each cover position. The binding on copy No. 1 is a soft sculpture in the form of a bed, made from the actual bedsheets some of the episodes occurred on.

Critical Discussion

The text is about the development of sexual and emotional awareness. It’s a personal memoir, beginning as a totally self-absorbed child and young man, with the primary text recounting memories as accurately as the recollection of events has kept them. The commentary takes a distant view, informing the reader of other facts and details not recounted in the story. This is a personal story, and is about my life. The reader may judge how much or how little evolution has taken place. It points out how knowing is not enough, and being aware of one’s faults does not always prevent the same errors from recurring.

Detailed Analysis

Prototype installed at the Zabriskie Gallery, New York City, 1988

Copy No. 1, Victoria and Albert Museum

Copy No. 2, The Ruth and Marvin Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry

Copy No. 2, Box open

On this page the narrator points out Minsky’s failure to communicate and apparent interest only in inflaming his libido. The illuminated letter I is inhabited by me climbing a spiral staircase up to the balcony, where I interrupted them making out to ask her to go to a party with me, and historiated with scenes of us having sex on the bathroom mat a the party and afterwards in my dormitory room, which was also a bindery.

I changed the names of the characters in the book, but the two girls in this story, Sheryl and Cheryl, actually did have homonymic names. The illuminated letter B is historiated with a dinner scene and inhabited by the three of us having sex on the letter. Here the narrator is filling in story details.

Minsky in Bed


Richard Minsky

type: initiating

papermaker Created papermaking methodology while artist in residence in paper mill at Ox Bow (Art Institute of Chicago, Saugatuck, MI) in 1990 and commissioned watermarked replication by Dieu Donné Papermill, New York City

born: Manhattan, USA

birth: 1947-01-07

Publication Information

edition type: editioned

publisher: Richard Minsky

place: New York and Sag Harbor

conception: 1986-00-00
production: 1987-00-00:1997-00-00
publication: 1988-00-00:1997-00-00
distribution: 1990-00-00:1997-00-00 issued in fascicles by subscription

edition size: 3


horizontal: 10.5 inches closed

vertical: 15 inches closed

depth: 3 inches closed

Production Information

production means:
inkjet (AAT)
painting (local)
hand gilding
hot foil die stamping

binding: hand sewn (local)

bookBlock: paper see production narrative

metal (AAT) sculptural brass bosses, chain, handcuffs
ink (local)
watercolor (local)
gold (local)
other acrylic


general description: Each of the three copies is in a different binding. Copy No. 1, in The Victoria and Albert Museum, has a cover that is a miniature bed, with lavender sheets and pillows and salmon pink blanket made from the real sheets etc. that some of the episodes in the book took place on. The spine is stamped with the title in 23K gold, and the gold title is repeated on a hot pink box. Copy No. 2, in the Ruth and Marvin Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry, is bound in purple calf with copulating couples as bosses, chain and handcuffs, similar to the prototype that was in the 1988 Zabriskie exhibition. This copy, however, has Vermeil hardware, plated in 24K gold. The title is stamped in 23K gold on the front cover. It also has a box made with bedsheets similar to the V&A binding, with the box covered entirely with the lavender sheet. Copy No. 3, in a private collection, is similar to copy No. 2 but with brass hardware and no box.

format: codex (AAT)

cover: hard

color: yes


pagination: unpaginated

numbered?: numbered

signed?: signed