The Book as a Built Environment—Architecture, Materials, Typography
Iliazd approached the design of the books as an architect would a building, leading the reader through constructed spaces. With Pismo, the books began to evolve structurally to take on qualities appropriate to spaces of sacred ritual or theatrical performance. In many cases, an opening series of blank pages of handmade paper serves as a meditative silent space, evoking the hush one encounters upon entering a cathedral. Iliazd then creates a rhythm for the exposition of text and image, often with unexpected folds and text layouts. These unconventional formats disrupt the normal process of reading and engage the viewer as a participant in the narrative’s unfolding. Iliazd was stringent with artists, regardless of their fame. He sent them engraving plates in specific dimensions, the placement and scale of the images calculated for their performative function within the text. Pablo Picasso never accepted those strict restraints from another publisher, but for Iliazd he willingly complied.
Iliazd and “Everythingism”
“I do not publish editions for monetary gain. I struggle. . . . [I]f I published such and such an author, it is always to bring attention to an unknown . . . to turn the tide of ideas toward him, to revise, once again, human values.”
—Iliazd, letter to Joan Miró, May 4, 1962
Shortly after arriving in Paris, Iliazd said goodbye to his Futurist past but always retained the core vision of “Everythingism” (vsiochestvo), a term he had coined to assert the relevance of expression in all media and from all eras. In subsequent years, his broad interests only strengthened his vsiochestvo, manifested in his penchant for spotlighting obscure, diverse figures, mostly from past centuries, and illuminating their texts with expressive typography and images by major artists. This approach is seen in La Maigre, Le Frère mendiant, Chevaux de minuit, 65 Maximiliana, Le Courtisan grotesque, and Pirosmanachvili.
“The idea that books were not vehicles for distribution, but unique forms of expression, became a central tenet of [Iliazd’s] approach.”
—Johanna Drucker, Iliazd: A Meta-Biography of a Modernist
However valuable it may be on its own terms, the livre d’artiste is most often regarded not as an artwork in itself, but rather as a high-concept container for a suite of fine art prints. In deviating from this norm, Iliazd transcended the genre. Looking at his books today, we see the deep thinking and ingenuity that were the foundations of his practice. We can also see why prominent artists wanted to work with him. With Iliazd, they were collaborators in the creation of complex, hybrid works of art—visual literature. The realization of the book itself as a unified work of art is Iliazd’s enduring legacy.