by Timothy C. Ely
Binding: Leather, resin, pigments, shellac, wax, and metals on mahogany; cherry veneer; silk endbands in handmade box.
Interior: 12 folios comprise 24 drawings in gesso, dry pigments, zinc white, opaque watercolor on gelatinsized Arches cover black and white paper.
Black Maps is a one-of-a-kind manuscript book about regions of deep space, the electromagnetic spectrum, and the cartography of dreaming.
My imagery in Black Maps is grid based and diagrammatic, with overtones of Hieronymus Bosch and “lenses of Lancasterian coal”—a reference to Dr. Dee and his carbon-ebony mirror device for connecting with the archangel Enoch. Cribriform (an adjective I’ve turned into a noun to name my drawing that looks like language, meaning perforated like a sieve—a perfect descriptor for language), shadows, coronas of color, and chemical glyphs permeate the images, and personal codes are randomly spliced throughout the pages.
The maps are deep and embedded within is a special set of inscribed, nearly invisible marks which are illusory drawings of an extant logos system without voice. This book marks the deeper investigation of the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum as a metaphor and propellant of perception.
I had made a series of seven large black drawings I called “Black Maps” in 1992 for an exhibition at Granary Books in New York. The show was to celebrate the launch of a limited edition collaborative book between me and Terence McKenna produced by Granary Books called Synesthesia. I knew that I wanted to eventually make a book using similar imagery and the extremely black surfaces of those drawings.
I began the book Black Maps in April of 1996 and completed all drawing and binding by October of 1997 in Portland, Oregon. The idea for the book completed a vital arc connecting back to those earlier “Black Maps” drawings.
The book is 12 folios of white and black Arches paper, 15 x 11 inches folded. The black paper was first treated with a gelatin, methyl cellulose, and black gesso mix to strengthen the fold stability and to provide an extravagant surface on which to draw. The white folios were treated with gelatin and burnished with agates.
Onto this opulent black surface I worked with gouache, dry pigments, acrylic paint, anodized metals, and colored pencil. Subtle lines inscribed into the paper function as guides for the drawing. In addition, a new invention for me at the time involved using the sewing stations to provide points of departure for the grids and other drawn paths, incorporating the holes into the visual design of the book. The idea of linking content and structure in this way has continued to develop in my books since then and I consider it to be one of my best ideas.
To accomplish this, after folding and stacking, the book was selectively glued up flat with animal adhesive in three small areas on the spine about half an inch each. The book was then marked up for sewing on small, double linen cords. The sewing stations were cut using a small saw for the end chain stitches and a knife for the linen cords. These cuts were then visible for use as the drawings developed. Before disassembling the folios (which happened easily since the glue bond was light) to begin drawing, I took advantage of the glued-up text block and trimmed and gilded the edges at this early stage.
The drawings for this book took about 16 months. The working time was continuous, but there were research diversions. The work was also continuous in that ideas and inspirations were held and mulled over in my mind, and binding mock-ups were developed with rough paper or in my sketchbook during this time. Once the drawing was completed, sewing on the linen cords followed. Because I gilded the edges before sewing, the final appearance looks “shaken”—something that appeals to me—rather than the more traditional solid metal look. The iron oxide bole is visible as well.
After sewing, the forwarding followed British methods except for the eccentric treatment of the spine and the board attachment—a tongue-slot board method. The tongue is template-cut to fit into an inner, matching negative cut-away in the cover board—the slot. The Tongue-Slot binding was invented by Philip Smith and is a fine structure for expressive bindings, as well as for large books where a single leather skin would not be large enough. This form of construction allows painting, gilding, and other expressive work to be done to the boards off the book and before attachment. It is a favorite way of binding for me because I can have an entire front or rear panel adorned from corner to corner and not have to incorporate the covering method into the imagery, or have it otherwise interfere.
The boards are made of marine grade mahogany plywood, which came from my grandfather’s boat building stash originally obtained in the 1930s. It came to me in 1995 via my father who acquired it in the 1960s. It is dry, flat, solid, and wonderful. I carefully cut the boards to a template. After shaping, laminating with a cherry veneer, and profiling, the boards were sealed with shellac and painted with resin and pigments and tooled with metals.
The endpapers are a rather complicated sewn-in leather jointed structure, and designed to conceal the sewing. They are black Arches text weight paper treated with methyl cellulose, pigment, resin, and wax, then drymounted to black Arches cover weight paper to form the first leaf. For the spine I used black leather, fabricated with a linen lined hollow back. This was glued to the inner leather joint to form the tongue, making three layers in total for the tongue. This amalgamation also contains the small slips from the sewing cords. Finally the tongue was cut to fit the slot in the board and the boards were attached.
Other details: the endbands are two-tier, made with Japanese silk over vellum and leather cores. These were sewn to the book about midway through the forwarding. The box is made of wood with a sliding lid. Inside, the book is wrapped in painted muslin.
Black Maps is one of my most favorite books out of the hundreds I have made over the last three decades. I find that certain alignments of inspiration and technique work so well that, in a way, the work just manifests itself without my interference. When the paper is just right and the tools just work, the whole process feels vital and miraculous.
The book was completed and was first shown at the Alysia Duckler Gallery in Portland Oregon in December of 1997. It was also shown, along with all seven “Black Maps” drawings in “Tables of Jupiter,” a solo exhibition of my work at the Sheehan Gallery in 2004, in Walla Walla, Washington.