Review by Woodrow Phoenix
Blexbolex is the alias of Bernard Grainger, an award-winning French artist who lives in Berlin. He uses his training as a printmaker to approach the bookmaking process as if reconstructing industrial printing techniques from the early 20th century. He pays close attention to the book as an object: all his publications are very carefully designed, whether in hard or soft covers, to evoke an old book printed in traditional lithography. The paper is always uncoated and thick, as if to handle heavy screen-printed colours. This allows for slight blurring as the ink spreads on the coarse surfaces. He uses a restricted colour palette, applied as spot colours, with each colour of ink visibly overlapping the others, and screens for ink densities clearly visible as if the dots are an inevitable part of the production process. The result is images that look as if they were made before 1960, pulled out of an archive and repurposed for new audiences.
People is a kind of word and image association game. Each page of this book shows one person, with a word above them identifying what kind of person they are, whether by job (‘Rabbi’), dress (‘Cowboy’), vocation (‘Heroine’) or activity (‘Sleeping’). The people are mostly silhouettes, posed in costumes which define them in an archetypical style. The pairings in each spread are designed so that a figure on one page is generally related to the figure on the facing page in a jokey kind of way. The overall effect drives the reader to look for meaning in the combinations of people, and make links between the various occupations, activities and personal types as Blexbolex mixes up his presentations with the different kinds of descriptive words. The retro styling comes with a certain amount of old-fashioned sexism in the choice of descriptions that divide men and women in the most obviously stereotypical ways, and there are very few non-white people among the more than 200 shown in this book, but the variety of types becomes weirder and funnier as the book progresses with an ‘Alien’, a ‘Pirate’, a ‘Mermaid’, a ‘Corpse’, a ‘Cyclops’ and more. The words also become less straightforward, and as the descriptions vary, an underlying narrative seems to suggest itself and the pairings grow in possibility.
People occupies a position somewhere between a children’s book and a graphic novel with the subtle narrative possibilities it generates with its suggestions between pairs or groups, and it works incredibly well as a springboard for further thought about roles, gender, characters and stories whether with children or adults. People was awarded the prestigious Goldene Letter Award in 2009 for ‘Best Book Design throughout the World’ at the Leipzig Book Fair. It forms part of a loose trilogy with Seasons and Ballad, both of which extend the associative theme in increasingly complex ways, so if you enjoyed this book you will definitely find the next two appealing as well.