Reviewed by Emma Hill
Printmaking Today, London
Ken Campbell is one of very few British artists whose books can with justification be called major works of art. A consummate printer, Campbell’s books have an immediate effect as beautiful objects but their power lies in slowly revealed meanings that come from repeated readings and an ability to create different voices and tones through his use of type and interwoven image.
The immediate impression of ‘DOMINION’, a large, suede bound volume, is of an ancient collection of nautical maps – silky pages letterpressed with various texts and recurrent geometric symbols. … ‘DOMINION’ is less about man than about language – the English language – how it has evolved, shaping our sense of ourselves and our country, and how it has moved across the ocean to become the shared language with America. The theme is announced in the prologue, that civilisations destroy civilisations, absorbing what has gone before in new customs and bastardised tongues: ‘Who can cry wolf when strange, rude tongues, deflowering our garden, loll insolent at our headbed. Enter the versed forked tongue, a gift in two courts: take the first word: speak …’
The book, however, is a celebration and a tribute to language and in his poetic texts Campbell ranges from almost biblical tones, to medieval English, to mantras. He alludes, in tiny details, to past writers, and movingly conveys how words can often be all that remains of cultures long dead – ‘stained into the very rock names’. The sense of mutability is echoed by the graphic images which are entirely non-figurative, often no more than shifting plays of triangles or a repeated grid of a right-angle rule, placed in different positions on the page.