Julian Barnes's story on the art of making money

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The text is by Julian Barnes. The pictures are by the celebrated British colourist Howard Hodgkin. It is only a short story, and the book is not much bigger than a compact disc. But it will set you back pounds 750 for the basic version, and pounds 1,500 for the full-blown, leather-bound version, each one on hand-painted blue paper.

Artists' books - books with a painter creating individual prints for each copy - are, not surprisingly, a rarity. Samuel Beckett collaborated with Jasper Johns and more than 20 years ago David Hockney did one of the Grimms' Fairy Tales, but there have been few since.

The man who wants to revitalise the genre and is behind the Barnes/Hodgkin venture, is 46-year-old Simon Draper. In the Seventies he co-founded Virgin Records with Richard Branson. It was he, not Branson, who discovered Mike Oldfield and his Tubular Bells which gave the label its place in music history.

Bored with the music industry, Mr Draper left Virgin in 1992 and set up Palawan Press, which has so far dealt mainly in exclusive mail order.

It has published a lavish guide to Ferrari cars (pounds 1,000 a copy) and an equally lavish guide to Aston Martins (pounds 750).

Mr Draper had known Julian Barnes through a shared enthusiasm for wine. They met at a tasting. Both also knew the former Turner Prize winner Howard Hodgkin, who was eager to see Mr Draper's Sussex mansion, designed by Lutyens. Over dinner they formulated the idea of a collaboration between Barnes and Hodgkin. The book consists of Barnes' short story, Evermore - about an Englishwoman's obsessive visits to her brother's First World War grave - already in his recent collection, Cross Channel.

Hodgkin then spent six months interspersing his vibrant hand-coloured prints. Each volume is unique, with the shades and density of Hodgkin's colourings differing slightly from volume to volume. Fifty numbered, pounds 1,500 editions encased in a silver book-cloth portfolio box also contain two Hodgkin prints. These sell at pounds 500 each, the investment can be seen as being partly paid back. The 150 regular editions still have individual Hodgkin prints as illustrations.

Mr Draper, an art collector, says that even seen just as an investment these books should more than pay for themselves in years to come. But he is uncomfortable at the thought of them being viewed merely as investments.

"Making money hasn't been the principal driving force to produce the books... I believe in artists' books... You can frame a Howard Hodgkin print and put it on the wall. It's more accessible. But a book you have to get out. Enjoying it is a more considered activity. This is in some ways an idealistic venture."

Comments