DA is a team effort and most often we write as a collective. But today I am very much here in the first person. In 2008 I was incredibly burnt out and bought my first letterpress machine as a form of art therapy. I love all things type and print and now have a collection of 9 presses — for me, every moment spent analogue is one valued. I am also an advocate for experimentation and creative play. My grandad taught me experimentation is the anticipation of innovation – I have always carried that through my design career and more specifically my approach to print.
With these key interests — Tara Mcleod has long been someone I admired. His Pear Tree Press work is outstanding in every way. McLeod grew up in a home filled with art and books, his father being an arts patron. Today he is New Zealand’s most respected private press printer, so when I learned that Katsura was releasing a book chronicling Tara’s work my curiosity was more than piqued, it could be said that I am coming into this review with some biases! Still…
The book is visually rich — it reads very much as a photo essay of his career, punctuated with essays from Tara’s peers, print historians and academics, which give the work and his process context. The first chapter forms a biography (and is written by Christine & Tara Mcleod), we learn that Tara entered print at a critical time of technological development. Undertaking his apprenticeship in the 1960s as a compositor at the same time letterpress technology was being made redundant. Tara also speaks to conservatism in Aotearoa design of that time “Anything arty was regarded with suspicion”
Taras career transitioned from commercial print to commercial art, and he began wood carving and sculpting as his personal creative practice before establishing The Pear Tree Press in the 1980s. After restoring an Albion press the essay describes how with the full support of his wife he decided to focus on excelling at letterpress – and from there the text reads like a love letter to print. Describing his devotion, dedication and ever-expanding collection of tools equipment and books.
Tara’s work is predominantly text based although he is also an accomplished illustrator. Throughout the pages we see his body of work develop — some outcomes organised chronologically and others by theme — Photographs document his process and the materials he works with, while quotes about Tara’s practice overlay the full-bleed images of his studio.
“I think it important to say: poets and writers spend a lot of time crafting their words, so the typographer has the responsibility as an interpreter of the writers work to present the words in a sympathetic fashion to invite the reader to become involved in the text. As opposed to design that is difficult if not impossible to read and can discourage the reader.”
Designers, publishers, printmakers, historians, students art collectors and art appreciators — A Typographic Journey book gives great context to the development of design in Aotearoa and it is full of inspiration, insight and delight.
As a printmaker — (who is already a fangirl of Tara’s work) I found the insight into his process particularly fascinating. With such a comprehensive view of his work, it was interesting to see where Tara’s carved blocks repeat through different projects (one visual tool used for multiple narratives). But the most valuable part was reading the context to Tara’s development as a maker, seeing the influences that shaped him reflected in his work.
“This book provides a context and a benchmark for letterpress printers, setting both a challenge and an incentive to emerging young artists and designers to explore the unlimited potential of this medium in their own ways and to expand the boundaries of what is possible with a new spin on old technology.”