Circle Press, formed by Ron King in 1967, is both part of a tradition and a breaker of tradition. The stages of its life are marked not only by the individual natures of those whose books and prints it has published but also by the differing character of the decades through which it has passed. The Press has been highly productive for over forty years and has had a profound effect, directly and indirectly, on other artists working with books, for it has provided a continuity and a context against which such activity can be measured, even for those whose output and philosophy are utterly different or even opposed.
The name Circle Press was chosen by Ron to suggest his vision of a group of like-minded persons working within a shared, supportive framework, a circle which over the period of time has enlarged to include over 100 artists and poets. He has had the confidence to be unfashionably catholic in his choice of writers and artists whom he has invited to be associated with the press justifying his list with the deeply held conviction that he will only publish work that reaches its optimum vitality in printed form.
The press was born out of inadvertency when in 1966 King’s first printed book, an edition of Chaucer’s “Prologue to the Canterbury Tales”, illustrated with images of large abstracted mask designs was not published after being completed; the artist took on the task himself and over forty years have passed since then. It would be impossible to encapsulate that period in a brief introduction but the interested reader should hasten to read Cathy Courtney’s “The Looking Book: a pocket history of Circle Press 1967–96”; listed on this web-site. Suffice to say that the list of work published includes major standard texts such as “Macbeth”, “King Lear” and “Antony & Cleopatra” and collaborations of modern authors with outstanding artists such as Norman Ackroyd, Tom Phillips, Arthur Boyd, Ian Tyson, John Furnival and Julia Farrer. The steadiest contributors however have been John Christie and Ron King himself on the visual side and the poets Roy Fisher and Kenneth White on the writing side. There have been large case-bound books, small pamphlets, poetry posters, pop-up books, wire books, books which are not precisely books but boxes, concertina books, mirror books, stone books and combinations of all these forms.
The press, which was originally in Guildford, moved to London in 1988 and has always been managed in all aspects of its activities by the artists themselves from production to sales and distribution. Its work is represented in most major library, graphic art and fine art museum collections across the world.
The press was saluted on its twentieth anniversary by a travelling retrospective exhibition in Germany, which included the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, and on its thirtieth by a large retrospective at the National Theatre in London entitled: “Through the Looking Book — Artists at Circle Press 67-96”.
In 2002, The Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut celebrated Ron King’s 70th birthday with a further extensive show of Circle Press work, which included a great selection of archival material. Together with the archives, the Center has the most comprehensive collection of Circle Press work in the world. “Cooking the Books,” a full catalogue raisonné with four original hand-made inserts in a limited edition of 1000, was published to accompany the exhibition.