Arion Press makes art books the old-fashioned way 

Serene view: Photographs of Japan by Michael Kenna, left, and illustrations by Raymond Pettibon for Jim Thompson’s book “South of Heaven,” below, are on view at Arion Press. (Courtesy photo) - SERENE VIEW: PHOTOGRAPHS OF JAPAN BY MICHAEL KENNA, LEFT, AND ILLUSTRATIONS BY RAYMOND PETTIBON FOR JIM THOMPSON’S BOOK “SOUTH OF HEAVEN,” BELOW, ARE ON VIEW AT ARION PRESS. (COURTESY PHOTO)
  • Serene view: Photographs of Japan by Michael Kenna, left, and illustrations by Raymond Pettibon for Jim Thompson’s book “South of Heaven,” below, are on view at Arion Press. (Courtesy photo)
  • Serene view: Photographs of Japan by Michael Kenna, left, and illustrations by Raymond Pettibon for Jim Thompson’s book “South of Heaven,” below, are on view at Arion Press. (Courtesy photo)

The Arion Press building — where deluxe, limited-edition books are hand-produced and designed by founder Andrew Hoyem and his staff — is a special place.

Located in San Francisco’s Presidio, Arion Press’ historic printing and bookmaking facilities represent one of the few places in the country where type continues to be cast from hot metal in a foundry.

The press — following tradition pioneered in France in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by employing leading artists to accompany its wide variety of texts — showcases its publications in its gallery, as well as presents special exhibitions.



Now on view are 44 drawings by Raymond Pettibon illustrating Jim Thompson’s recently published pulp-fiction novel “South of Heaven,” and fine-art photographs of Japan by Michael Kenna, who has illustrated previous Arion publications.

Pettibon, who has exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the United States and Europe, uses lurid and explosive imagery that fits Thompson’s often surreal violence. What makes Pettibon’s cartoon simplicity unique is its intense expressiveness.

Many of Pettibon’s drawings include pieces of text. Some come directly from Thompson’s novel, while others, strange and mysterious, are from the artist himself.

While having a reputation as “King of the Pulps,” Thompson was also considered a first-rate writer. His raw and violent style stands out in “South of Heaven,” a story of a pipeline being laid in an oil field.

In considerable contrast to Pettibon’s work are Kenna’s black- and-white photographs of Japanese landscapes. Displaying simplicity and spaciousness along with varying tones and textures, they are pure poetry.

Their subtlety offers the viewer a subliminal effect. An example is “Snow Drift, Lake Nukabira, Hokkaido, Japan,” a 2004 photograph with a dark gray sky, small white clouds, black mountainous rock, white snowdrifts and gray snowdrifts in shadow. Wind and human footprints disturb the solid whiteness, adding more texture to the photo.

In addition to displaying its publications of all kinds — from The Bible to “Moby Dick” to hard-boiled detective fiction — Arion Press offers tours of its rare bookmaking process. Visitors will see how type is cast from hot metal, how pages are made in a composition room and printed by letterpress, and how a book is bound by hand.

IF YOU GO

Arion Press

Where: Arion Press, 1802 Hays St. in the Presidio, San Francisco

When: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays

Admission: Free

Contact: (415) 668-2542, www.arionpress.com

Note: Tours of printing and bookmaking facilities are offered at 3 p.m. Thursdays for $7. Reservations are required. Call (415) 668-2542 or email grabhorn@arionpress.com.

About The Author

Murray Paskin

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