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The Art of the Story

At Schindler Gallery, a book artist spins tales using centuries-old methods.

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Using skilled printmakers, typesetters, graphic artists, illustrators and bookbinders, these printing houses often produce volumes known for their tactile and visual richness as much as or more than for their literary significance.

Many visual artists have been drawn to the book as an art form for its unique visual and substantive possibilities. But few are able to successfully tackle the literary, technical and visual challenges as well as Andy Farkas, a designer, printmaker, bookbinder and storyteller exhibiting at Eric Schindler Gallery. Farkas, of Pennsylvania, melds his multidisciplinary talents to produce small editions that function successfully as both visual and literary objects.

His most recent project, a book combining a collection of short tales called "Four Stories," is the subject of his show at Schindler. There, a few samples of the finished book are on view along with each of the book's 16 illustrations, framed and exhibited on the gallery walls. Other book projects and prints by the artist are also showing.

Viewers will first appreciate Farkas as a printmaker whose relatively small wood engravings made with black ink on white paper demonstrate a mastery of patience and skill. His carvings on dense maple plates (one is in the gallery for inspection) produce delicate line work and a surprising range of tones that look more like the product of pen and ink than of a slab of wood.

Farkas is as consistent with his subject matter and how he illustrates it as he is with his printing technique. Apparently influenced by classic children's literature and illustrators such as Ernest H. Shepherd ("The Wind in the Willows," Winnie-the-Pooh stories and Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales, to name a few), along with Victorians such as Arthur Rackham, Farkas bases his stories and imagery on bucolic fantasy. Forest creatures such as frogs, bears and squirrels are the main characters in "Four Stories," and Farkas depicts them with romantic flourish as benign creatures endowed with human qualities.

As an object, "Four Stories," from its elegant letterpress text and typesetting to its hand-sewn binding, is a testimony to the potential beauty of the book as an art form. But the content is problematic. While Farkas states that the book represents something "timeless," the style of the stories and illustrations could also be perceived as nostalgic and derivative. Farkas is pushing the technical envelope by masterfully tackling such a diverse assortment of disciplines single-handedly. If he could clear the conceptual hurdles, he would truly be a phenomenon. S

Andy Farkas' "Four Stories" is at Eric Schindler Gallery, 2305 E. Broad St., through March 31. For more information, call 644-5005.

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