Don Quixote is considered to be the first modern novel and among the greatest works of literature in the world. It was originally published in two volumes, the first in 1605, the second in 1615. Miguel de Cervantes was born in Alcalá de Henares, Spain, on September 29, 1547. He enlisted in the Spanish militia at twenty-three and fought against the Turks in the battle of Lepanto in 1571, where he was wounded in his left hand and permanently crippled. After four years at sea he was captured by Barbary pirates and enslaved for five years. Cervantes began to write Don Quixote in debtor’s prison. During the ten-year interval between the two volumes, an imposter seeking to profit from pent-up demand wrote a sequel to Book I. Cervantes revenged this transgression in Book II, when Don Quixote visits a printing house in Barcelona where the pirated edition is being printed and he disparages it. A large broadside of this incident has been excerpted and printed on our handpress as a gift to all who order the Arion edition.
The incidents from the novel Wiley depicts are comedic and tragic. It was as ludicrous in 1605 as it would be today for a delusional man to dress up in armor, to arm himself with sword and lance, and to go forth upon a broken-down nag to right wrongs and rescue maidens. Wiley has, of course, shown the famous scenes of Don Quixote going mad in his library while reading and believing books on chivalry, the burning of his books, the Don and his horse Rocinante vanquished by a windmill, Sancho Panza tossed in a blanket, the Don’s antics at his retreat in the wilderness, Quixote slashing wineskins, the errant knight captured, caged on an oxcart, conveyed to his home, and put to bed, and much, much more.
The 97 full-page prints are made by the artist scratching the emulsion from film with an etching needle; the negatives are then used to make polymer plates, which, when printed by letterpress, produce relief prints with the linear quality of etchings. This method is the reverse of intaglio prints, where the etched, engraved, or dry-point line is recessed in a metal plate. The scratched negative is right-reading, contrary to an intaglio plate where the image is reversed. Of course the polymer plate, too, has a mirror image, but the artist has the advantage that he sees what he will get when working on a light table to produce the matrix.
Don Quixote is printed by letterpress on an all-cotton fiber sheet. The type is Centaur, designed by Bruce Rogers, composed and cast by Mackenzie & Harris. The size of the text type is large, 16 point, cast on a 14-point body, leaded two points, so that the effect is solid 16 point, producing a desirable weave to the page. The initial letters were drawn by Mallette Dean in 1963 for the Grabhorn Press, a set of capitals intended for use with Centaur type. The illustrations are printed in sepia, the type in black, and the initials in red-brown. The binding is three-piece goatskin with dark brown for the spine with gold titling and tan for the sides, with a DQ monogram in gold, designed by Wiley, on the front cover. The sections are sewn by hand with hand-sewn headbands at top and bottom. The books are presented in slipcases, with tan cloth around the top, spine, and bottom, dark brown paper sides, and spine label. Book I is the eighty-sixth publication and Book II the eighty-ninth publication of the Arion Press.
Signature: Signed by the artist in the colophon in the back of the book.
About William T. Wiley
New York Times art critic Ken Johnson once said of William T. Wiley that “you might think he’d been invented by Thomas Pynchon.” Wiley was one of the founding fathers of West Coast Funk Art, alongside Robert Arneson, Roy Robert Hudson, and Roy DeForest. He rose to prominence in the 1970s with his offbeat representational style and narrative focus in painting, which was then in opposition to the widespread influence of Abstract Expressionism. Wiley’s works combined mystical iconography from Zen Buddhism, textual elements, regional aesthetics, humanist philosophy, and darkly funny commentary on politics, environmental issues, and global conflict. There is a recurring character in some of his works, a lanky figure with an awkward nose in a dunce cap and a bathrobe, named Mr. Unnatural. Wiley also creates drawings and assemblage sculpture.
American, b. 1937, Bedford, Indiana, based in California