Interview: Mark Gowing
Posted: September 10, 2014 by: Thomas
Mark Gowing, a self-taught designer with over 25 years’ experience. Celebrated and awarded globally, in particular for his typography and publication work, Mark believes that design is as much about feeling as it is about understanding. Following the incredibly insightful conversation in Process Journal Edition Nine, we catch up with Mark to talk about his new venture, Formist Publishers.
In addition to Mark Gowing Design, you have started your new publishing venture, Formist. How did Formist originally come to fruition?
I’ve been involved with books and magazines throughout my entire career and have always been an avid book lover and collector. In recent years, my involvement in arts publishing with galleries and museums has led me to develop a deep interest in the entire publishing process – from content development, to editorial management, and of course design and production. I found that the only way to fulfil this interest was to become a publisher, so after a few years of thinking and wishing, I jumped in and started Formist.
Can you tell us about the type of publications that Formist produces?
Formist is focussed on the general fields of art and design. The first couple of Formist productions have been for clients. These projects landed in my lap in a lucky kind of way. The timing was good, so I was able to use them as development projects to get the publishing underway without a great deal of effort going into content development. The Simon Barney book is a limited artist’s edition featuring special papers and deckled edge text pages. Simon’s beautiful writing is the real star in this book. Our 20/200 title documents 20 years and 200 exhibitions at the Sarah Cottier Gallery. The book is a massive 432 pages and is more of a pictorial history than a critical study.
The titles that are coming up are a much different story. We recently released the first of our Search Volume series about David Lancashire’s Roo works. Search Volume is a simple and affordable series of books that investigate artist’s personal avenues of inquiry. Coming up next we have a study of Daniel Eatock’s beautiful felt-tip pen works, and plenty more to follow.
Other than Search Volume, we have been working on a few larger titles for about a year now and have them at different stages of production. We will be releasing a range of publications including some design documentation titles and artist monographs. But I am most excited about the development of the book as a kind of exhibition format. I think it is no longer necessary for the book to document events and works that already exist. Instead, I think the book can actually be the event or the work. As a result we are currently working with a number of artists who are creating work specifically for books. These collaborations have been pretty exciting so for and I am looking forward to releasing some of the results soon.
What is your process of developing a new publication and are there any specific attributes or topics you look for in particular?
I mostly look for the really interesting works that are being overlooked. I find that our media avenues are getting pretty narrow, so if an artist isn’t making an effort to get coverage on the internet, their work will be fairly unheard of. This is leaving a pretty massive hole. We are currently working with artists from all over the world, but I find that Australia in particular has a strange way of overlooking some of our most talented artists until they are very late in their careers. So there is a lot of unsung talent out there to work with.
When developing a publication I always try to figure out the best way to tell an artist’s story. I want to make all our books as spectacular as possible, so I work carefully on the format and the presentation of the works to try to develop an engaging object that will marry with the work. I don’t think it’s enough anymore to simply document the works on pages. The books need to more conceptually involved and more visually and culturally exciting.
How does your background as a graphic designer influence your publications?
I guess it has a pretty massive impact as my approach to most things is primarily visual. This is why most of the publications will be about visual mediums – it’s what I know best. It also means that the approach to publishing is very holistic. Publications are considered as a complete marriage of content, editorial and design all at once. Never one thing, followed by another.
I think the other impact has been the development of books that contain no text. We have a few of these in the works and I am finding it very interesting to create an experience with visuals only. I think this is something that would be very difficult to achieve without an intimate understanding of design and visual communications.
The number of independently produced magazines and journals is rapidly increasing, do you see this shift towards independent publishing becoming more common practice for hard cover books and limited editions?
I think so. It has already increased quite bit in recent years, although I don’t think that much of the independent publishing is very good as yet. I’m sure that will change as these publishers develop deeper understandings of their mediums. I think the future of publishing is quite exciting as the new publishers are helping to relax the old traditions and re-invent the medium as something more exciting and more relevant to contemporary culture.
As well as printed editions, you have also offered a free download of the ‘Formist Poster One’. Is digital publishing something you plan to explore further?
I want to explore everything further, so yes. I am looking pretty seriously at digital formats to figure out how best to use them. I am planning to release our Search Volume series as ebooks, but I really want to do more to challenge the digital formats. I think there is potential in Formist developing web experiences and mobile apps. I don’t want to place any limits on what Formist produces. We are currently working on a number of typefaces as well. The first one should be released this year. The typefaces are a lot of work, but a lot of fun as we can also use them in our books.
What can we expect to see in the future from Formist?
I set out with the ambition of publishing unique products that are beautiful objects as well as enlightening experieces. It is always difficult when you’re starting out, but I hope we will begin to deliver on this promise soon. Once I feel that we are achieving that ambition, there is no limit to what we might do.
01: 20/200 Cover
02: 20/200 Internal Spread
03: 20/200 Internal Spread
04: 20/200 Internal Spread
05: Formist Posters
06: Simon Barney Screen Fade Cover
07: Simon Barney Internal Spread
08: Simon Barney Internal Spread
09: Simon Barney Detail
The previous interview with Mark Gowing is available in print or digital in Process Journal Edition Nine from our online store.