Morris Cox


9 Original Xerographs


by Bradford Haas


The presentation of this portfolio of prints is a great opportunity to divulge how Morris Cox came to utilize the medium of photocopying in the production of fine art. After a quarter century of printing, binding, and casing books entirely by hand, Morris Cox found himself an octogenarian, and unable to proceed with the physically demanding methods commanded with the high production standards of Gogmagog Press books. In 1984 he was able to procure a Ricoh photocopier with plans to see his remaining literary manuscripts manifested in small print runs for posterity. What emerged from 1984 to 1991 was a wide array of publications, both literary and artistic, that Cox called the Gogmagog Photocopy Library. Unlike the regular Gogmagog Press books, which had relatively small press runs in their own right (most 50 to 100 copies, but it was not uncommon for there to be editions of 26 copies or less) the photocopy books were mostly issued in tiny editions of 5 to 10 copies. While some might wonder why Cox would make far fewer copies of a book when it was much less labor intensive to print the actual work, the real reason for the small editions was the casing: Cox insisted on casing his own books by hand, and in old age he simply could not afford to do a large number of any one title. This is easier to understand considering the number of titles he released. In the eight years Cox used his photocopier, he produced 39 titles, with only one or two issues without casing. Cox, in other words, bound and cased over 200 photocopy books, while preparing 39 original manuscripts and collections of artwork for printing. During these years Cox also reinvigorated his output of paintings, which had been relatively scant during the Gogmagog Press period (1957-1983) due to the time expended on printing and binding books.

The work that was produced for the Gogmagog Photocopy Library falls into a few main categories: 1) Older literary manuscripts, mostly dating from the 1930s to the 1950s, that Cox wanted to see into print. This included several experimental novels and novellas, two collections of short prose pieces, his collected poetry, and various essays. 2) Archival artworks that Cox had on hand. This helped to show the entire progress of Cox’s artistic activities. 3) Newer literary experiments, such as excursions into “blind writing”. 4) Collations of contemporary drawings. He made several collections of his blind drawings. These must be considered reproductions of the originals, which distinguishes them from the next category. 5) Collections of original art that was the natural outcome of Cox’s utilization of the photocopier as a medium. In other words, these are artworks that are not re-presenting works created in another medium, but original artworks in their own right. A WAY OF WOMAN is one example of this.

From the outset Cox had recognized that the photocopier he was using was able to produce some fascinatingly handsome results. He tested the range in a series of volumes dedicated to Max Ernst-like collages. Some of the earlier images are very much in debt to Ernst’s use of 19th century pulp illustrations, but as the volumes continue, Cox expands the medium to include more of a synthesis with his own drawing, and use of other materials in the collages such as lace doilies, curtain gauze, seeds, weeds, and flowers. While initial collections of collages were issued in a small format (8 1/4 x 5 5/8 in), some of the later volumes were quite large and demanding, with the largest being the MAGOG SUITE (1987) at 19 x 14 inches.

A WAY OF WOMAN is distinctive for several reasons. First, it is the last item to appear in the Gogmagog Press bibiography. There were two productions after the bibliography was finished. The one was a collection of writings, and the other, titled A FORM OF LIGHT (1991) was issued as a unique book, and it has not been possible to examine that copy up to this point in time to determine its contents. So A WAY OF WOMAN, issued in an edition of 10 copies, is essentially the final expression of Morris Cox as a printer. It is also distinctive since the collection of nine prints is not bound. While Cox, by 1987, had come to recognize his photocopy prints as fine works of art by signing and numbering the individual plates in certain editions, A WAY OF WOMAN is the only collection of prints that was issued loose. This may not have been the ideal for Cox, but a practical solution to avoid the hassle of casing more books. Having said this, Cox had issued portfolios of loose prints from the Gogmagog Press in the 1970s and 1980s, so issuing unbound and cased prints was not without a precedent.

The prints in the portfolio are a culmination and extension of working methods and themes that had preoccupied Cox for years. The female form, particularly the nude, had been in numerous blind drawings, prints, and paintings. In these renderings, there is something more than mere figure study; Cox’s interest in psychology is always looming, and gives this suite looking at various modes of the feminine an intriguing thematic depth. Formally, interrelationship between the experimental blind drawings and more conscious manifestations of the resulting images is one that is key to understanding A WAY OF WOMAN. For now it will be useful to make brief mention of Cox’s book BLIND DRAWINGS (1978), which included facsimile linocuts of original drawings. These are dramatic but simple linear designs. Shortly following this, however, Cox uses blind drawings of female nudes and combines these with his experimental color printing in his work FEMINITY OF NUDES (1979-80) which was only issued in five proof copies. Paintings from a year later (and extending through the remainder of Cox’s working life) show Cox using the designs from his blind drawings, and utilizing block cutting techniques as he had in BLIND DRAWINGS and FEMINITY OF NUDES to incise the designs into masonite boards, on which he applied paint and elements such as lace, plants, and other found materials which resulted in a multi-dimensional surface.

A WAY OF WOMAN uses many of the same techniques. The images are a combination of collage elements (from 19th century pulp illustrations, to zoological and biological manuals, to lace and gauze, to seeds and grasses) with Cox’s original drawings. The original collages, while artworks in their own right, are clearly designed to act as ideal “blocks” for the medium of photocopy printing. In the original collages, for example, Cox pays little attention to whether he is using white or cream colored materials, or whether he is using blue or black ink. He does not mind using a harsh-looking whiteout to cover areas that he wants to obscure in the final result. The original collages are fascinating, mainly to see how such magnificent and rich prints can be achieved through them. There is one final distinction of A WAY OF WOMAN: Cox, in this very late graphic work, uses the term “Xerograph” to describe them. These are not “photocopies” in the sense of reproductions of artworks; they are original works of art made through the xerographic (or photocopy) process.

Using a photocopier – a machine that was practical and made available to him - to make original art is not out of character for Cox. His entire career had been spent discovering how to do things with whatever was at hand. In 1963 he had presented his book CRASH! to members of the Society of Private Printers, and in it gave a humble statement that seemed contrary to the snobbish standards that many private press books aspired to:

THIS little book utilizes a series
of blocks made from odds and ends
of waste material, printed on a 
home-made press. They prove nothing
except that it might still be possible
for a dedicated hand printer to remain
in essence at the incunabula level and
start adventuring again from there,
particularly in the field of illustration.
The prints, from blocks of cardboard, lace, glass, wire, and other found materials, are quite amazing for the effects achieved through such basic means. It is no surprise, then, that Cox would later turn to the photocopier, and be willing to judge the results on the merits of the effect achieved, rather than relegating the art to a lower level than works manufactured through a traditionally recognized “fine art” print medium. In this sense Cox continued to present egalitarian art which was progressive, intense, and provocative, evidenced by this late suite of prints made when he was 86 years of age.


9 Original Xerographs

The copyright and right to reproduce all images
and texts included in this exhibition remain with
the lenders.