Since its inception, London based print publisher Black Dragon Press has been releasing a steady flow of unique and elegant prints from a bevy of artists from across the globe. Their subjects have ranged from films, such as the sublime work of Andrei Tarkovsky and his film ‘Solaris’, to the musical work of Franz Schubert and London Brutalist architecture of Ernő Goldfinger.
It is a wide and varied breadth of inspiration that builds their catalog. It is a collection of limited edition prints that has a sense of vision — each choice of subject and corresponding illustrator gives a voice to the overall body of work. The established tone of Black Dragon Press is that of a leathered library — pipe smoke and dust, a dim lit room. The prints of Delort, Diamond, Ortiz and the rest are all pieces that hang with an air of intellect and grace. It is a rare feat when a poster like Edward Kinsella‘s ‘Andrei Rublev‘ can, with sudden impact, make your life feel far more sophisticated than it actually should.
The team behind the brand have remained semi-absent, letting the art and the creators take center stage. I reached out to James Park, the founder of Black Dragon Press, to discuss the story and process behind his venture into art curation.
Your first print release was with Nicolas Delort’s ‘Nosferatu’ and now he’s gone on as art director for a few of the other poster releases. How did Nicolas get involved?
When I decided to found Black Dragon Press the first person I e-mailed was Nicolas (Delort). I had been collecting his work for a while because it’s fucking amazing, and I thought he would be perfect to set the tone for what was to come, so you can imagine my delight when he said yes. We since worked together on a number of prints and from our various conversations it struck me how intelligent and knowledgeable he is, so it made complete sense to bring him on board as art director.
It’s been a real pleasure working with him and the things he’s come up with are just ridiculously good. And he somehow does it alongside developing all his mind-blowing body of work. I’m beginning to suspect he may not be human.
From the artist choices to the properties, Black Dragon Press has built an incredible and inspiring catalog. I’ve been introduced to some major talents I had never heard of through your releases. Is there an overall ethos that Black Dragon Press follows?
I guess the ethos of Black Dragon Press is to facilitate a space for artists to take on compelling subject matters they have a personal connection with and which are perhaps under-represented elsewhere in the poster scene. The personal connection aspect is very important. I would never ask an artist to work on a subject they didn’t find appealing. In fact the ideas for some of our releases have come from the artists themselves, and we totally welcome that kind of input.
We tend to work with smallish print runs and the internet allows us to reach a very diverse audience so we are not burdened by mass market considerations and can afford the freedom to explore the more obscure corners of popular – sometimes even unpopular – culture.
That’s kinda the bare bones of it: pick artists whose work we love, pair them with interesting subject matters we both have a connection with and then get their work into the homes of other people who share that connection. So far it’s worked really well.
Who else is involved with Black Dragon? Is it your brainchild or were you brought on board by somebody else?
Black Dragon Press is a very small operation. I founded it last year with help from my good friend Ewen Dickie who designed our amazing logo and oversees the technical aspects of the company, and from my better-half who is a freelance film-maker and a saint and somehow finds the time and the will to help me with fulfillment, video content and general existential crises.
I also call upon a small circle of trusted friends to bounce ideas off them and exchange feedback on artwork at various stages. That’s the day to day of BDP, but really the most important people in the company are the amazing artists we have the privilege to work with. They are the ones who should get all of the credit. We’re really at their service, not the other way around.
How involved are you when an artist begins a print? Are you asking for sketches and working with them, taking on an art director role, or is it completely in the artist’s hands?
Some projects require a bit more supervision — mainly because of licensing issues — whilst in others the artists have the freedom of the park. How each artist works is different too. Some enjoy bouncing ideas off you and feeding off from your suggestions, whilst others prefer to be left alone.
It’s a very difficult question to answer in any definitive way. By and large our posters are artist led with a little bit of feedback from us, but this doesn’t tell most of the story, each project has its own inner dynamic, and that by itself is really fascinating to me.
One of my favorites finds is Thomas Danthony and his ‘London Brutalism’ series. Danthony has such a strong visual style, he can do so much with so little. That series, while not a film property, still fits in with the BDP catalog. You guys aren’t afraid to try something different. What sort of criteria did the ‘London Brutalism’ have that attracted you to taking it on as a project?
In London we’re very fortunate to still have some prime examples of Brutalist buildings. They get a pretty bad rep because at first sight they kinda just look like massive blocks of concrete, but if you look closely and you learn about their history then you realise there is an underlying logic to them that speaks of the idealism of the people who designed them. They’re fascinating, and visually arresting, and I can’t imagine London without them, so I wanted to devote a series of posters to celebrate their existence; to vindicate them even.
Thomas was a natural choice precisely because he can do so much with so little so I was thrilled when he told us he shared our enthusiasm.The illustrations he made are quite minimalist but if you look closely there is so much going on in them. Just like with the buildings themselves.
With Delort’s Classical Series of prints bringing in the aspect of music, will there ever be a Black Dragon Press release of those pieces of music on vinyl with Delort’s illustrations? Any thoughts on doing products beyond prints?
We’ve dabbled with laser etched wood panels and we published a booklet to go with the Brutalist series and both of those things have done very well so we’ll be doing more of that in the future.
We did consider the possibility of producing a run of records for the classical pieces but the timing wasn’t quite right this time around. Perhaps in future we will, who knows. That’s the beauty of BDP, it’s such an open ended project that anything can happen.
Being a UK based business, are most of your customers local? Is there a sizable print audience in the UK?
In the UK traditionally print collecting here has been primarily focused on street art but this is slowly changing I think. The poster scene here is still relatively small but it’s very lively and driven forward by a growing number of very passionate, very sound folk. I have the pleasure of speaking with some of them through various social media and it’s always struck me how tightly-knit and supportive the community is. With people like that you know it’s always going to grow.
Going a bit further afield we’ve recently seen some great new galleries opening up in mainland Europe: Nautilus Art Prints in Belgium, French Paper Art in Paris… so yeah, interest is definitely on the up-swing this side of the Atlantic, which bodes very well for the hobby and for us by extension.
You did something smart when you had a 20% off discount going on. Being in the States, the exchange rate can deter making purchases overseas. I loaded up on prints with that discount and it more than covered the hefty shipping costs in takes for packages to cross the Atlantic. As a business, how aware do you need to be of the American audience?
We have a growing number of US based collectors who purchase pretty much every one of our releases. We weren’t really expecting this because purchasing from abroad is always a bit more expensive, especially considering the strength of the pound, so it’s been a very welcome surprise and we cannot be thankful enough to them.
Ultimately it speaks volumes about the quality of the work from the artists we’re so fortunate to collaborate with that people are prepared to pay a little extra for the work. And it’s not just from the US. We have regular buyers from Brazil, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Malaysia, Japan… it’s a really international audience.
Do you plan on having a booth at any conventions or perhaps having a gallery show?
In November we’ll be exhibiting at Thought Bubble in Leeds in the north of England. Thought Bubble is one of the most important comic art conventions in the country, and in terms of the poster scene it’s definitely the most important so we’re really excited we’ve been offered a table.
It will give us an opportunity to meet the people who make up the scene in the UK in person, discover the work of new artists, and introduce our wares to a whole new audience. For this first year we have the added bonus of bringing Nicolas Delort with us so it should be an amazing experience all around.
A gallery show? That’s a definite goal for us and we won’t stop until it happens.
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