b. 1986, HK.


MICHAEL CAINE  Artist - Publisher - Typographe - Imprimeur  ·  EDITIONS PETROPOLIS  Modern European Poetry & Literature


Editions Petropolis (Paris, London, Leeds) is the imprint of artist-publisher Michael Caine. He has been making artists books (for himself and others) since the day in 1980 when he discovered with wonderment the world of letterpress and the hand-printed edition. He was on a Graphic Design degree course at London College of Printing that was still equipped with ‘the old stuff’ and one delve into the cases of metal type and impressions with proofing presses on fancy papers was enough to convert him to a lifetime of scraping around trying to claw ungraspably thin bits of metal out of filthy wooden cases of type, generally in a state of total disorder. ‘Mind your p’s and q’s’ would be the very least of it; if the chaos had only ended there.

Rather than spending hours designing visual identities he chose to work alongside old lag comps, printers and bookbinders – gleaning as much knowledge of their respective trades as he possibly could. Along with the revelation of letterpress, he had also fallen in love with ‘the original print’ and the beautiful processes of lithography, etching, woodcut, linocut – techniques that he allied with his own typographical arrangements, always letterpress. Caine left the prestigious halls of the LCP, (currently the London College of Communication) in 1982 encumbered by 172 copies of his first seven publications under his arm, hand-printed editions illustrated with his own original prints of the poetry of Apollinaire, Aragon, García Lorca, Mayakovsky, Rilke and Ritsos. Already a confirmed Francophile, Caine’s conversion to the world of the livre d’artiste was complete and total. Three months on an exchange scheme at the comparatively glamorous école des Beaux-Arts in Nancy, had deepened his love of the medium and of the country that had created the genre even.

Caine started his apprenticeship in ‘the real world’ at the private press of Graham Williams in deepest Kent, the Florin Press was exceptional in that everything was done exclusively on hand presses, Williams put into practice the most rigorous traditional techniques imaginable, hand-inking quite small point sizes of type and spending hours on make-ready for very complex wood-engravings. It was here that Caine got to discover the superb colour wood engravings of artist Naum Gabo, for Mr Williams was married to the daughter of the legendary Russian constructivist painter and at the same time get to print original 18th century wood engravings by Thomas Bewick. The apprenticeship in an Elizabethan cottage was very rich and rather short and the following year Caine took up a teaching post (his first) at Limerick Art School in Ireland where he got to go back to his Irish roots. So terrified was he by the experience that he came running back to London before the academic year was out. 

Parallel to this was a first collaborative work with the renowned elderly translator of  the Complete Works of Mayakovsky, Herbert Marshall. At the behest of Marshall, Caine submitted very elaborate designs for the centenary of the Brooklyn Bridge based upon the poem ‘Brooklyn Bridge' by Vladimir Mayakovsky (which came to naught) but the triptych book ‘How Many Have Fallen’ by Marina Tsvetayeva saw the light of day, in the form of a virulent and jejune expression of outrage against the Falklands War.
The next major step was a series of collaborations with fellow Leeds-born polemical poet and playwright Tony Harrison – currently notorious for setting the classical Orestia for Northern voices and dialect, the press qualifying his play as ‘sounding like a chorus of 12 Arthur Scargills’. Yorkshire’s very own controversy-loving bard was dubbed ‘The gangster of English poetry’ by The Times. Caine put together a full window display at Dillon's central London bookstore of Harrison's and their collaborative work – a book called ‘The Rhubarbarians' and a spectacular leporello work ‘the Fire-Gap’  – when the poem V. was broadcast (to uproar and outrage by the right-wing press) on Channel 4 in 1985. The backdrop was a very divided Britain and the epic struggle of the coal miners.

Lament. A retrospective show of Caine’s livres d’artiste was held at the National Theatre London in 1986, this was given over largely to the artist’s work with the poetry of García Lorca. Caine then took up a place at the Royal College of Art in London on the MA in Printmaking course where an option for making books had been proposed for the first time. Two years of very fractious disputes followed (the house style of Alistair Grant) wherein Caine was expelled and wasn't expelled and when his work, a very large format book of screenprints (inspired by the writings of French Surrealist author René Crevel) was shortlisted for the very honorific Fleur Cowles Award for Excellence then his very own department chose not to inform him. When Caine started ‘over-producing’ at the RCA and ‘monopolising the presses’ the staff wanted to keep for their own editioning then things went badly awry. Caine’s subsequent work with a text of a Samuel Beckett translation of René Crevel from the 1930s brought Caine back to Paris and all things French as he pitted his wits to sell his editions to the network of Parisian libraires.

The encouragement that he received on his visits to the French capital in 1989 was such that he opted for the ultimate wager of moving over from London to Paris, using ‘What-the hell - you only get one Life’ removal services. He was quickly employed at the Académie Charpentier art school, took over the print studio of les éditions Brocéliande in the Marais and began working on commissions for the clients that M. Lerebourg had left behind when he moved out to Brittany. The small shop had enough type and presses to keep Caine going until in 2000 when the owner repatriated all his materials (that had been on loan) and this dovetailed at the time with a most fortuitous acquisition of two tons of metal type from the basement of an art college in Germany.
Caine had always capriciously invented humorous imprint names, almost one publisher’s identity per book and his first books in Paris, works of Pablo Neruda, Jacques Brel, Ezra Pound lauding René Crevel, had to have a new name so were made under the name of Éditions Rosbif. A new post was taken up at the école Estienne in 1992 on a multi-disciplinary printmaking course and the work on commissions spiralled slightly out of all control, almost taking over completely from Caine's publishing programme. Museums, bibliophilic societies, galleries, publishers, writers, film directors, restaurants, all came knocking at the door.

In 1998, Caine was named as Élève-successeur to the Maître d’art en typographie by the Ministry of Culture, so as to glean knowledge from the greatest French printer of the 20th century, François Da Ros.

To this day in 2017, Caine has worked on over 140 book commissions for others and on 59 editions of his own. The current line of interest (since those early days in the 1990s when Caine was firmly in his René Crevel and French Surrealism phase) is essentially in the writing of Russian Futurist poet and author Velimir Khlebnikov and it is no coincidence that this style of writing has given Caine full rein to pursue a more open and expressive approach to layout, design and printing.

France is the home of the large format livre d’artiste and also bathes in a more liberated and colourful approach to book-making with more élan and brio, it is no accident that these two words and concepts do not exist in the English language? Neither does verve.
In 2017, Editions Petropolis/Michael Caine enjoys its 37th year of production.


Anglais d’origine, parisien par choix, européen par nature, humaniste par conviction, créateur par idéal et typographe par passion, tels pourraient être, en résumé, les traits caractéristiques de Michael Caine, ce gentleman éditeur, venu en France en 1990 et installé aujourd'hui dans le Marais, sous l’enseigne des Editions Petropolis.

Né à Leeds en 1959, Michael Caine quitte à dix-huit ans cette ville industrielle du Yorkshire pour entrer dans un long cycle d'études spécialisées qui, des arts appliqués aux arts plastiques lui permettront d’embrasser, dans sa totalité, le domaine de création qu’il a choisi, à savoir : le livre d’artiste. Les livres pour communiquer, les artistes comme symbole de liberté. Durant près de dix ans, il apprend donc avec la même rigueur, les techniques de fabrication et d’impression, les auteurs et l’illustration, afin de pouvoir maîtriser, un jour, l’aventure éditoriale à laquelle il se destine. Poésie, peinture, musique, les œuvres d’Apollinaire, Aragon, Chostakovitch, Crevel, Debussy, Eluard, Lorca, Rilke, Skriabine, Zadkine, nourrissent son insatiable appétit et aiguisent son esprit.

Fondamentalement marqué par le mouvement "arts and crafts" qui, dès le XIXe siècle prônait, en Angleterre, le retour à l’artisanat face au développement des manufactures, Michael Caine boude, malgré tout, la philosophie, par trop dogmatique, des "private press" issues de ce mouvement. Si les livres permettent de véhiculer des idées, il entend bien choisir les textes et les illustrer comme bon lui semble. Peu importe alors s’il faut, pour ce faire, traverser la Manche ! car, lorsque l’on est de culture aussi cosmopolite, rien n’est obstacle.

Venu à la typographie par amour de la littérature, il est autant émerveillé par la beauté d’une lettre en plomb que par celle du mot. Ces mots glissés dans les papiers chiffon pour qu’ils restent éternels, ces mots d’encre, aux formes rondes ou géométriques, noirs ou colorés, qui traduisent, dans des mises en scène chaque fois renouvelées, la pensée des poètes.

De François Da Ros, il a appris un autre regard, celui du typographe de presse que cet incontesté Maître d’Art en typographie fut, avant d’ouvrir son imprimerie pour y réaliser des ouvrages destinés aux bibliophiles. « Parfois, à côté de lui, il me vient des idées, car il fait des choses auxquelles je n'aurais jamais pensé et ça me pousse à en faire d’autres ! » explique Michael Caine.

Aujourd’hui, créer, à travers les mots, l’image et les rythmes, un tout auquel la typographie, les couleurs, la qualité des papiers et le format des ouvrages répondront en écho, franchir d’autres frontières, voilà le but qu’il s’est fixé, à travers ses livres d’artistes. Ainsi, imprimés en tirage limité, les recueils des poèmes de Beckett, Brel, Crevel, Khlebnikov, Lorca, Mac Orlan, Neruda, Pound, s’inscrivent sur le catalogue de sa maison d’édition. Ils comportent tous des œuvres originales : gravures sur bois, sérigraphies, eaux fortes ou linogravures, dans leur totalité signées : Michael Caine.

Portrait of Michael Caine, Crafts Magazine, 1986, brandishing his one-of 3D binding for his edition of Place de la Concorde by René Crevel.

Portrait of Michael Caine, Crafts Magazine, 1986, brandishing his one-of 3D binding for his edition of Place de la Concorde by René Crevel.


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Website Frédérique Duboscq

Photos FRLB Studios, Michèle Garrec, Laurence Stevens and Frédérique Duboscq