Original feature by the gentle author
Julian Rothenstein, The Redstone Press
Observe this man’s placid smile – from his composed demeanour no-one would believe that he has run his own publishing company for nearly thirty years. Yet Julian Rothenstein is the man responsible for Redstone Press, producing over a quarter century of Redstone Diaries and a whole string of inspirational and eclectic art books that no-one else would ever have dreamed of.
Operating from a modest office in his basement home, Julian edits, designs and supervises the production, promotion and distribution of all his books himself. And he does it with such apparent ease that you might not readily appreciate the feat of mental dexterity required to bring it off with bravura and grace, as he does. Yet this flexibility also allows him to pursue personal passions and produce books that surpass people’s expectations by their ingenuity and wit – such as his current bestseller ‘Inside the Rainbow,’ exploring the forgotten flowering of Russian Children’s books in the early Soviet era and his forthcoming project, a compendium of work by blind photographers.
I shall never forget the first time I came across a Redstone Diary, it was unlike anything else I had seen and it is this distinctive personality which makes these books so appealing. Julian’s vibrant designs, with strong colour, bold type and plenty of white space, give his titles a unity of appearance that is in contrast to their diverse form and subject matter. Obviously not the product of a corporation, they are the outcome of one man’s love of books – as Julian admitted to me when I dropped into his office this week with Contributing Photographer Patricia Niven.
“After I left school, I worked at a publisher called Peter Owen as an alternative to going to art school, which I couldn’t do because my father was well-known in that world – so I opted for being an office boy instead. I must have picked up the rudiments of publishing there.
I was a lost soul for a while after that, until I went to work with Emma Tennant on ‘Bananas’ – she was the editor and I was the art director and designer. It was a large format literary and art magazine, printed on newsprint up in Norfolk, that published the work of famous figures like J.G.Ballard, Bruce Chatwin, Angela Carter and Ted Hughes alongside unknown writers. And it was there I met my wife Hiang Kee who was very much involved with the beginnings of Bananas and Redstone Press.
My first Redstone Press book was of drawings by my father Michael, who was a child prodigy, and my grandfather William Rothenstein had kept everything he ever drew. I made all the mistakes with that first publication – it was far too big, no-one is interested in children’s drawings and I printed too many copies. Bookshops hated it, I printed fifteen hundred copies and sold only fifty or sixty.
But, shortly after that, I discovered these visual novels in woodcuts by Frans Mazereel and the first one sold out in three weeks. I published six of those and they all were very popular. I thought, ‘Publishing is really easy!’ And then I was unstoppable. Another big success was publishing boxes of ephemera from the Mexican Day of the Dead – I literally had my whole family sitting around sticking tin skeletons into boxes at one point. Then the diaries started in 1987 and I have just sent 2015 off to the printers – so that’s twenty-eight so far. The theme of 2015 is The Art of Simplicity and it includes a portrait of Barn the Spoon. Sometimes people write to say they have used my diaries year after year and cannot use anything else.
Redstone Press has become a family business with my wife Hiang Kee and my daughter Ella involved and, over the years, I have done a lot of books in partnership with my friend Mel Gooding. I had the good luck to work with David Shrigley too, one of the most productive people you could hope to meet – doing one book a year.
Yet, my whole thing has been to stay deliberately small and I can say that I have made a living out of it. People will always love to have something to read and, as the world goes more digital, they’ll be more demand for tactile things – like my books.”