Poems & Permutations — a survey of artists’ books by Wally Depew

March 9 - April 11, 2024

Printed Matter is pleased to present a survey of artists’ books by American book artist and poet Wally Depew, spanning nearly 40 years of the artist’s practice. The exhibition will be on view at our Chelsea location beginning March 9, 2024.

Depew is near and dear to Printed Matter, as he was one of the artists whose books were sold at our first storefront on 7 Lispenard Street. We are pleased to once again offer his publications for sale — in eleven thematically-grouped collections of work as well as individual titles.

Browse all inventory by Wally Depew

Read more about the exhibition

Wally Depew (1938–2007) was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and later moved to New York City where he began publishing Poetry Newsletter in 1964. Around this time he started to release small, minimalist-inspired flipbooks composed of geometric shapes and ordinary language, and over the years he continuously expanded the medium of artists’ books through experiments in concrete poetry and graphic illustration. His synthesis of visual and typographical elements drew influence from Dada and conceptual artists like Kurt Schwitters and Sol LeWitt and his literary forebears include Gertrude Stein and the Oulipo author Raymond Queneau. While he was relatively unknown throughout his career, Depew worked steadily to produce a large number of experimental books spanning nearly 40 years.

Depew describes in the preface to his book Once, “I am not playing with letters or words to give them new meanings or for them to be seen in new ways. I am playing with communication and power.” Depew’s iterative technique is exemplified in a series of 30 books categorized as PN2 Experiment. With titles like Pornbook, Square K, and Impressions (Sand), each book presents a variation on a theme. Some focus on a single letter that is altered in orientation and scale, whereas others track shifts in placement and syntax of geometrical objects.

In some works he experimented with both mimeograph reproduction alongside tactile interventions, as he cut, perforated, burned, or spilled ink onto the cover and pages, rendering each copy unique. Almost all of Depew’s publications contain a bibliography that provides insight into his sources of inspiration, with references to poets and artists such as Guilluame Apollinaire, John Cage, and Alfred Jarry, in addition to mechanics manuals, novels, philosophical tracts, and musical compositions.