John Cutrone is one of the artists featured in the Cultural Council’s current exhibition, “Play with Your Food!” His work as a letterpress printer, bookbinder, papermaker and founder of Convivio Bookworks (in addition to his role as director of Florida Atlantic University’s Jaffe Center for Book Arts) celebrates storytelling and a dedication to detail.
Can you give us a brief background on your career as an artist?
John Cutrone (JC): I definitely see myself more on the craft side of things. I don’t think I have the imagination of an artist; I just appreciate good design and good craftsmanship and like to see those things reflected in everyday objects, like books and graphics. I’ve kind of serendipitously fallen into this craft that people call the “book arts,” which I guess makes me a book artist, and oh…so there’s that word again. But I design books, print them by hand, bind them by hand, that sort of thing. I find something immensely satisfying about setting type and printing it and tapping into that power of the press that has fostered all sorts of creative thinking through the centuries. I like being part of that and I like seeing where it leads.
Tell us a bit about the piece you’ve created for “Play with Your Food.”
JC: This is an older piece of mine, one I did in 1997, but we thought it was perfect for the theme of this show. Perfect and yet odd in that to read it you realize it is, at heart, a bit of technical writing: directions on how to cut an apple. The apple cutting trick that is described is something that my dad used to perform at the dinner table every now and then, a trick that his uncle taught him, so it goes back many generations. And now I teach it to my nephews so they can teach it to their kids. The broadside may contain directions for cutting an apple, but in a roundabout way, they’re more directions for keeping the bridges open across time and space, connecting children and ancestors.
As for the process, it’s all handset metal types (a contemporary Franklin Gothic paired with a humanist Van Dijck) printed by hand on a Vandercook Proof Press, with an illustration cut in linoleum. The inks for each of the apple illustrations were painted on the linocut by hand and then printed, rather than being run through the press, which makes them monoprints… so no two in the edition are alike.
You’ll be featured in an upcoming lecture at the end of October. Can you give us a taste of what you’ll discuss?
JC: I’m all over the place as a creative person, so yes, I print and I make books but I also do a lot of graphic design and I write and maybe writing is what I love most—the thing that I get lost in most. What I write mostly is a blog about seasonal traditions and about living the ceremony of each day. It’s called the “Convivio Book of Days.” So much of it is influenced by the things my family taught me, and I find that I go back to my family time and time again for source material and for inspiration in the things I write and in the books and prints I make. So my talk is about this family influence, heavily immersed in Italian-American culture—which means that it’s centered around the table. The kitchen truly is the heart of our home. We’ll discuss (I won’t lecture) food, family, story…and you can count on apples and a performance of the Dad’s Apple trick, too. Because if everyone who comes and watches it takes it home and performs it at their tables, too… well, that’s part of the sharing at table. “Tutti a tavola a mangiare:” Everyone around the table to eat. It’s as much about story and the sensual and the spiritual as it is about sustenance.