Stephen Petroff — Sketchbooks as Publication

Reading a poem aloud is publication.  Stapling a few drawings and poems together, and handing out the results to strangers in Tompkins Square Park is publication.

Working out the project of creation as it spreads through the pages of a sketchbook is publication. 

Stephen Petroff, “Burning Papa Chair”, Ink on paper, Photo by: Graydon Foye

People who’ve concluded that my apparent inactivity is evidence of a lack of ambition have sadly not had access to the great range of my publications.  At some point, I may decide to swamp everyone under the table with the terrible plethora of my publishings, most of which have been announced or made manifest in sketchbooks.

Stephen Petroff, “Not a Pacifist Act”, Acrylic on paper, Photo by: Graydon Foye

For good deeds as a pre-schooler, I might be given as reward a ream of typing (drawing) paper.  One of the greatest epiphanies of my childhood was the discovery of my father’s stapler.  This enabled me to make and publish my first books.

By the time I was a teenager, I had found that bound books of blank paper could be bought.  Intellectual problems and issues of teenagerism introduced complications.

Stephen Petroff, “Apollonian Youth”, Ink and chalk on paper, Photo by: Graydon Foye

When working in a bound book, is it desirable to maintain the illusion of bookish perfection?  Is it acceptable to make revisions in a bound book?  My work with my sketchbooks solved this blockage.  All my life, I had thought of books as finished creations.  Books had to end before they could be published or bound.

Stephen Petroff, “Night as It Is”, Ink on paper, Photo by: Graydon Foye
Stephen Petroff, “Psychedelic Journal”, Ink on paper, Photo by: Graydon Foye

Now I knew books might be created as I “went forward.” And, sketching and the workings of my mind could be part of the subject matter of a book. 

This sort of thinking quickly led to one-of-a-kind books and prototypes of wide range and variety. For instance, for years now, poet Gary Lawless has been researching Christian saints’ relics, primarily in Europe, with the idea, maybe, of making poetry.  At some point, he asked me to begin assembling a book of imagined relics and reliquaries.  I add pages to it whenever I get new ideas.(See sketches 5 & 6.)

5. Stephen Petroff, “Lawless Reliquary”, Ink on paper, Photo by: Graydon Foye
6. Stephen Petroff, “Lawless Relics”, Ink on paper, Photo by: Graydon Foye

My grandmother, poet Mary Billings, always inspired me with her creation of scrapbooks.  Typically using advertising catalogues, she would glue in poems, pictures, and prayers.  I have for years been making my own scrapbooks, painting pictures of the things I want to save.  (See sketch 13)

13. Stephen Petroff, “Fries and Sixgun”, Acrylic on paper, Photo by: Graydon Foye

In the Free Box of the Old Books store, I found a bound college thesis.  I painted black acrylic over all the pages of text.  I spent three weeks writing poetry to fit all the new black pages, and six weeks painting these new words and“illustrating” the poetry with abstract versions of Poussin’s paintings and the landscapes from Medieval religious paintings. (See sketches 9 & 12.)  Sketch12 excerpts a poem in which I honor the children of local artists, as carriers-on of culture. (Painter Thomas Cornell’s son is a philosopher, named for Poussin; my own grandson is named for the Renaissance painter Raphael.)

9. Stephen Petroff, “Poem 2 of Thesis”, Acrylic on paper, Photo by: Graydon Foye
12. Stephen Petroff, “Poussin Thesis”, Acrylic on paper, Photo by: Graydon Foye

As a lonely youth in Bowdoinham, I spent many nights in imagined conversation with artists and poets whom I admired or hoped someday to meet.  In this, I thought to prepare for the life I envisioned for myself.  One long night,I was visited by Henry Miller, who brought wine. (See sketch 3 — from my sketchbook “Nightingale and Gods.”  When I am alone with myself, thinking about Fang, the spiritual shrine-maker, I call him “Nightingale.”  He is a current nighttime conversationalist.)

3. Stephen Petroff, “Visit from Miller”, Ink and colored pencil on paper, Photo by: Graydon Foye

I could go on and on, but I’m not a mic hog!!!!