How awesome would it be to start your own independent business and be able to collaborate with a bunch of a artists whose work you admire? That is just what Aron Morel did. His London based book publishing company is only two years young and Morel has already flourished into a life on its own. Although he has worked with the ‘well knowns’ like Ryan McGinley, Patti Smith, and Terry Richardson, Morel has also covered lists of ‘newcomers’ such as Alexander Binder, Agnes Thor and Jonnie Craig. We talk to Aron about his aspirations.
What was your previous occupation before starting your independent publishing company?
I spent my hours idle. My lot were a host of Lotus-eaters, wool-gatherers, and flaneurs. I might have even envied troubadours and hunted with satyrs….
Can you tell us a little bit about your upbringing?
My parents come from two different cultures and I was born into a third one. As a child I ended up moving cities frequently, settling in London, Riyadh, Paris, Istanbul, Rome. I would lose a strong northern English accent in exchange for a nasal-twang. Most people falsely assume I’m American or so. London is now home and the longest city I’ve lived in but I still pine with restless feet about the traveling days. For definition sake, I would say I’m a good old mongrel/bastard, on better days a cocktail.
What are some turn of events that lead to you starting Morel Books?
The great cataclysm was and has always been the appreciation of works of art in books and a fascination with photography and poetry. Both have their ultimate format in the book. With this in mind, I started Mörel in late 2008 having fumbled the idea for a few years. Finally I figured if I didn’t make it happen I would end up regretting it later on down the road.
Do you have any other people working within your establishment?
Up to now, we’re still a really small team with just Hana and myself. Hana holds things together. Without her, our orders will never arrive and our office would be a just a nest of papers! It’s nice having such a small and tight team with good working dynamics.
Alexander Binder ‘Infestation’
Since starting Morel Books have you gained any worthy lessons?
Morel books is a continuing lesson. I hope that every book reveals something new, and every book is different from the next. It’s a constant effort to renew and evolve the idea of work in a book format. Everyday I learn something new. I also learned that the world is pretty much open to ones ideas, thus bookshops from Sweden to Argentina, Japan to the USA take in our books.
Can you name a few artists that you have a heart on for right now?
Without being over the top, I have to say that I love every artist we’ve had the honor of working with. Especially some of the emerging artists which have a clear and new vision in their art. I’m a big fan of photographers such as Michael Schmidt, and painters like Elizabeth Peyton. There are so many!
We have a few books in the pipeline, which if they come about I would be working with some of my idols! I still get nervous when I have to speak with them.
Alot of the times you bind the books you make by hand. I find this personal touch really refreshing considering that most people would cave to using the corporate machine outlets to do so. Why did you decide to take this route?
There are aspects of some of our smaller run books that are definitely done in house. I think there’s something magical to have been a part of the whole process of a book. In the case of one of our new titles, I’ve touched and checked every single sheet used (a whole 3500 of them) at least 3 times.
I like being present when the books are being made, and I also think it’s great to know who takes them on. I have pretty much read the name of every person who has ordered a book from our website. I find it essential to have at least a basic relationship with our retailers.
There have been cases where I have refused to send books to certain places, as the retailer was treating us and our books too much like a”commodity”.We’re not desperate to sell books, only to get great work out into eager hands!
Ed Templeton ‘Drinking The Kool-Aid’
What was the significant point in your life where you knew that you would be part of the process of art?
I don’t think there is a specific point. I never fit too well into the gears of life-administration. I have an inkling to drift into reverie. I’m dazzled by good images, metaphors, stories etc. These aren’t the idiosyncrasies of an accountant or solicitor; so I guess I knew what I didn’t want to be.
Where is the strangest place that you have had to send a book to?
We pretty much send our books to all the corners of the world. I suppose one the strangest incidents with sending a book out was having Jonnie Craig’s book deemed pornographic at the Japanese borders.That batch of books never went through, but hundreds more did. Jonnie seems to be a bit of a star in Japan, so its kind of ironic.
Jonnie Craig ‘Untitled’
As an independent company proprietor like yourself, I am always interested in where the drive comes from within…
I love photo books and zines as well as photography etc. With Morel books I pretty much get to work with my favorite medium and some of my favorite artists. I wouldn’t even really call it work…its more play! It’s also really motivating and rewarding to work with emerging artists, especially as all of ours have had some great feedback.
Do they approach you sometimes with this book idea or do you generally find the talent?
There are some artists that I have had a long standing admiration for, and its a real pleasure to work with them. As I mentioned before, I still get nervous when I meet or speak with them.
With two of our emerging artists for example, I was aware of their work before they sent in submissions. I even tried to contact one of them months before they made contact. Some of us have gone on to become good friends which is a great plus in addition to doing a great book.
As for the submissions , there’s no specific formula to how a book comes about. In cases I contact the artists, and on other times they send in their work.
Patti Smith with the Blake busk
Patti Smith/ Robert Mapplethorpe/ Rimbaud ‘A Season In Hell’
Did you ever dabble in any form of art?
I used to write a bit of poetry, but it was all a big cliche with themes of sex, death, and absurdity. I don’t write as much but wish I still did. I also tend to shoot snapshots, but its all for fun and has more of a mnemonic purpose.
I am a great admirer of Patti Smith. How was working on her book ‘Season In Hell’ – which features a selection of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe’s work, translated by Oliver Bernard?
‘A Season in Hell’ is one of my favorite books of ours. Before I started Morel books, I wanted to publish ‘A Season In Hell’ and distribute it for free in different cities, so it’s kind of a dream come true having published it. Patti Smith was fantastic whilst working on the project. She actually has one of the original 1873 versions self-published by Rimbaud himself. I had to blag a antiquarian book dealer, telling them I was writing on behalf of a Russian collector to get proper images of the 1873 version! Patti came down to London and also played a little gig. I later went to her house in NYC and she signed a few books for me. We spoke alot about Rimbaud, Blake and Baudelaire.In the end, I snapped a rather mad looking picture of her nursing a busk of Blake she received as a gift from the Tate Galleries.
Moonmilk by Ryan McGinley is one of the most successful books that Morel has published…
‘Moonmilk’ has had a phenomenal reception. Its success is down to a wonderful series of work by a fantastic photographer. As well as being an amazing photographer, Ryan is also an amazing and sweet guy which makes working with him all the more fun.
Ryan McGinley ‘Moonmilk’
Are you working on any new books?
We have a number of upcoming titles for the Autumn by the likes of Boris Mikhailov, Miroslav Tichy, Thomas Ruff, Aurel Schmidt, David Armstrong, Agnes Thor, Tereza Zelenkova to mention a few…
There are also a few that we won’t spill the beans on until a few days before their release. It’s nice to let out a big surprise with certain books.
What was your last dream?
I had a dream I was flying about. I love those dreams, but its hard waking up thinking ‘If I let myself go, and believe enough I can still fly’
Asger Carlsen ‘Wrong’