“I always like it when things fall into place,” says Christoph Ruckhäberle, the founder, editor and curator of Lubok, a publication that doesn’t stick to the same rules as its contemporaries. Based in Leipzig and sporadically released, the highlight of each issue is the element of surprise. Lubok covers are always vividly patterned, giving no indication to the often monochrome content that resides within it. Issues also differ entirely in terms of contributors, theme, design and weight. Issue nine for instance is as thick as a dictionary, ten is as thin as a standard magazine. However, what you are guaranteed is a publication of mass illustrational delight imbedded with hope, chance and historical context.
The hope featured in each issue is a product of Christoph’s approach to collating the publication. Each double page spread of Lubok is a submission by a different creative given the same tool: a linoleum plate to cut into. His process is to send a plate to the creative, cross his fingers and wait for it to arrive back before going to print. The creatives Christoph commissions differ in numerous ways in order to “gather people from a large range of backgrounds,” he explains. “Each issue contains well-known creatives to the unknown, both the young and old, illustrators, painters, designers or even conceptual artists.” The consequent outcome is a narrative that writes itself. “It develops on its own. You never know what each person will cut into the lino in the end, it is always different to the one before. This is what makes it so interesting.”
Christoph’s original and principal practice is painting, but a meeting with printer Thomas Siemon in 2005 led to the print-based venture. “We started working together on linoleum cuts and I noticed him printing small edition poetry books on an old press and asked if we could try to print linocuts in higher editions. We tried it for a show I had in New York and I enjoyed it so much I began to ask friends to contribute, then it became a bigger book called Lubok.
The name Lubok derives from a term used to describe Russian popular prints of the 19th century. These prints were mostly religious in content but were aesthetically graphic, bold and woodcut, limited to only a few colours. “Although we’re doing linocuts it’s still relief printing so that is one connection,” says Christoph. A separate connection is the democratic approach that both Luboks apply to their outcomes. “The original Luboks were prints you could buy at the market – during that time people couldn’t afford books. They were single sheet prints, items to buy and put up on the walls of your home…Our idea was to do something in a higher edition that remained available to everyone. We wanted to make sure that if you wanted to buy a book, you could afford it.”
The consequence of working with international, multidisciplinary artists means that Lubok is a time consuming publication to produce. Over time Christoph came to accept that the best outcomes don’t necessarily result from contacting the most famous of artists. “In the beginning it was just a circle of friends, over time people were recommended and reached out to. Often, you meet someone at an opening, you start to talk, and by the end of the day they’ll take lino plates with them. That is the best way.” This simplicity is mirrored in the illustrational style that occupies Lubok’s pages. Often one colour, the pages are filled with a deep black where the creative in question considers the negative space of a print. “I just like the uncomplicated approach of the black and white, it unifies approaches and makes it into one narrative,” says Christoph. “I think of it as a piano étude where a beginner can do something really great, but someone who is experienced can create a masterpiece. It is a very very simple form that you can do a lot of different, interesting things within.”
The tenth issue of Lubok is rare in its palette, a full colour edition that Christoph says he doesn’t plan on recreating. “It’s just much more work and we need people who are more experienced to cut multi-coloured prints. It’s a lot more complicated, you need every colour to be another print run. It’s also the reason number ten is thinner than the others, it had the same amount of print runs, but the amount of work and cost is higher.” For Christoph, the simple allure of black and white remains the strongest, the vibrant covers he personally designs sing their own tune to the content inside.
Although Christoph’s technique for creating a publication could be considered as curating on a whim, his printing process is far from his initial undemanding ethics. “The books are printed on an old letterpress. Its size allows eight plates to be printed at the same time,” he explains. “It’s an automatic machine from the end of the 50s, it’s old and a lot of work, but you can also print individually. Our printer is so experienced now that I don’t think anyone else could do it quite like him.” To bind the prints into an artistic tome Christoph applies a Japanese style of binding. Every double page spread is also actually four pages, folded as they are bound adding an enveloping quality. “In the beginning we started this because Thomas was worried that the amount of ink used to get the deep black would result in ink seeping through,” elaborates Christoph. “He is so experienced now that he could print on both sides but we’ve grown to love the way that it feels and looks.” This approach is also a nod to traditional Japanese wood block prints, “created this way because of the very thing rice paper used”.
In this sense Lubok hasn’t changed aesthetically since its inception. “Some decisions are really just because of practicality, but we like how it turned out so we kept it. It remains the same technique and always the same paper.” A consequence of the thick layer of ink pages inside the publication almost stick together. Opening a page is as satisfying as pulling apart two pieces of velcro, with a sound effect to match. Issues of the publication additionally have a distinct smell, their detail is multi-sensory.
2017 marks ten years of Lubok and as Christoph prepares for issue 13, he insists “we’re trying our best,” additionally preparing for a large show with over 40 of the publication’s collaborators. At a time where publications in print are experiencing a renaissance, Lubok represents the broad-minded collaboration that keeps the creative industry churning.