York prof to launch her new book “The Inkiest Black”

Pages from Balfour’s new book
Barbara Balfour
Barbara Balfour

Barbara Balfour, professor of print media in the Department of Visual Art and Art History, launches her latest work, the artist’s book The Inkiest Black, on Dec. 11. The public is invited to attend the launch event taking place 5:30 to 7:30pm at Katzman Contemporary, located at 86 Miller Street in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood.

The Inkiest Black is Balfour’s response to American author David Foster Wallace’s 1079-page “encyclopedic novel” Infinite Jest, which was cited by Time magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels published between 1923 to 2005.

Balfour’s book – a much more compact creation at 140 pages – comprises Needs No Introduction, Long List, Qualified Colours and White, Black. It pays particular attention to Wallace’s vocabulary, his written descriptions of colours, and the various iterations of white and black in his novel, ending with Balfour’s favourite, “the inkiest black”.

The artist’s book is a Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada-supported creative research project. It’s generating an enthusiastic advance response from the cultural community.

pages featuring a stylized typeface
A double-page spread from Balfour’s “The Inkiest Black”

“Offering a look over Barbara Balfour’s shoulder as she reads David Foster Wallace, The Inkiest Black is eye tracking data made flesh. You won’t put down the dictionary or the colour wheel!” said curator Sarah Robayo Sheridan.

Philosopher Mark Kingwelll hails it as “…  a gorgeous document of Barbara Balfour’s artistic vision and an appropriate tribute to the genius of the late David Foster Wallace.

“The range of [Wallace’s] linguistic reference is revealed in its unique, sometimes goofy glory, even as the nuance of Balfour’s ink strokes bear vivid witness to his suicide-shortened life,” said Kingwell. “It is a lovely thing.”

“The real fun of The Inkiest Black is the artist’s savoring of the sensual experience of language, and of the persistence of meaning beyond syntax or context,” curator Christina Ritchie said.

Balfour has exhibited her interdisciplinary installations, artist’s books and multiples across North America and in the UK, France and Germany.  The relationship between autobiography and the body, the embodied nature of handwriting, and questions of mortality are recurring themes in her work. Her recent research involves text-based art practices and the multiplicity of print.