an interview with Rosaire Appel by Michael Jacobson

MJ: Can you tell me a little bit about your history, where you grew up, attended school, etc.?

RA: Born in NYC, parents moved often so I got a taste of urban, suburban and rural locations – I liked urban best and returned to NYC when I was 20. I was allergic to classrooms, but I did attend the New York Studio School for Painting, Drawing and Sculpture in the late sixties for a couple of years, and before that: poetry workshops.

MJ: How did your fiction evolve into asemic writing?

RA: It didn’t. After the publication of 2 novellas I became involved with black and white film photography and spent a decade in the darkroom. This was the early digital era of tiny pixelated photos and clunky dot matrix printers. Graphics software was becoming available (Adobe Illustrator 1) and it intrigued me. I did the little tutorial that came with it and began making digital drawings using small abstract shapes and configurations that interlinked/ interacted in some way. I stapled these together in booklets - they weren’t called zines at that time. These digital drawings led me to explore similar gestures using ink on paper. There were auction-house exhibits of Chinese calligraphy in New York at that time and I loved those forms, the rhythms of them, the concision. I longed to experience making those forms myself but I had no interest in formally studying it. So I just did it, obsessively made pages of Asian-looking characters -  and several months later was introduced to the word asemic.

MJ: Abstract comics and asemic writing make a great pairing, and you make them both skillfully, what makes them go together so well?

RA: (Thankyou!) Verbal / visual pairings automatically create tension moment to moment: are you going to look or are you going to read? It doesn’t matter if the material is abstract, the dynamic is the same. In my work, I attempt to make the asemic/verbal material as active as the visual elements, and even encourage them to trade places….

MJ: You are very prolific, how do you keep coming up with new ideas?

RA: I try not to say no. It’s so easy to say no. An urge to do something pops up – literally – it’s no more than a spark - and an internal voice interrupts: it won’t work, it’s been done, it’s not important - any old negative will do. I aim to over-ride that voice and let the sparks ignite.

MJ: Can you explain your process involved in creating your books?

RA: Each one seems different but they all involve a process of discovery. I gather things together, both material and immaterial and gradually find some path or direction or cohesion that I didn’t recognize before the booking process. I’m very fond of editing – fine-tuning – both words and images. My books go though many versions before reaching their final form.

MJ: What’s it like being a writer and artist in New York City these day?

RA: It’s intense, there’s always a lot happening – gallery shows, museum exhibits, readings - to say nothing of music – but I focus on visuals. Thanks to social media it’s possible to keep in touch with what is going on at the moment and certainly easier to meet other artists than it was say, a decade ago. It is a precarious situation however. The cost of real estate and the invasion of developers and corporations make it increasingly difficult for art and artists to survive here. Already outposts are springing up outside the city…

MJ: What direction do you see asemic writing going in?

RA: I see it expanding. The practice of asemic writing naturally leads to personal explorations of linguistic space and language in general - what is it, how does it work and other inquiries that are usually relegated to linguistic departments and buried under dense terminologies. By now many kinds of asemic marks and spacing are becoming familiar, there’s been a lot of horizontal development. But the asemic concept is beginning to infiltrate other disciplines – music, cartography, architecture to name a few I’ve been exploring. Perhaps the culmination will be asemic chess tournaments – is an asemic chess board possible? Certainly asemic chess pieces are already as possibility in the backs of some minds….

MJ: Can you give me some insight into the creation of your book Zinc Zanc Zunc: An Asemic Conjugation? What was your process in creating it?

RA: Like many of my books, it starts with a sheaf of drawings rather than an idea. Dialogues among the images begin, are extended, edited, re-arranged. It’s a very visual process through which some kind of order gradually appears. It is a very inefficient way of working but has the advantage of arriving at something I didn’t know to begin with.

MJ: Where do you get your ideas?

RA: I walk around, I look at everything, I listen, I read….

MJ: You make handmade books along with print on demand titles, how do the two complement each other?

RA: My print-on-demand books are usually black and white, and the size, paper and binding are standard. My handmade books use a range of paper and binding and materials. I make digital editions as well as one-offs. I also repurpose catalogues and short books, including my own. I am not a conscientious craftsperson however, and prefer moving to the next project rather than repeating myself / i.e. making large editions.

MJ: Tell me a little bit about your book publishing efforts at Press Rappel?

RA: This began as a whim (in 2006) : I saw an article about print-on-demand in the Times and decided to try it. I had been stapling together pages I printed making very limited editions. I like the efficiency of print-on-demand,  and I like having total control over the content. I don’t publish other people’s work however because promotion is not my forte – and without promotion a book is dead in the water.

MJ: What are some projects that you are currently working on?

RA: I just finished two books: “Connect Here”, printed and published by Small Editions in Brooklyn, and “Soundtrack/s” published by Press Rappel. “Connect Here” is a (non-asemic) riff on ways the world tries, through ads and questionnaires, to get into our pockets and under our skin. “Soundtrack/s” is an exploration of making something that is invisible – sound – visible. I am continuing to focus on visual sound, using mark-making experiences I discovered through asemic writing. Yes, this could be called asemic music – but I prefer ‘sound’, it carries less weight and is more inclusive.

MJ: What activities do you enjoy besides writing and creating art?

RA: Good conversations and stimulating books. And walking around the city looking at things, any things, art, architecture, construction sites, pavement anomalies, and the light, the movement of pedestrians, the sounds of traffic – all of it. I snap a lot of pics on my phone. It’s a rich experience.

MJ: Can you answer this last question with asemic writing?

RA: [```~~``~`~~,,”/ ``~~~~~”,,||-\ ]

Rosaire Appel (NYC) is an ex-writer, graphic artist exploring the betweens of reading/looking/listening. She makes books  (commercially printed, hand-made and recycled), ink drawings and digital drawings. Her subject is, basically, visual language. Using a combination of abstract comics and asemic writing, she develops sequences which remain open to interpretation by keeping the relationship between the viewer and the work active. Her website is: