by Kevin Ramshaw

Writing books about a wide range of art-related subjects got Waikanae writer, photographer and poet Paul Thompson thinking about books as an art form in their own right.

A result of that thinking is Asemica, artist’s books, an exhibition of 12 books, all with identical covers but individual and different content, in newSPACE at Mahara Gallery.

“I am excited and stimulated by the idea and importance of the book as an artistic entity in itself and I’m driven by a creative response to express that fascination,” he says.

“I’ve produced many well-designed and interesting standard trade books on a wide range of art-related subjects.  Extending this experience and interest into artist’s books was a natural progression.”

Paul Thompson said it was his last commercial book, Shards of Silver about the connection between photography and poetry, that got him started.

With his existing interest in graphic design, materials and books, the field and the possibilities of the artist’s book proved irresistible. He began creating artist’s books both by himself and in collaboration with Wai-te-ata Press.

Artist’s books can range from finely crafted works with exquisite materials to compilations of collaged pages run through a photocopier and stapled. 

“They are similar to abstract art in that they are not about anything,” he says. “The viewer constructs their own meanings. 

“In the case of Asemica, the starting points are the ideas of language, writing and books themselves. ‘Asemic writing’ thus means writing that doesn’t make conventional sense – like music, it is indecipherable.

“Some may describe my interest in Artist’s books as an obsession. I see myself as a creative bibliophile or perhaps a biblio-artist exploring the tremendous range of possibilities the field of the artist’s book opens.”

Paul Thompson’s artist’s books have been exhibited both in Aotearoa New Zealand and overseas and been a finalist in the prestigious Australian Manly Artist’s Book Awards. His books are held in several collections overseas. 

The exhibition can be viewed at Mahara Gallery from 27 July until 18 September, 2021, alongside Dr Rangihīroa Panoho, ĀTĀROA, ‘the long shadow’ of the New Zealand Land Wars, before the gallery moves off-site for a multi-million dollar building upgrade.

N.B.: There is an Artist’s Workshop with Paul Thompson, Saturday 28 August, 12:30–3:30pm. Limited to 8 participants. To book, email


A passion for books is shared by our editorial group. Mahara Gallery say this is “one of the final duo of exhibitions at Mahara Gallery before we move off-site to allow building redevelopment — exciting times!” —Eds