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Julian Rothenstein, Publisher

December 11, 2013
by the gentle author

Julian Rothenstein, The Redstone Press

Observe this man’s placid smile – from his composed demeanour no-one would believe that he has run his own publishing company for nearly thirty years. Yet Julian Rothenstein is the man responsible for Redstone Press, producing over a quarter century of Redstone Diaries and a whole string of inspirational and eclectic art books that no-one else would ever have dreamed of.

As I made my own first steps in publishing this year, Julian was the man I went to for advice. And he proved to be a generous mentor, which makes it a pleasure to welcome him to Spitalfields this week, bringing his celebrated Annual Christmas Bookshop to the East of London for the first time – opening today at Townhouse, 5 Fournier St, and running every day until 22nd December.

Operating from a modest office in his basement home, Julian edits, designs and supervises the production, promotion and distribution of all his books himself. And he does it with such apparent ease that you might not readily appreciate the feat of mental dexterity required to bring it off with bravura and grace, as he does. Yet this flexibility also allows him to pursue personal passions and produce books that surpass people’s expectations by their ingenuity and wit – such as his current bestseller ‘Inside the Rainbow,’ exploring the forgotten flowering of Russian Children’s books in the early Soviet era and his forthcoming project, a compendium of work by blind photographers.

I shall never forget the first time I came across a Redstone Diary, it was unlike anything else I had seen and it is this distinctive personality which makes these books so appealing. Julian’s vibrant designs, with strong colour, bold type and plenty of white space, give his titles a unity of appearance that is in contrast to their diverse form and subject matter. Obviously not the product of a corporation, they are the outcome of one man’s love of books – as Julian admitted to me when I dropped into his office this week with Contributing Photographer Patricia Niven.

“After I left school, I worked at a publisher called Peter Owen as an alternative to going to art school, which I couldn’t do because my father was well-known in that world – so I opted for being an office boy instead. I must have picked up the rudiments of publishing there.

I was a lost soul for a while after that, until I went to work with Emma Tennant on ‘Bananas’ – she was the editor and I was the art director and designer. It was a large format literary and art magazine, printed on newsprint up in Norfolk, that published the work of famous figures like J.G.Ballard, Bruce Chatwin, Angela Carter and Ted Hughes alongside unknown writers. And it was there I met my wife Hiang Kee who was very much involved with the beginnings of Bananas and Redstone Press.

My first Redstone Press book was of drawings by my father Michael, who was a child prodigy, and my grandfather William Rothenstein had kept everything he ever drew. I made all the mistakes with that first publication – it was far too big, no-one is interested in children’s drawings and I printed too many copies. Bookshops hated it, I printed fifteen hundred copies and sold only fifty or sixty.

But, shortly after that, I discovered these visual novels in woodcuts by Frans Mazereel and the first one sold out in three weeks. I published six of those and they all were very popular. I thought, ‘Publishing is really easy!’ And then I was unstoppable. Another big success was publishing boxes of ephemera from the Mexican Day of the Dead – I literally had my whole family sitting around sticking tin skeletons into boxes at one point. Then the diaries started in 1987 and I have just sent 2015 off to the printers – so that’s twenty-eight so far. The theme of 2015 is The Art of Simplicity and it includes a portrait of Barn the Spoon. Sometimes people write to say they have used my diaries year after year and cannot use anything else.

Redstone Press has become a family business with my wife Hiang Kee and my daughter Ella involved and, over the years, I have done a lot of books in partnership with my friend Mel Gooding. I had the good luck to work with David Shrigley too, one of the most productive people you could hope to meet – doing one book a year.

Yet, my whole thing has been to stay deliberately small and I can say that I have made a living out of it. People will always love to have something to read and, as the world goes more digital, they’ll be more demand for tactile things – like my books.”

Copies of Redstone Press titles adorn the shelves in Julian Rothenstein’s office

Bananas, the seventies literary magazine, edited by Emma Tennant & designed by Julian Rothenstein

One of Julian Rothenstein’s first big successes, a novel in pictures by Frans Masereel, 1988

Alfred Wallis Paintings introduced by George Melly, 1990

Redstone Diary 1992, Drawings by Writers

J. G. Posada, Messengeer of Mortality, 1989

Redstone Diary, The Lucky Diary, 1996

Ants Have Sex In Your Beer by David Shrigley, 2007

Surrealist Games compiled by Alistair Brotchie, edited by Mel Gooding, 1991

The Redstone Psychological Diary, 2005 – edited by Julian Rothenstein and Mel Gooding

Kill Your Pets by David Shrigley, 2004

The Redstone Diary – The Artist’s World, 2011 – edited by Julian Rothenstein and Mel Gooding

Julian Rothenstein, publisher of The Redstone Press

Portraits copyright © Patricia Niven

Redstone Press Books, Diaries & Prints are for sale from today at reduced prices at Townhouse, 5 Fournier St, Spitalfields. 11-6pm daily until 22nd December.

9 Responses leave one →
  1. December 11, 2013

    I remember when I first came across these books in the 1980’s in the Arts Council bookshop in Covent Garden I think. We still have many in our library, they are lovely to hold, read and look at.

  2. December 11, 2013

    I love these striking old-style book titles! And love bookshelves as shown in the image. And, certainly, books anyway!

  3. December 11, 2013

    so sorry I missed the 2011 artist’s diary! and why does mr. rothenstein look so familiar?

    anyway so funny – i remember once upon a time when fournier st. seemed like the quietest back of beyond and now……it seems to be at the center of the universe! nice to see wonderful things still coming from it.

  4. Juliet shipman permalink
    December 11, 2013

    Is this Julian the grandson of Sir William Rothenstein who lived at Far Oakridge in Gloucestershire and was a well know artist and much more beside?

  5. joan permalink
    December 11, 2013

    I no longer buy a diary – as a housewife I find that I don’t have much in the way of appointments to put in one. But in my younger days I often chose a Redstone diary. It was something of a statement about the sort of person that I wanted to be. They are very lovely.


  6. December 12, 2013

    Another wonderful post. I love those diaries, they are things of beauty. Great to hear the story behind them is not a corporate one.

  7. December 12, 2013

    Fascinating, what a wonderful man – such fabulous creativity. Nicola

  8. December 12, 2013

    I love your style of writing – sort of melding Edna Blyton and Julian McLaren-Ross.

  9. May 22, 2015

    Greetings Julian and Anne

    I am the youngerst son of Stanley Clifford-Smith and Joan Glass. My parents lived in Great Bardfield during the 1950s and exhibited with your mother and father in the summer exhibitions held there. I was a baby in Bardfield so I never knew you but I know you sometimes played with my older brothers Simon and Jonathan.

    My reason for writing to you both is that I’m writing a biography of my parents which I hope to publish later this year. I was wondering if you could answer a couple of questions about your childhood memories?

    1. What was your parents relationship with my parents (please be honest)?
    2. Do you remember playing with Simon and and Jonathan? If so do you have any memories?
    3. Do you have any memories of the Bardfield exhibitions and the other village artists.

    I enjoyed looking at your site and art works and I hope you will be able to recall your childhood memories for me.

    Please send my best wishes to your mother. I met her for the first time at my father’s exhibition at the Fry in 1998 and I liked her very much.

    Best wishes

    Silas Clifford-Smith

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