Mark Wagner

Smoke in My Dreams

Mark Wagner

Smoke in My Dreams



Edition Size



Collage, Hand-painting, Letterpress


Hand-sewn, Paper case


6.7 × 4.75 × 0.5 in

$ 5,000.00

Out of Print

View Collectors

Bibliotheque Nationale de France

Boston Athenaeum

Brooklyn Museum of Art

California State University, East Bay

Claremont Colleges Library

Florida Atlantic University (FAU), The Jaffe Book Arts Collection

Getty Research Institute

Harvard University, Fine Arts Library

Herzog August Bibiothek

Library of Congress (LoC)

Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Asian Art, Arthur M Sackler Gallery

Swarthmore College

The New York Public Library (NYPL)

University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB)

University of Delaware Library

University of Minnesota

University of Nevada, Reno

University of San Diego (USD)

University of Southern California (USC)

University of Wisconsin-Madison, Special Collections

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Walker Art Center

Yale University, Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library

Smoke in My Dreams is the seminal work by writer, illustrator, and bookmaker Mark Wagner and his Bird Brain Press. Letterpress printed, collaged, hand-drawn and painted–the edition of seventy books was nearly a decade in the making. Since completion, Smoke in My Dreams has seen exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, the Metropolitan Museums, and The Getty Research Institute. It has been collected by dozens of museums and libraries across the United States and abroad.
Edition of 70. Letterpress, collage, hand-drawn, hand-painted. 40 pages. 18cm. 1996.

Here is an excerpt from the “Diamond Leaves,” catalog’s essay by Mark Dimunation to be published about this book:

“Looking back to 1998, it now seems evident that Mark Wagner’s Smoke in My Dreams signaled an instructive example of how the standing notion of the book had been fully transformed in practice. At the time there was nothing particularly radical about this work by the writer, illustrator, and bookmaker and his Bird Brain Press. The letterpress printing, collage, and hand-work were familiar and cleverly employed.  But how the book was “read” and understood was an entirely different matter. There was, of course, the need to contend with the visual narrative in the self-consciously created world of the collage. But the meaning behind the rebellious connotations of smoking and the romantic fugue-like state of a dream were wildly dependent on who was doing the translating. It remained an open question whether the decisions Wagner made on aesthetic, expressive, or contextual grounds were received as intended. What was clear, however, was that the reader was now required to initiate a dialogue with the artists’ book if meaning and intention were to be properly culled from the experience.

Such is the dilemma.  There is a moment in which an artist’s intentions are transmitted, released, and comprehended.  It is at this intersection that the dialogue commences.  It is here where the private becomes public; where individual expression becomes collective meaning; and where that which is voiced is heard.  The success of Wagner’s work then, or of any of the many artists represented in this exhibition, is whether these dialogues are successful; of whether the interrelationship of idea, material and expression has substance, and whether the work imparts meaning beyond the intimate and private act of simply creating it. 

In a fashion, Wagner acknowledges that approaching the artists’ book as a reader can be a complex matter.  Perception, experience, and interpretation come into play in a manner which may or may not speak to the impetus behind the work.  By releasing The Archive for Smoke in My Dreams in 2000, the substance of the intended dialogue was laid clear.  The Archive’s goal is “to serve as a comprehensive tour of not only the book’s production but to examine, as closely and honestly as possible, the imaginative and creative process.  It is a complex and intricate object that evades quick description.”  The working archive is accompanied with a narrative, a series of essays by Wagner and Christopher Wilde that addresses all aspects of the book’s making, from the back-story to the production process to its reception.  The narrative, in essence, provides what traditional readers might be able to elucidate on their own from a more traditional book.  That Wagner has taken the step to release the archive suggests that in this instance, the artist is better present when the reader is engaged in a dialogue with the modern artists’ book.”
— Mark Dimunation, Chief of Rare Books, Library of Congress