University press

Many university presses are issuing art books that are not merely academic, or technical, or abstruse studies. Nor are they simply coffeetable books, dependent on lavish illustration for their appeal. Ranging from scholarly monographs to regional books to all-embracing art coverage, these books succeed because the university presses hold true to their academic purposes - they put stunning illustrations into context with readable and well-researched texts.

State university presses are often committed to publishing regional art. Happily, those books sometimes have more than local appeal. One such volume is America 1585: The Complete Drawings of John White (University of North Carolina Press, 213 pp., $24.95).

The book presents drawings of the Roanoke Island area by John White, who was Sir Walter Raleigh's official artist. The publishing venture is international, however, because White's originals are kept in the British Museum, and the illustrations selected for this volume were printed in Milan, Italy.

Paul Hulton, former deputy keeper of prints and drawings in the British Museum, provides the historical setting and analysis of ''America 1585,'' but this work's appeal comes from the illustrations, particularly of the Indians, whom White sketched without Old World preconceptions. His clear eye for detail will delight those who look through this window on early colonial America.

Another regional offering with more than local impact is The Life and Art of Jerome Tiger: War to Peace; Death to Life (285 pp., $49.95), lavishly produced by the University of Oklahoma Press. This volume, put together by the artist's wife, Peggy Tiger, and Molly Babcock, is a tribute to the work of a talented American-Indian artist who extended the boundaries of Indian art.

The text includes details of Tiger's life, fascinating in themselves because they shed light on Indian upbringing in Oklahoma and his later introduction to white culture and schooling. A tough high-school dropout, Tiger became a sensitive artist committed to portraying Indian life until his death in 1967. He developed a distinct style, one that combined everyday detail with moody figures placed in vast, empty, often wind-swept backgrounds. Critics agree that his art has a significance reaching beyond his region.

The University of Hawaii Press is among those that publish books focusing on art from other parts of the world. The Floating World (453 pp., paper, $12.95) is a study of Japanese woodblock prints of the Edo period (1615-1868). Written by James Michener, the author of ''Hawaii'' and other epic novels, the volume delivers information in a lively and approachable style. The author, who owned a great collection of such prints, turns what could have been a recital of facts into a vigorous narrative chronicling the artistic traditions and social and political factors that led to the flowering of this art form, called ''ukiyo-e, '' or ''pictures of a floating world.'' This paperback, with some 400 pages of text and 72 black-and-white prints, was not designed chiefly to feature reproductions. One criticism: Michener's text is so engaging that one wishes for larger, better illustrations.

Yale University Press brings us another art book of international significance. The Drawings of Josef Albers (text 47 pp., catalog 61 pp., 205 illustrations, $35) reveals the representational drawings of the artist known for his geometrical studies. A color theorist and member of the Bauhaus school, Albers is regarded as a major figure in 20th-century art. His little-known studies of boyhood scenes, telephone linemen, and family members heighten our appreciation of this artist by uncovering the whimsical and intimate sides of his work.

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