Wednesday, December 2, 2009
The Art of Handmade Artist Books
Contemporary bookmaking is a wide and varied art form, and one that includes beautiful craftsmanship, artistic vision, playfulness, a message, sometimes sculpture, and always compels me to want to pick the books up and turn the pages – that is, if the book actually has pages.
I have started a list of book artist sites in the sidebar. When you visit Jody Alexander be sure to click on the link called process – it’s a fun one! Lisa Kokin makes several types of books and has an intriguing website. Robbin Ami Silverberg also runs a handmade paper mill as well as making books. Artist Shanna Leino makes artist’s book making tools by hand which are available for purchase. What a great stocking stuffer that would be! Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord has been a favorite book artist of mine for years. I especially love her series called Spirit Books. Dorothy Simpson Krause is an artist and author I have spoken of previously and has recently written a book called Book + Art Handcrafting Artists Books. Susan Collard makes books which are “architectural” and fantastic constructions. Finally on the list is the Donna Seager Gallery which features many book artists. You can see quite a selection at this site. I’ll be adding more artists to the list over time.
Each autumn I have been exchanging an artist book with an artist friend, Rita J. McNamara. Our exchange is a highlight of the year for me. First, I have a reason to stop and spend time on the concept of my own book, in an edition of two, and then I enjoy the fun of gathering my material and making the books. Although I find bookmaking to be time consuming it is a satisfying and exploratory process. Then as I package my book to ship off to Rita, I can also anticipate the fun of opening a package from her, and seeing her creation which I add to my own collection. Rita is a collage artist, a mail artist, a former weaver, and a published author, as well as a great and dear friend.
This year I am sharing our exchange with you. Following are photos of the book I received from Rita, entitled Oddments and Bagatelles. The words that follow are hers, and explain the concept of her book this year. Closed, her book measures 6.5 by 5.75 inches, and contains 10 pages, with multiple pockets, tags, and a popup page in the center. In a later post, I’ll share my book. Rita is off line, but she reads this blog on a regular basis and I know she will stop by and read your comments.
We started the Thanksgiving Book Exchange to celebrate our favorite time of year. The time when colors fade and the world strips down to its essentialness, its bones. The autumn book always feels like a distillation to me. Last year’s exchange was a Walkbook, fashioned from bits picked up along the way: feathers, ferns, twigs, a dragonfly’s wing.
This year, though, the distillation felt different. My year seemed full of jagged edges, dueling problems and conflicts, growing exhaustion. And all this played out against the larger backdrop of a long brutal winter and my ruined state, a landscape of shuttered factories and businesses, abandoned homes, and thousands of families packing up and hitting the road for some other promised land. I felt shell-shocked. Some days out in the studio I just sat there, trying to remember what I was doing and why.
As leaves fell and days shortened, I couldn’t think of a theme for the autumn book. I couldn’t find the gate, the way in. My brain felt like a bomb site, shrapnel thoughts sifting down through the rubble. So I started there, with the chaos. I picked through the scrap box, shreds left over from other projects. I suspended judgment and tried to trust that some deeper wordless part of me knew what I was up to, what I wanted to say.
The result looked like something salvaged from a storm, picked from thorny bushes after a twister or a flood: bits of maps, old photos and stained beat up letters, fragment words like “passage” and “place” “itinerary” and “foundling,” a compass made from a labyrinth and an old watch part, a sketch showing the anatomy of bird wings, freight tags, scraps of lace.
And in the middle, the only colored page, a bright blue fold-out map of the streets of Paris. Afterwards, as I flipped through the pages, I got the message: I was lost, looking for the route, the way out, the escape hatch.
And at the center, that map of Paris. Not “real” Paris; Paris-in-my-mind. Paris-in-my-mind has nothing to do with “real” Paris. Paris-in-my-mind is an archetype, a Shambhala. In the Paris-in-my-mind there is time for everything and in late afternoon, the in-between, there is a particular peculiar violet light, la vie en mauve, and you stop for a minute, setting down the pencil or the coffee cup. You think you smell flowers, and just for the flash of a second you feel like you can really see. The life under life, all that lies between and beyond the layers of things. It glistens there like a fresh-caught fish. Rita J. McNamara