Books As Art : Art As Books
Good evening everyone and welcome to the first statewide book arts
competition and exhibition presented by the Triton Museum of Art. The
quality of entries for this show was exceptional. The Triton Museum's
intention was to present as broad a spectrum of artists' books as possible.
The entries ranged from contemporary fine letterpress pieces to
minimalist conceptual books and many variations in between. Thus this
first competition for the book arts fulfilled both the jurors and the
Triton Museum's expectations as a representation of the broad scope that
contemporary artists' books encompass.
In order to provide a wide variety of books with limited exhibition space,
we wanted to avoid duplicating books of similar structures. Experienced
book artists are aware that the accordion book form can unfold to reveal
its content more easily than other book bindings. Since the accepted
Museum policy is that artwork may not be touched, an accordion fold binding
holds a visual advantage in display. The large number of accordion
structures submitted made our selection process even more difficult.
After we selected the juried entries, we found there were omissions in the
types of books we would like to see included in a representative
exhibition. The Triton allowed us to include a few additional invitational
artists for this purpose. We invited artists using high tech aspects of
the book arts as well as unusual pieces of educational benefit to museum
So as we present Books As Art: Art As Books, many of your may ask, what is
an artist's book, and what are you expected to look for in one?
Artist's books, in their current form, did not exist until the 20th
century. Johanna Drucker in her book The Century of Artists' Books notes
that even contemporary definitions will show variations. For our purpose,
we will define an artist's book as being solely hand made by the artist. It
was written, illustrated, printed and bound by the artist in order to
convey a unique, meaningful, artistic concept through its structure and
content. Exceptions would include collaborations of several artists, such
as a writer, illustrator, binder, etc., but with few exceptions, the books
in this exhibition have been created and constructed by a single artist.
What should you look for in an artist's book? How should you evaluate it?
How is it art? In general, you can apply the same measurements to artists'
books as you do other works of art. Unique to the artist's book however is
the variety of component parts of which it is comprised. Unlike a
painting or print in which the artist is involved with basically two
dimensions, and generally one medium, an artist's book involves many
different materials and processes developed in three dimensions to bring it
to successful completion.
The entire concept and form of a book must be carefully thought through
step by step. Some book artists begin with a story or narrative idea. All
parts of the book are disciplined to provide full focus towards that theme.
Other artists may start with the materials and allow, as in an abstract
painting, the idea or the theme to become revealed as the materials are
explored. It is doubtful, as in other art forms, that any two artists
would work in precisely the same sequential process.
Next the artist must consider the paper to use, its color and texture, and
the text font or topography best suited. In adding illustrations or images,
another set of factors is introduced. These must fit with and compliment
the text. How will you place them? Off center on the page? Grouped in
clusters? Extended beyond the edge of a page? Should they be printed in
black and white or color? Digitized? Tipped in? Or printed directly onto
the text papers? Dozens of choices have to be considered and then
While these parts are being unified, the artist has to simultaneously
consider how the book will be held together. What structure best suits the
concept of the book? How the book is bound will directly affect how a
viewer accesses the book's content. Thus the old saying "You can't tell a
book by its cover" is not true of an artist's book. The cover of an
artist's book should be an integral part of, as well as an indication of,
what is inside. Some choices for structures are: a box holding separate
pages (portfolio). One long rolled up continuous sheet (scroll). Separate
pages that are held together by two long strings (leaf book). Several pages
joined together in a continuous line and folded back and forth (accordion).
Or, what we generally identify as a "book", a cased in codex with hard
covers and a flat or rounded spine. It could be a two volume book set
enclosed in a dust case containing both a codex and a portfolio, or perhaps
the artist will conceive of an entirely new and unique structure for the
book to convey its meaning.
Thus the artist faces innumerable critical decisions in creating every
aspect of a book in order to effectively communicate its form and content
with clarity, impact, and artistry. There are numerous pitfalls along
every step of the procedure. Inappropriate selection of colors, texture,
font, or sequence, etc. Everything must fit together in perfect unison to
present a multifaceted, cohesive whole. If this is lacking, your esthetic
sense is jarred just as in a painting, whose colors or composition lack
balance, harmony, and even the element of surprise!
When unity is achieved and all components of the form and content support
one another, a sense of awe and delight awaits the viewer as with any other
fine art form. As jurors, we hope that all of you will experience this
unique visual pleasure as you encounter the books in this show. It is one
of the measures of the artists' success in how well they have expressed
their art in book form.
So now you know what an artist's book is and the technical aspects to
observe in looking at one. What other factors might you want to be aware
of? I would consider of even greater importance than the technical aspects
of all the component parts of a book, is the passion of the artist's
message. Books share with all other forms of art, the ability to create
profound emotional and psychological impact on humans. They can do this by
the words that are written, the images that are seen, and by the sense of
touch as well. The textures of paper, binding threads, the fabric on the
covers and the little interactive parts, these all in sequence, surprise
and delight the viewer and contribute to each individual physical
sensation. When all these factors combine with a message that is so
obviously important to the artist that you cannot help but feel transported
into what the artist felt, that is a truly successful work of art. The
artist's need was to express something in a very special way that could
only be communicated effectively through the medium of an artist's book.
I would like to present some examples of books which illustrate this
harmonious balance in their assembled components, and also communicate a
strong, message as well. A unique collaboration between husband and wife
has produced the book, Paper from Plants, by Peter & Donna Thomas. Their
combined talents have resulted in a work of consummate artistic excellence.
It is a catalog of hand made papers created from plants around the world.
Donna does the beautifully drawn illustrations and also the combined
leather and paper, hand-stitched binding. Peter produces the hand made
paper for the text as well as creating samples of papers from plants of the
world. He also writes the text and executes the letterpress printing
utilizing colored inks to reinforce the theme. Each contributes what they
know and do best. The result is near perfection in a fine letter press,
hand bound, cased in codex binding which is both a superbly researched
document as well as a fine example of an artist's book.
Lisa Kokin works with altered books, that is, altering the content and form
of someone else's book to absorb and change it into her own structure and
meaning. In a cut down copy of Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler, she has burned
out the printed words written by Hitler and backed the burned holes with
Hebrew text, leaving only selected translated words in English untouched.
This creates new text as well as context for her purpose: A bitter counter
to Hitler's genocide of the Jewish people in World War II. She has
replaced "My Struggle" with "Our Struggle", by allowing the spirit of the
Jewish people to shine through the charred remains of Hitler's subverted
Kent Manske uses words sparingly to give clarity and impact to his content.
In 2001 he creates a book full of symbols and images that are part of his
own personal iconography that he utilizes in his fine print making. The
meaning of their context for this book is placed obscurely on the back
cover in four words. The complexity, contrast, and compassion evident in
this book invites thoughtful 'self' and 'other' questioning.
Jody Alexander hand stitches through her pages in Lost Whispers IV to
reinforce the structure and create a delicate pattern. She adds "lost
languages", a series of tiny pictographs and glyphs printed faintly on
softly textured paper as metaphors for text. She meticulously hand coaxes
wisps from the natural fibers to create an object rich in subtext, with the
arresting power of an ancient artifact or meditative icon.
Ron Guzman uses no words for In Memory of Images. He reconstructs old yard
sale books by altering them with polished metal mirrors, which reflect
images of figures and faces from cast off antique photographs and tintypes.
He meticulously arranges these to create multiple reflections. The viewer
is transported willingly into an introspective state of mind replete with
wonder in these intriguing, 'days gone by', reveries.
Protect Yourself by T.S. Anand and Autobiography Box by Jim Machacek both
employ the use of a recycled box filled with items whose functions are
defined by their title. In design and construction they are quite similar,
but their message and how it is expressed are very different. The personal
nature of the tiny books, prints, and other mementos in Autobiography Box
give you glimpses into who this person really is: sensitive and vulnerable.
Protect Yourself, by title, might appear defensive and fearful, but the
component parts including a cast bronze protective inhalator mask,
indicates that its creator is savvy, wary, and totally in control. She
heralds a warning of the dangers involved in hazardous artist's materials.
These are examples of taking a similar structural form and channeling it
into entirely different messages by each artist.
From early childhood, books become windows through which we discover our
written language. Through them we visit worlds of imagination, curiosity,
and knowledge. The anticipation of what happens on the next page starts us
on a life long adventure of page turning. Unfortunately in a museum,
touching art work is not permitted and thus the individual's friendly
relationship with books is frustrated by one's inability to explore the
entire, sensory experience.
We did our utmost to display the books in this exhibition for maximum
readability within this requirement. But because a few of the books
exhibited in the show cannot be read literally without being touched, the
Triton Museum has allowed us to present these books for handling with the
assistance of a Gallery Attendant and wearing white gloves. During
specified hours each week, there will be members of the Bay Area Book
Artists, and a few of the artists present as Gallery Attendants for this
purpose. The scheduled hours are posted on the Gallery Attendant table and
also available by phoning the Museum. We hope you will have the
opportunity during the 2 months of the exhibition to experience interacting
with these special books.
For those of you who would be interested in another hands on experience
with books, we have a Triton Community Art Book project available with
instructions at the worktable in the foyer. There you may create your own
unique page from various media to be included in this special book. The
individual pages will be on display on the foyer wall during the Books As
Art exhibition and later hand bound into The Triton Community Art Book.
On September 4th from 6:00-8:00 p.m. there will be several demonstrations
here at the Triton museum of book arts techniques and skills presented by
several bay area book artists. We hope you will be able to join us for
some further excursions into book making.
In conjunction with this competition and exhibition, there is a Book Arts
Camp for boys and girls ages 5 to 15 held here at the Triton Museum during
week days, July 16-August 6. If you are interested, please contact Kim
Preciado here at the museum for further information.
As a finale for Books As Art, we have planned a walk through of the gallery
with Jade and myself on Tuesday, Sept 11 from 7-8:00 PM. This is the final
day of the exhibition. We would be delighted to have you join us for
commentary and questions about the books.
And now, I would like to present Jade Bradbury-Kalogeros, Juror & Exhibition Designer,
who will discuss further aspects of the communicative
power of artists' books.
Jone Small Manoogian
July 24, 2001