Art + Design

From the Design Desk: Book Art

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Can lightning strike twice? It can, and it has. Currently there are two book art exhibitions in the Bay Area: The Art of the Book at the Donna Seager Gallery (San Rafael, CA) and Unbound: A National Exhibition of Book Art at the Bedford Gallery (Walnut Creek, CA).

The Art of the Book is the fifth such exhibition Donna Seager has staged of handmade artists’ books, altered books and related works, some in an environmental or sculptural scale. Accordingly, it features work from Bay Area artists, some of whom have garnered national and international status; artists such as Julie Chen, Marie Dern (in collaboration with Kay Ryan, Poet Laureate of the U.S.), Charles Hobson and Kiki Smith.

The work at the Bedford Gallery include examples by familiar names–Ed Ruscha, Andy Warhol–and contemporary work from Richard Shaw who renders books in his chosen medium, ceramics; painter Squeak Carnwath, and photographer Cara Barer.

Both exhibitions feature smaller works from artists, illustrators and designers who have chosen to channel their artistic expression into the book form. John Hersey, Allison Weiner, Ward Schumaker and Tucker Nichols are among those whose affordable work is for sale.

The book as art is not a recent development. Rather, artists from the early part of the 20th century to the present have created work for the printed page, Picasso, Chagall, Miro and Hockney among them.

To my thinking it begs the question, what is a book? That is a question worthy of a dissertation or at least an undergraduate thesis so I will not delve into that in great detail. Suffice it to say traditionally the book has evolved from the codex, or folded form, into the sewn and bound volumes ubiquitous today.

Along the way, however, artists were not content to leave conventions unchallenged. Early examples of livre d’artiste, as they were christened, comprised of prints with accompanying text–prose or poetry–held together loosely in a portfolio. Later came elaborate bindings and exotic materials.

Fast forward to the latter part of the 20th century. The availability of photocopiers and desktop printers heralded a renaissance in personal expression, some under the rubric of “artists’ books”. My theory is the growth of interest in and practice of the book arts has been in direct proportion to the prevalence of computers, the internet, and of late, the e-book and iPad. We spend an inordinate amount of our time staring at a screen of one type or another.

The appeal of the tactile is diametrically opposed to the gloss of the LCD: witness the growth of centers for the book in New York, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Not only art schools, but liberal arts colleges are offering classes and degrees in book arts. On a commercial level, letterpress-printed cards, stationery products and invitations are all the rage. Check our Little Book of Letterpress to learn more about this phenomenon.

To quote from Curator of Exhibitions at the Bedford Gallery, Carrie Lederer, “Artist’s books engage us in their meaning through a myriad of elements including words, image, materials, shape, form, texture and color.” Indeed.

So close this page view and get out to one of these shows to reacquaint yourself with the book–the artists’ book.

Michael Carabetta
Creative Director

P.S. If you like book arts you might also enjoy The Marvelous Museum; Pictorial Webster’s; and Andy Warhol Pop Box.

Michael Carabetta

Creative Director

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