Saturday, July 25, 2009

Books Transformed

Within the last few years, I've become more aware of artists who work with books as a medium. Some people point to this as yet another sign of the waning era of books and reading. In fact, I believe such artists actually comment on and deepen our connection to the world of books.

British artist Su Blackwell cuts into books and makes them rise up into amazing sculptures. In a 2008 interview for the blog known as My Love for You is a Stampede of Horses, Ms Blackwell tells how she started as an artist working with textiles and embroidery, and then moved toward the medium of paper and old books. Many of her sculptures have fairy tale connections and are quite ethereal.

Austin artist Lance Letscher uses book covers, ledgers, old journals and other paper ephemera to make large collage compositions that are often quilt or mosaic-like. The University of Texas honored his work with a book published this year, Lance Letscher: Collages. Despite his growing fame, he is often presented as an outsider artist, working as he does with found materials. A 2004 Austin Chronicle interview remains the best websource for a peek at the reclusive artist.

Another book-related artist whose work I admire is that of the Canadian "librarian painter" Cliff Eyland. He has used small book file sized 3 x 5 card illustrations to explore his fascination with books and art. He hid many of these small painted cards in library books at the Nova Scotia College of Art and design, and more recently has painted canvases which are depictions of books and bookshelves.

Altered books
have become a wildly popular mixed media craze, perhaps spurred by or tied into the popular hobby of scrapbooking. There is even an International Society of Altered Book Artists, ISABA.

Postscript: Having retired recently, I've enjoyed having the time to sort through my bookshelves at home. Through much of my library and book reviewing career, I've been so busy reading library books and galleys, it seemed like the books I read the least were the ones I owned. Many of them were set aside for "later on" (or they are favorites I want to read again). Well, "later on" should be now, but I'm still not quite ready to indulge in most of them due to my commitment to serve on the TLA Lariat Book Award task force, which finds me plowing though many 2009 fiction titles. Still, the sight of their multi-colored spines on shelves is truly soulful, bringing to mind one of my favorite Anna Quindlen quotes: "I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves."

Images above:
Three People, 2004. Collage by Lance Letscher.
The Girl in the Wood by Su Blackwell.


Monica Colson said...

For those interested in learning how to make your own altered books Lone Star College - Kingwood has a continuing education class starting Tuesday September 15th at 6:30pm Cost is $51.00 plus approx. $15.00 for supplies. For more information go to

LoneStarLibrarian said...

Thanks, Monica - that sounds like a bargain!