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Artists' Books: The Book as an Art Form

What is an 'Artist's Book"?

Unlike an art book, catalog or monograph that tend to showcase artworks created in another medium, the term ‘artists’ books’ refers to publications that have been conceived as artworks in their own right. These ‘projects for the page’ are generally inexpensive, often produced in large or open editions, and are democratically available. The book is a medium that allows an artist's work to be accessible to a multitude of people in different locations at any given time. 

While artists’ books can take many forms, there are a few elements that are common across the practice. Understanding a book as an artwork invites a reflection on the properties of the book form itself. Much like any act of reading, an artists’ book is a physical experience that allows a connection with the medium that – while social in its implications – is individual and personal. The artists’ book invites us to hold it and turn through its pages. Whether the contents are visually or linguistically based (often a mix of both), physically moving through an artwork implicates notions of sequence, repetition, juxtaposition, and duration. The interplay of text and images, as well as considerations of printing process and the design of the book, allows for many exciting possibilities within narrative, media, and meaning that are specific to the artists’ book alone. Read more...

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What Does an Artists' Book Look Like?

Robert The

Collecting discarded books from thrift store bins and even dumpsters, Robert The creates objects of art that comment upon their own meaning and irrelevance. In his artist statement, The explains that these tossed aside books “are lovingly vandalized back to life so they can assert themselves against the culture which turned them into debris.”

Thomas Allen

Combining the imagery of pulp fiction cover art and the fun of pop-up books, Thomas Allen creates three-dimensional action scenes by cutting out and combining vintage cover images then using the remaining pages and spines to act as the stage for his new creations.

Cara Barer

Cara Barer’s photographs of splayed out, crumpled, and folded book pages reinvent the object as an abstract and infinitely varied form. Showing that a book’s appearance can be as diverse as its content, these images capture both the intimacy and vulnerability of the printed page.

Brian Dettmer

Brian Dettmer takes materials whose original function has faded — most famously books, but also maps, tapes, and other media — to recontextualize new or overlooked meanings within the object itself. Using surgical tools such as knives and tweezers, Dettmer carves each volume into a sculpture that is both visually arresting and substantively compelling.

Mike Stilkey

In the absence of a standard blank canvas, Mike Stilkey paints his dark yet cartoonishly charming works on towers of stacked books. Taking advantage of the shapes and covers of each recycled cover and spine, his sculptures and large-scale installations are defined both by their painted imagery and the material on which they’re based.

Guy Laramée

Guy Laramée’s sculptures represent the inverted relationship between the accumulation of knowledge and the corrosion of the environment. His carved stacks of books reflect topographical formations, landmarks, mountain ranges, and canyon ruts, mirroring the Earth’s landscape in both physical and psychological terms, while “trying to see the living nature of inanimate objects,” he says.

Su Blackwell

Crafting intricate scenes with only a few carefully cut and folded book pages, Su Blackwell converts laid off texts into the material for new storytelling styles. Her hyper-detailed designs range from text-tattooed figures that stand up off the page to paper butterflies flying out of an open cover to story-specific scenes that reflect the events of the original book’s contents.

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