What are artists’ books?

A few people had questions about my artist’s book, “No Mind”, soon on exhibition at The Beaney Museum in UK. I think it’s important to understand first what artists’ books are, so I’ll try to do that in this post.

Artists’ books are books made or conceived by artists. There are fine artists who make books and book artists who produce work exclusively in that medium, as well as illustrators, typographers, writers, poets, book binders, printers and many others who work collaboratively or alone to produce artists’ books. Many artists’ books are self-published, or are produced by small presses usually in limited editions.

Artists’ books that maintain the traditional structure of a book are often known as book art or bookworks, while those that reference the shape of a book are known as book objects. The artist’s book is by nature, and for the reasons just mentioned more likely to be non-traditional in format and structure. In fact, it is almost expected that artists deviate as far as they dare from the traditional form entering into the realm of sculpture.

Artists have been associated with the written word since illuminated manuscripts were developed in the medieval period. William Blake (1757 -1827) made some of the first artists’ books, among them The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and Songs of Innocence. In these, Blake wrote the text, made the etchings of the text and illustrations, printed, and then hand-colored the pages. The only thing Blake did not do it seems was bind them. Blake was far ahead of his time. The artist’s book did not reappeared until this century and was adopted as a format by the Futurists, DADA, and the Constructivists among others.

Contemporary artists’ books are noteworthy for their many different forms, they can be made of text alone, images only, or both.

In my latest solo exhibition in Busan in 2015 I showed a few limited edition artists’ books made of etchings and woodcuts (photos below). In my next post I will talk specifically about my book “No Mind” and how it is relevant to the exhibition “Prescriptions” at the Beaney Museum (April 21st to August 14th, 2016).

Artists' books (made of etchings) on display at Praum Gallery during my Solo Exhibition in 2015

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If you’re interested in learning more about artists’ books, this Victoria & Albert Museum link has wide and fascinating information.

My artist’s book at the Beaney Museum in UK

Today I got a letter inviting me to exhibit one of my artist’s books at The Beaney House of Art & Knowledge, an art gallery, museum and library situated in the heart of the historic city of Canterbury, UK that opened in 1899. They also would like my piece as part of the collection of Artists’ Books and the Medical Humanities project (University of Kent).  I have, of course, accepted! The exhibition focuses on the book art of Martha Hall, on loan from the University of New England, and linked to a University of Kent symposium. Hall’s books document her experiences with breast cancer and interactions with the medical community. The exhibition is accompanied by a curated show of artists books responding to themes of illness, healing and well-being.

But what is an artist’s book? An artist’s book is a medium of artistic expression that uses the structure or function of “book” as inspiration—a work of art in book form. Here is my book:

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“No Mind” artist’s book, 4, 5 meter long ink calligraphy script on Nepal paper mounted on handmade paper and antique sewing spool. Unique piece from a set of 3.

The New Beaney; Canterbury; Kent; Sidell Gibson Architects; Exhibition; public Library; Gallery

The New Beaney; Canterbury; Kent; Sidell Gibson Architects. Photo by Robert Greshoff

The museum was renovated in 2012 and photographer Greshoff shows astonishing shots in his website. If you are in town between April 21st and August 14th, 2016 please visit our exhibition at The Drawing Room at the Beaney House of Art & Knowledge.

If you would like to know more about the museum, please visit their website.