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Artworks Made From Books Tell Many Tales

Written by in Features

“Allowing for an Impressive Jumble” 

Transforming the Written Page … Into Visual Art

When is a book a rook? And when are pages knights? When you are Arián Dylan, the book-carving artist whose chess set you see here. Dylan’s piece, titled El orden y el caos (Order and Chaos), is one of my favorites from The Art of the Book, a recent exhibition at the Seager Gray Gallery in Mill Valley, Calif. The show includes altered books by several artists. Here are a handful of pieces that made me smile and made me think – about thinking and reading, and, inevitably, about paper. It’s a medium, a message, a many-splendored thing.

2 Donna Ruff

Es-tu comme moi?

 

Donna Ruff titled her piece (above) Es-tu comme moi? (Are you like me?). These two vintage volumes, with their intricately stamped covers, are from a series of morality tales for young ladies. The books seem to be comparing experiences and exchanging lessons learned. The “conversational threads” of their tête à tête are lines of text taken from the stories and lithographed on kozo (mulberry fiber) paper, which is strong but supple, allowing for an impressive jumble.

Cerebral Mapping

Cerebral Mapping, long view

 

This piece by Jessica Drenk amplifies strands of information to global proportions: 126 x 44 in. But what looks like a world map of unfamiliar continents is actually the artist’s depiction of a brain. Cerebral Mapping #3 is a swirling dervish of overlapping loops of knowledge, created from cross-sections of books, held together with wax. In person, you can get close enough to feel like you are looking at freeway overpasses, or memories under a microscope.

Cerebral close up

Cerebral mapping, close up

 

Doug Beube has been altering books – which he calls bookwork – for over 30 years, and he is a master of metaphor. The bookwork below is titled The Stuff of Tho (2014), carved from The Stuff of Thought (2007) by Steven Pinker. The book’s subtitle, which doesn’t appear on the spine, is Language as a Window Into Human Nature. Instead of a window, Beube has carved a kylix, a classical Greek drinking vessel. On Beube’s Web site, you can get a sense of how he scoops, gouges, and redacts, to create a kylix.

5 Beube

Kylix

 

As it happened, I was nearing the end of the seventh Harry Potter book when I saw this piece, so I asked Beube if he knew what a pensieve was. He replied, “I love Harry Potter. I read all the books and saw the movies – they have since merged into one big soup. I hadn’t thought of my piece as a pensieve, but indeed it reads like one and has a similar meaning, as the eye slips through the sieve of frayed paper with fractured words, lost in an interrupted reading.”

Kylix deconstructed

Kylix deconstructed

 

Luciana Frigerio is a folder of books rather than a slicer or exciser. I simply don’t understand how this works – the folding of pages to create vertical strokes that ultimately form a character. But I love the notion that the contents of all of the pages are distilled down into one word. If I were to commission one of these, I think I would want it to say, What?

7 Read

Read

 

I am particularly intrigued by the lowercase i of Inspire, with its big dot rising like a full moon. But my single favorite character is the g in Imagine.

Inspire

Inspire

Imagine

Imagine

 

Renee Billingslea’s Dic-shoe-naries is made from a pair of shoes and a Webster’s Dictionary found in the home of her husband’s 97-year-old uncle, just after his passing. He had migrated to San Francisco from the South in search of a better life as a man of color – and was still teaching school until several months before his death.

Shoes

Shoes

 

It seems plausible that he considered his book knowledge, as represented by his dictionary, to be the foundation upon which he had stood to make his way in the world. And look how tall it made him.

Shoes, Upper

Shoes, Upper

 

Back to Arián Dylan’s chess set: Each chess piece has a small flat magnet on the bottom, and the board is magnetic. Dylan comments that a chess set made from books (His first was in 2010; he has since made three more.) is a metaphor for reading, which is always between two people, the author and the reader. He adds that, just as every chess game will be different, so will every re-reading of a book.

Dylan close up

Dylan close up

 

Dylan concludes, “A book without a reader is like a chess game not played. You want to play?” And when you aren’t playing, you can store your chessmen in Dylan’s handsome carrying case, likewise with a magnetic base.

Dylan Box Set

Dylan Box Set

 

Alyson Kuhn had the pleasure of writing about the work of Arián Dylan and Doug Beube for the introduction to Art Made From Books, published by Chronicle Books in 2013. The other artists featured in this post are all new to her, and she is delighted to be aware of them.

The Art of the Book catalog includes all 39 works in the exhibition. To order, email art@seagergray.com and Donna Seager or Suzanne Gray will get right back to you.

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