Looking through the Center for Book Arts’ list of artist members I found myself wondering how the individual artists’ locations might have shaped or influenced their work. The first name that stood out to me was Margo Klass–simply because she’s located in Fairbanks, Alaska. What kind of books would one make, surrounded by that harsh and beautiful scenery?
The wonderful kind, apparently. Her artist’s statement on the CBA site immediately caught my attention: her background in art history led her to study handmade books by way of medieval manuscripts, which is pretty much how I came to have an interest in the subject, and she combines aspects of both manuscript and architectural design into her work, taking inspiration from Northern Renaissance altarpieces as well as the manuscripts themselves. Klass has several series of works listed on her website: the Books of Intentions, about which she says
The Books of Intentions represent a celebration of one’s need to collect these notations. Each Book of Intentions is a gathering of ideas encoded in symbolic notation. They share a kind of journal format, a paginated book in which a vocabulary of visual language is used to list and notate. Each has a porcelain book cover and is sewn with an exposed Coptic binding across the spine. The embellished casements are a reference, both ironic and sincere, to prescribed storage of sacred texts.
The four books are separated by differences in the text papers, in each case a variety selected to complement the cover. Each book has its own stylistic language of notation, with compositions that respond to that style. Sometimes the intentions seem to be recorded like a grocery list, sometimes they seem akin to a mathematical formula, and still other times they are fleshed out into fully formed compositional ideas.
Her earlier work, frankly, appeals to me more than the Intentions, simply from an aesthetic standpoint: I find the colors and design of Clay Book III
and Bark Book III
and Longstitch Bindings I and II
delightful in their simplicity and elegance. (Also, I love little pebbles as decorative elements, and having them be “set” like jewels by tying them up in little parcels of string is wonderful.)
From a completely different perspective (and climate!) comes Jacqueline Rush Lee’s book sculpture. Lee, like Klass, takes found objects and repurposes them into art–but rather than making books out of non-books, she makes sculpture out of existing books. Her Anthologia, for example, is a flower made of books, the careful folds of the pages forming a pattern like quilling:
and her Petrified Book closes the circle between petrified forest, wood pulp, paper, and bound books:
I find Lee’s work to be more thought-provoking and fascinating than pleasing, but I think that’s the point. Taking books and doing things like this to them–firing them in kilns, dyeing the pages, rolling them up in giant booksushi sculptures–triggers my thou shalt not destroy books reaction–which I think Lee is well aware of, and is pushing the boundaries of what a book is by what it can be made into.