Book arts: artist's books

Walter Battiss, Gail Behrmann, Christine Dixie, Stephan Erasmus, Alice Goldin, Eugene HŲn, Mark Kannemeyer / Lorcan White, Judith Mason, Fiona Pole, Jonah Sack, Steven Sack, Ruth Sacks and others.

25 October Ė 15 November 2014


The artistís book has always occupied an invidious position in the pecking order of the arts, because of its interdisciplinary nature, straddling both art and literature. Although a legitimate art form with a long and interesting history, some people still question its autonomy as primary means of artistic expression. The origins of the artistís book as it is known today can convincingly be traced back to the illuminated manuscript in the Middle Ages. Since then it has evolved from a form of illumination, to illustration (especially in the 19th century); from illustration to experimentation (especially in the 20th century); and from experimentation to installation, as is evident from many contemporary book art exhibitions. Some theorists consider the artistís book as the form of modernist artistic expression, pointing out that every major movement in art and literature, and within all the many avant-garde, experimental movements and independent groups whose contributions have defined the shape of modernist artistic activity, has yielded phenomenal artistsí books. These include such artists as Pierre Bonnard, Henri Matisse, Joan Miro, Max Ernst, Pablo Picasso, and many more. They laid the foundation of the conceptual and thematic richness that is nowadays associated with artistsí books.

An artistís book (or often also referred to as livre díartiste) is defined as a book, or book-like object in which an artist has had a major input beyond illustration or authorship, where the final appearance of the book owes much to an artistís interference and/or participation, where the book is the manifestation of the artistís creativity, where the book is an original work of art in itself. The term livre díartiste, however, is often used to refer to large-sized format, elaborately produced and hand-coloured books, made from rare materials, with virtuoso printing and fine binding, targeting a sophisticated, elite market.

An exhibition of artistsí books at GALLERY AOP questions these notions and definitions of this unusual form of art: What is an original? Does it have to be unique or can the artist also edition the book so that it is essentially a /multiple? Who is the maker of an artistís book: the artist who has the idea, or those who produce the book? What kind of production means can be included in this definition? Is an artistís book restricted to the codex form (the bound shape, in other words)? What about scrolls? Tablets? Reeds?

The clutch of books at GALLERY AOP engages with these questions in an interesting way. Some of the artistsí books, for example those by Judith Mason and Alice Goldin, use unique illustrations to accompany written texts. Others, by such artists as Ruth Sacks, alter the words of a well-known text into visual, not only verbal, representations. Yet other books, like those by Gail Behrmann, Christine Dixie, Mark Kannemeyer / Lorcan White and Jonah Sack are primarily visual, with no verbal reference whatsoever. Walter Battiss made book sculptural objects from ordinary books. So does Stephan Erasmus, a contemporary book artist. Steven Sack, in turn, takes the notion of the artistís book to a new level with his bamboo diaries; the various segments of long pieces of reeds form the basis of a weekly or monthly diary entry consisting of written and painted elements, as well as of found objects. These reeds, horizontally displayed, or Ďinstalledí, form the chapters of an autobiography. Eugene HŲn contributes an interactive artistís book. Small wonder some critics refer to artistsí books as a form of ďintermediaĒ!

© Jack Ginsberg Centre for Book Arts (JGCBA). All rights reserved.