Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Second Lives of Books

After viewing the new Chronicle Books edition, Art Made From Books, by Laura Heyenga, it appears the literary landscape is being altered more than I could imagine. The work of twenty-seven international artists, including one anonymous artist who participates in guerilla book sculpture, are recognized in this anthology for their sculptural interpretations, transformations, and REcreations of the book. These engaging new works are about the book as object. Their medium is the raw materials of discarded, damaged, and abandoned books. Their message is the telling of new stories. 

In some cases, the books revert back to nature where their pulp originated, such as in the work of artist Guy Laramee, seen above, who carves volumes of books into beautiful zen gardens and remarkably accurate representations of steep topographical terrain. These carved literary landscapes reveal a new message about time and the erosion of our culture, yet they are inviting enough to step inside and explore if one only could. 

No anthology of altered books would be complete without the remarkable work of Brian Dettmer of Atlanta, Georgia. Dettmer, who contributed the preface to this book, cuts up books with the deft skill of a neurosurgeon. As he cuts away, he reveals new words, stories and images, and breaths a new life into each of his works. As one would imagine, Dettmer's intricate handwork requires some very sharp x-acto blades, and he claims he buys them by the thousands. He admits he often replaces his blades about every ten or twenty minutes, depending upon the thickness of the paper he is cutting at the time.  

Dettmer's collection of used x-acto blades. 
Source: Austin Kleon

In an informative introduction to Art Made From BooksAlyson Kuhn addresses the notion, impulse and debate surrounding altered and augmented books. To give us some historical context, she describes a popular pastime of embellishing books in 18th century England called extra-illustration. Publisher's often included blank pages in their bound editions so people could insert their own artwork, and customize it with prints or clippings from other sources. As Kuhn so aptly describes, "the original bound text was supplemented by the owner, who then possessed a uniquely curated edition—an interesting variation on vanity publishing." 
     This genteel hobby of embellishing lost favor in the 19th century, after critics justifiably accused the extra-illustrators of dismembering treasured books. In recent years, many of these historic augmented books have since become highly prized by librarians and book collectors. The Huntington Library in Pasadena currently has an exhibit of 40 extra-illustrated works in their collection dating from the late 1700s to the early 1900s. "Illuminated Palaces: Extra-Illustrated Books from The Huntington Library" is on view until October 28th.   

Argentinian artist Pablo Lehmann transforms books and text by cutting them, leaving it to the reader to interpret the lovely web of words he weaves which resembles a net of lace paper. 

British artist Jennifer Collier treats paper like cloth and stitches it with thread. She works with pages from books to create everyday household objects and clothing. 

In a completely different take, Jeremy May of Littlefly in the UK, creates literary jewels fashioned from the laminated pages of books and colored papers. His wearable jewelry of rings, bracelets, pendants and more, come nested inside the excavated space of the original book. Each unique object carries a serial number.

Lettering, paper and book artist Pamela Paulsrud turns books into stones. Touchstones she calls them—which carry the weight of time and storytelling—just as the wave-washed stones found on the beach. 

These artworks are just a cameo of the many engaging examples featured in Art Made From BooksThe twenty-seven artists featured in this anthology have each found new narratives in the raw materials of discarded and damaged books, and their altered, augmented and eviscerated works have become the beautiful ruins in a new literary landscape.


  1. Thank you for this post! I am a writer and artist working on a literary art exhibition at the moment. I still have chills from looking at these beautiful pieces!!

  2. Outstanding post. I want to thank you aswell for all these beautiful images.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.