Liber Mobile

Variation using four vertical
bands created by two prints.
Die-cut opening showing
underlying sheets.

Woodcut from The River

Three dimensional arrangement of
Fold-Out Book # 2

Three dimensional book
Out of the Sky

Sculptural construction with
Fold-Out Book # 1

Shell casing, scroll cover and rolled-up
Errantry scroll

Artist Books

One of two index pages of Alphabeticum:

A sampling of designs from Alphabeticum:

One of three flexagons that spell Abracadabra:

Pages of letters A and b:

Drawing detail from Errantry:

In creating my Book-Objects I deconstruct books, dismantle them and assemble whatever fragments remain into new composites. The opposite is true when I make Artist Books. Here I carefully plot, make thorough investigations and spend plenty of time mapping out concepts to build new volumes from scratch. Artist Books is a multi-faceted genre with many sub-categories being published for different reasons. One overriding principle, however, is a common denominator for most of these efforts. They are generally produced and brought to market by the artists who make them, with little or no interference by either dealers, critics or publishers.

The Artist Book has been utilized by many creative spirits as a cherished panoply, a private space if you will, where ideas can be freely developed. It is a gallery of sorts, with pages taking on the role of exhibition walls on which to communicate, put forth concerns and engage in a dialogue. These published gems can take on a variety of forms. They run the gamut from expertly printed limited editions to one-of-a-kind handmade objects, to three-dimensional constructions, political manifestos, walk-in environments, or whatever strikes one’s fancy. This unencumbered freedom has brought an impressive new vitality to book making, with interesting ideas challenging old traditions. The no-holds-barred attitude, however, has also had some questionable side effects, such as poor judgment, lack of craftsmanship and ill-conceived ideas. What may parade as an artist book often is without artistic merit and fails the label “book” as well. Not surprising, this tendency does exist in the arts in general: if you call it art it must be art. So it goes here: if you call it a book it must be book, no matter what.

But why is there so much attention paid to hand book making at this time? After all, the electronic media, via a website or a blog, offer many of the same advantages to present unencumbered ideas to a much larger audience than that of a few copies of printed matter. The answer might be that artists make books today precisely because of the electronic media. The staggering possibilities, the unimaginable vastness of the internet can be intimidating. So is the lack of tactile or physical presence. Unlike a book, electronically generated objects inhabit no obvious space. They appear mysteriously into our field of vision and similarly vanish quite as suddenly with the touch of a keyboard. It simply may be that a great number of creative minds are traditionalists, who are attracted to physical involvement with a real object. That is why artists still paint, sculpt, draw and make books. The creation of a handmade book involves a multitude of dimensions which are not answered by typing a code into a computer. The bookshelf of the virtual world does not offer the thrill of holding a finely crafted piece of work to closely examine it, feel it or smell it. Or even blow the dust off it. In some ways the proliferation of artist books can be attributed to a reaction to the passivity of the electronic dialogue. Paradoxically, at the same time the electronic environment forms the infrastructure for the digital chatter that offers those fabulous tools and enormous resources to the artist book maker.

Computers, printers, scanners, copiers, etc.,—the entire digital matrix—is suddenly at everyone’s disposal. Versatile software allows for high quality renditions. Given the proper know-how it is possible to produce skillful layouts, be a typographer and digitally print masterful editions on archival paper that challenge the standards of the old guard. With Google at our fingertips one can be an expert author, skillful researcher and fact checker of highly complex subject matter.

The making of an artist book is very much the same as developing any other artwork. Foremost there are the creative impulses, which are the core of all artistic undertakings. They emerge from a desire to communicate. It is an evolving process, at times laborious, at other times spontaneous. The need to express can be stimulated by outside events or simply as an internal dialogue of questioning. It is a testing of reality, of embracing fantasy, of measuring relationships, both visual as well as emotional. Investigating the obvious against the speculative becomes a way of delivering fragments from our innermost being. Like all other things in life, the creative process does not happen in a vacuum. Issues, concerns and questions which occupy our waking hours find their way into the labyrinth of our subconscious. They re-emerge, sometimes years later, surprising and without specific reason, as expressions in our artistic endeavors. The need to express something is followed by plotting out mechanisms to best translate an imagined idea into a suitable form.

The format we choose should enhance the original concept and, we hope, support what the imagination envisions. When technique and creative impulse work hand in hand we usually find a workable solution. For my artist books I rely to a large degree on traditional methods. These are all part of my vocabulary: letterpress printing, handset type, original print techniques such as wood cuts or linoleum blocks, etchings, archival papers and intricate bindings. This does not exclude new processes or whatever methods are suitable to enhance what I want to express. My books are typically produced in limited editions of 10 to 50 copies. Most of them have an experimental aspect as part of their structure. I invite the viewer to participate and share the creative dimension of a piece. Experiencing my books requires a hands-on attitude. Touching, folding and manipulating components are integral parts of “reading” the story.

W. P.

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