Making Memory: Stories of Nonfiction

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the University of Arizona’s Special Collections scouting the stacks for artists’ books to include in an upcoming exhibition that I’m helping to curate, The Secret Lives of Artists’ Books: Stories of Nonfiction.

The Reading Room at Special Collections at the University of Arizona

With the help of designer/artist/teacher (and our faculty advisor) Karen Zimmermann, a loose criteria was determined with which to choose books (because there are so many, and I would have wanted all of them). We decided that the books should be nonfiction narratives that tell us about life in some way. I also have a particular fondness for accounts of memory, so wherever possible, that topic was favored.

Anyway, the collection is pretty expansive, and I wanted to share some of the books here, because it’s often hard to find images of artists’ books online. Also they are awesome; I love them and want to own them. (NB. In addition to Karen, I had the expert help of book artist Philip Zimmermann to help choose the books.)

Scott McCarney, Memory Loss (detail of cover), 1988

One side of the open view of Memory Loss

Detail of the interior from McCarney's Memory Loss

I don’t know much about this book artist, Meg Webster, but I enjoyed her boxed compilation of items, titled Matter. Inside the box is a bag of crushed clover, a mirror, six marbles, two pearls, and a plate of copper.

Meg Webster's Matter

Inside the box

There's really no reason for this...except that I thought it was pretty

Artist, bookmaker and gallery owner Susan Baker is a witty and talented thinker who is the recipient of many grants and fellowships, like at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. This is an interesting, hilarious book with stories of an adult life.

Susan Baker's How to Humiliate a Peeping Tom

Susan Baker's How to Humiliate a Peeping Tom

A book within a book

Humor. I like humor.

Henrik Drescher is an excellent contemporary illustrator and author (Hubert the Pudge, Turbulence, McFig and McFly…36 books in 23 years) whose work, I think, transcends genres and audiences. Aesthetically and conceptually, the ideas and style communicated within his work appeals to both children and adults because he doesn’t sacrifice his vision. Anyway, here is an artist book he made printed in an edition of 100.

Henrik Drescher, Comeundone, 1989. The book comes in a metal case.

An interview with Drescher can be heard here.

The cover of the book. The book comes in a metal case.

The book explores some sins.

Places (like Shanghai) attached to other places on the skull.

The following book was created by artist Sandra Turley at the Women’s Studio Workshop in Rosendale, NY in 2001. Processes used to make the book include devore printing (burning away of natural fibres) and letterpress. The fold is accordion and the craftsmanship is beautiful.

Sandra Turley, This Original Self, 2001.

Detail of the cover, which looks like stained cloth. Delicate.

Accordion fold.

The imagery is incomplete; sentences never begin or end..

One of the first book artists whose work I fell in love with is Julie Chen, founder of Flying Fish Press. Chen currently teaches at Mills College’s groundbreaking MFA program in Book Art and Creative Writing. Chen’s craft is impeccable and the content of her work is poignant, authentic and simple. Perfection, really. This book, True to Life, is about the power of memory on everyday life, and was created in an edition of 100 copies. The structure is a tablet, with a built-in lifting floor, with tabs that are moved and with them, the text/images changes. Very clever, very clean.

Julie Chen, True to Life, 2004.

The book is protected by a clam-shell box.

The book is protected by a clam-shell box.

Detail of the tablet, showing the first lines of text.

The fifth section of text. The pages were printed using a combination of pressure printing, letterpress and photopolymer plates.

Atlanta-based book artist Ruth Laxson makes beautiful experiments with form. Communication is a major theme in Laxson’s work, and she uses the surrealist technique of automatic writing to compose much of her text. The following book, (Ho+Go)2=It, was created in an edition of 500 copies (still available!) at the now defunct Nexus Press in Atlanta, using an offset press and Mohawk Superfine paper.

Ruth Laxson, (Ho+Go)2=It, 2004.

Ruth Laxson, (Ho+Go)2=It, 2004.

“I hope to test the language for meaning and merge text and image in the spirit as the surrealists. But I want to take it a step farther to text as image.” - Laxson.

Another spread.

Another spread.

So, this should be a good start. There are more books in the show and I’ll be photographing next week. In the meantime, enjoy the books!

Here are a few online resources for artists’ books:
- Buy artists’ books (many of the ones shown here) at Vamp & Tramp Press

- See a huge collection of books at the Joan Flasch Artists’ Book Collection

- A huge archive of artists’ books can be viewed (with background information) at Artists’ Books Online

- Here is the Book Arts Web which also publishes the online book arts journal, Bonefolder

- For techniques, tools and terms, see the curiously named Evilrooster Bookweb