The artist’s book has faced many evolving definitions over time, but at its core is the question What is a book? Often sculptural, the artist’s book is a unique way of presenting information, and can take the form of a traditional case-bound (‘hardback’) book, an accordion book, a stab-bound book, or other non-traditional structures. Its history runs the gambit of self-publishing and artmaking, from the gorgeously illustrated books of William Blake, through the Dada and Surrealist art movements, to Ed Ruscha and his Twentysix Gasoline Stations, one of the first modern manifestations of the artist’s book.
What attracted me to the world of book arts was the fusion of printmaking and bookmaking; I was already drawn to the physical, textural aspect of mark making found in the print, as well as the inclusion of text that processes like screen printing and letterpress allowed. In my own work and in the work of Barry Ebner, a Berkeley-based artist whom I assist at The Studio of Nothing Else, creating art by hand is vital, as a way to directly interact with the work, to bring a sensuous tactility to the finished piece.
With Fog Frac/Tured Pangea, the latest book printed at the studio, we have striven to create a book with an emphasis on the artist; the book is printed in a variable edition of twenty and features Barry’s monotypes, a collision of chaotic marks on a delicate paper surface. To create the plates for printing, Barry uses tools such as a Dremel to gouge lines into the plastic; these lines are then inked with one colour, and the entire plate is rolled up with black ink. Barry works reductively through the image, incorporating numerous textures; the work begs to be touched. We printed one poem throughout each book, working with two local poets, Sharon Coleman, a Berkeley-based poet and teacher, and Indigo Moor, Poet Laureate of Sacramento, and I contributed a poem as well. The text interacts with the images, swirling in the same space, forming a different reading of the poetry. There is a tension between abstract image and cleanly printed type.
Barry works with traditional forms of book arts as a way to challenge viewers’ expectations upon the opening of a book, always asking What is a book? and What can be a book? In artist’s books, I look for these questions in their myriad configurations, in three-dimensional presentations of art, in the forms of the familiar and, just as often, the never-before-seen.
As well as being an artist and author in her own right, Liz works with Barry at The Studio of Nothing Else, the talented printers at the Painted Tongue Press, and with us here at Swan’s Fine Books.