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Book Art: The Potential Of Pages

The hinged binding of a book is essential in holding together the information printed on its paper. The construction of any book is fairly uniform, a common sight. Between two covers, soft or hard, there are sheets of paper held together by a binding, sewn or glued. When approaching a book, we are most concerned by what is printed on the pages. Some consideration is given to the cover art, but as the saying goes, we aren’t supposed to judge it too harshly. All in all, we know what to expect from a book. Perhaps this familiarity is what makes altered book art so striking. Book sculptures uplift the commonplace commodity to a fine art and respected craft.

The structure of a book is obvious just from holding one in your hands, and this is where the art of a book begins. With books that are published on a massive scale, with thousands of copies being made it is difficult to deviate from the most basic construction. It is rare to find a book that doesn’t have a standard glued binding and black printed text. On a more intimate scale however, the customization and composition of a book is receiving more attention. Though bookmaking is an established craft with different methods and structures, they aren’t seen as often. Instruction on procedures such as page folding, binding sewing and paper dying are all easily accessible online. A resurgence of interest in bookmaking has many people crafting their own books following established techniques.

Some artists have taken bookmaking a step further by manipulating books into paper sculptures. These forms can be surprisingly diverse considering the material being used. It can be difficult to achieve an abstract piece of work because of our familiarity with books. Jacqueline Rush Lee’s Lorem Ipsum II is a prime example of an abstract book sculpture (as seen in photo 1). On her site we learn that this piece is a hand-stitched, ink-splashed book assemblage that specifically utilizes bent pages and sturdy bindings to forge a fascinating form. Though we can recognize the parts as originally being from a book, their roles have changed dramatically. To make a book sculpture means to reimagine the function of a book’s cover, binding and pages, but retain the original purpose.

These sculptures can take into account the content of the books being used, but it can also be the main focus. Altered books make use of the book’s content more specifically, and as their name suggests, alter it. Fine artists and craft amateurs alike stamp, cut, paint and draw on the pages of found or bought books. This process can completely erase the original subject on the pages, or intensify it (as seen in photo 2). Some may see this process as obscene or disrespectful of books and authors, but to others it is a way to celebrate and revere them. Whether repurposing books or making them by hand, people are not only thinking of what goes between front front and back covers, but whether or not they are needed at all.

Photo 1: courtesy of Jacqueline Rush Lee

Photo 2: courtesy of Sophia Michahelles