We keep hearing that books are dead, but evidence to the contrary abounds. It might be more apt to say that the definition of a book is changing: A book can be an electronic resource, or bound pages on a shelf, or an objet d’art, or merely an idea. However we decide to collate information, the concept of book-as-object is not going away – especially so long as practitioners of book art continue to be fascinated by the inherent possibilities of inked paper and fluttering pages.
Many book artists focus their artistic practice on papermaking or bookbinding, honing their skills on the craft of books’ creation. Although she possesses those technical skills, Chelsey Hyatt came to book art as a lover of the word. Hyatt, who studied textile design at SCAD, fell under paper’s sway while assembling her fine arts portfolio, for which she presented a collection of altered found books and wrote a children’s book that she screen-printed on fabric. She has always been drawn to books, she says, though she soon realized that few of her classmates were the kind of voracious reader that she was.
“I identified with writers, and liked their ideas to inspire a creative process,” rather than looking to painters or other visual artists, Hyatt says, citing a love of Southern Gothic and magical realist literature, particularly Flannery O’Connor and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. “I liked sequencing things; I liked being able to use words to explain my ideas.”
The work in Hyatt’s current show, Blank and Beautiful (at Stardust through Jan. 1), includes collaged text and illustration from old books, reassembled to conjure new meanings; multiply editioned books stitched together from parts and pieces of found volumes; and tiny tableaux of books and found objects, whose gnomic messages are amplified by juxtaposition, becoming more than the sum of their parts. On her flyer, Hyatt’s show is subtitled “a library of human dynamics, immutable,” but I think these works are very mutable, indeed; Hyatt has alchemized the components simply by gathering and combining them, and each viewer will have his or her own singular experience when observing them. At her blog, Short Stories (chelseyhyatt.blogspot.com), Hyatt shares her techniques, her process, and sometimes the explicit story behind a piece.
If Hyatt’s works are reminiscent of Joseph Cornell’s boxes, immanent with stories whispered among the gathered ephemera, Dawn Rosendahl’s approach is more explicitly sculptural. She approaches the book as a raw material from which to hew a form, like a block of wood or marble. Her carved monuments to book-as-object are on display at the Maitland Art Center through Jan. 5, 2014.
“The books tell new stories, history books are rewritten, and continents and countries in an atlas shift and become other worlds,” Rosendahl says in the statement accompanying Ex Libris: Altered Book Sculpture. Her sculptures undulate, ripple and ruffle, flaunting a masterful control over the material. If the stories Rosendahl’s work tells are less whimsical than Hyatt’s, her polished technique is clearly that of a professional – which she is, having been a scenic designer and a master mold-maker at Disney for many years.
Both of these shows are open now; Rosendahl’s work will be feted at an opening concurrent with the Maitland A&H’s lively new monthly Culture Pop! event. If either leaves you wanting to try your own hand at book art, the Orlando Public Library West Oaks branch sponsors a Holiday Crafting With Books workshop 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17; call 407-835-7323 to register. Or just stop by a thrift shop, rescue a few unhomed tomes, and see where your imagination takes you.
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