Sponsored by SCAD.
As an educator, books play an integral part in my life. My mother wrote a cornerstone textbook popular in American school systems, and I have continued to write frequently at SCAD. But artists' books are something else entirely: they push our understanding of what a book can be, challenge us through visual choreography, language and sensory experience, and offer new ways to view collecting. More than this, artists' books remind us that it’s never too late to fall in love with books all over again.
Trust the Process (Book)
Since the early 1960s, Los Angeles-based conceptual artist Ed Ruscha has tested our expectations of how books should communicate. His oeuvre? A series of works that depict the most banal urban and suburban landscapes, then invite us to share the experience: look, explore, differentiate, see. One of my favorites is Twentysix Gasoline Stations, which documents every available fuel stop from L.A. to Vegas and back again. Today, the book is as much a chronicle of midcentury service architecture as it is a journey into similar things. We have several Ruscha books in our collection, but Twentysix Gasoline Stations always starts my visual and conceptual journeys. So, drive—in Ed’s world you’ll pass Every Building on the Sunset Strip along the way!
Connect the Dots
I love unanticipated connections, and Diane Jacobs’s Amazons offers just such an opportunity. Inspired by Adrienne Mayor’s The Amazons: Lives & Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World, Jacobs’s intimate, round letterpress reliefs of these warrior queens connect me with a series of tondos1 installed at SCAD’s Arnold Hall and hand-carved by alumnus Michael Porten. These large, gilded relief portraits celebrate our Savannah Women of Vision for their unwavering strength and resilience. Women warriors, indeed!
Since I was a child, I’ve found pop-up books mesmerizing. Three-dimensional worlds emerge magically from two-dimensional pages. This combination of planning, precision, and execution calls to mind the exceptional student work across the full scope of our SCAD degree programs: from animation to visual effects, sequential art to graphic design, from architecture to interior design. Gary Greenberg captures this wry spirit seemingly spontaneously—in The Pop-Up Book of Phobias. Renowned industrial designer Marc Newson, famous for his streamlined Lockheed Lounge, does the same in pop on pop off. Pop goes … preconception.
You may not know how familiar you are with the art movement Fluxus, so let me share some names: George Maciunas, Shigeko Kubota, Nam Jun Paik…Yoko Ono. Fluxus was the art movement that pretended not to be, forever striving against creative classification. Their genius? Taking the everyday and turning it on its head. At SCAD, our days are brightened with Yoko Ono’s Smile, a carved acrylic “book” that encourages us to be joyful. My favorite work by George Maciunas in the SCAD collection is a little more mischievous—his Same Card Flux Deck consists entirely of a single playing card—52 times. So much for aces high.
Women’s words spring to life in works packed with 1980s, up-front graphics. You may have seen Jenny Holzer’s imperatives—PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT—flashing larger-than-life across billboards in Times Square, but at the ACA Library of SCAD Atlanta she’ll greet you on a much more intimate scale. Her Laments, as well as Truisms and Essays, are simply enthralling. Barbara Kruger, Holzer’s contemporary, is just as captivating. Her photo-meets-Futura multimedia statements challenge and inspire simultaneously.
A SCAD Bee, that is! I love bee-themed works, and we have several in our artists’ books collection. Of course, that may mean the letter. Jessica Spring’s Honey b hive invites us to explore the letter “B” in all its fantastical glory. More familiar, and as enticing, Paul Oratofsky’s The Bee waxes—literally—as it is made partly from this magical material. So, mind your beeswax!
Miniatures are miracles of persistence, passion, and perfection—tiny technologies and tiny tomes are both wonders of our universe. Sure, you may know David Hockney from immersive works like A Bigger Splash and The Arrival of Spring in 2011, but you'll need a magnifying glass for his Six Fairy Tales to see the sublime in its smallest form. My favorite miniature in the collection is Amor, by Maria Pisano—it is a tunnel book, which means it expands so you feel as if you could fall inside. Mini masterpieces. Oversized impact.
More often than not, when someone says book you imagine saddle-stitched pages or perfect-bound edges. Artist Julie Chen sees something else entirely—somewhat easier than folding a fitted sheet, and vastly more rewarding. Her book Chrysalis transforms from a clamshell-shaped namesake to a winged carrier then back again, all the while unfolding with our shared story of grief: “there is a secret geometry/a set of invisible lines/that defines emotions/for which there are no words…”. She’s the exemplar of her craft, and every work of hers in our collection—including The Veil, Family Tree, Full Circle, and more—has a life unto itself.
As an educator, I can’t tell you the number of times I saw flipbook animation drawn along the inside edges of a textbook. Raise your hand if you’ve drawn one—and don’t worry, the only office you’ll have to visit is the SCAD Rare Books librarian’s. Some of my favorite flipbooks in the SCAD collection include Louis Vuitton creative director Virgil Abloh’s A Team with No Sport, which chronicles his original brand’s 2013 collection, Gilbert and George’s Oh, the Grand Old Duke of York, and SCAD alum Mi Na Choi’s Freezy Breezy Fan. So, drop in and flip out over one of our earliest forms of animation, the flipbook. (And keep drawing them in textbooks, too!)
That’s Not A Book
One of art’s greatest gifts is the ability to illuminate new ways to think—and experience. Sure, SCAD alum Macey Ley’s Circumstantial Gravity may not fit the usual definition of a book—made of acrylic; pictorial; freestanding—but think of the work as an illustration come to life. The only difference between Ley’s pages and a more traditional book is that hers fans out into an optical illusion. No after-hours book return slot for this!
Bonus: Robert Sabuda
If you want to bring home some cellulose magic, few authors better befit a new collection than the incredible Robert Sabuda. He’s a master of motion—he made a working, limited-edition version of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing machine, the Drawmaton—but you’re most likely to be familiar with his family-friendly pop-up fantasies from books like Winter’s Tale, The White House, and the Little Mermaid. Start your artists’ books collection with these movable masterpieces. ca
1 The Renaissance art-historical term for a round painting or relief, derived from the Italian word “rotondo,” or “round.”