As someone who, since early childhood, has written and – more importantly – read avidly, I have an innate aversion to any sort of desecration or destruction of books. I just can’t shake it, regardless of whether it’s a hand-bound first edition of Shakespeare or some obscure 19th century textbook on birds. So, it’s always with some trepidation, holding my breath, even, that I approach book sculpture.
There’s been a bit of a trend of it lately, and – reservations aside – it is refreshing to see how many different ways artists are thinking up to tear apart – sorry, to transform books into works of art. Su Blackwell, a self-confessed reader herself, uses a combination of cut-out work, light boxes, and subtle coloration to bring her creations to life, but not – in her words – before ‘read[ing] the book first, at least once or twice’. This obvious respect for the raw materials exhibits itself in the finished works, too, which unlike some other book sculpts actually has some relation to the original text.
A large majority of Blackwell’s work utilises fairy tales and other classic works, rather than the more frequent thrift store bargain bin residents, and looking at the works the viewer has a real sense of the text coming to life. Her use of light and shadow, often integrated into the piece via a paper moon or street lantern, adds another important element to the work, particularly her woodland scenes or more complex architecture, delineating between the layers of papers and preventing the scene from becoming too flat; not to mention creating mystery, warmth, and life. These scenes are further enhanced by pieces affixed by wire – birds, stray leaves, scraps of paper – which seem disconnected from the main sculpture and give a sense of a living microcosm frozen in time.
Of course, the truth about these book sculptures is that many of them are created from secondhand books which are still in print and not particularly rare even in the editions used, and there is no real reason for any book lover, no matter how fervid, to feel any pang of loss at their passing. Because they aren’t passing – they are transforming from one art form to another, shedding a useless appendage in order to grow a new and beautiful one; and in the case of Blackwell’s work, where such care is taken that the original text forms an integral part of the new artwork, we – and even I – can consider the sculptures a successful growth of that text’s legacy.
For more artists giving old books a new lease of life as art, check out this link: http://mentalfloss.com/article/53465/13-sculptures-made-out-books
Check out Blackwell’s portfolio.
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