Friday, August 28, 2009

Against Book Breaking

After posting about it yesterday, I thought today might be a good time to talk about where I first saw Grandville's Laurel, and the artistic conundrum it always reminds me of.

When I was 16, I caught my first glimpse into Grandville's world. I was given his Laurel as a gift. It was a plate from an antique edition of Les Fleurs Animees, and I've always cherished it. I still see it every day, too, framed and on my mantelpiece at home.

It was only later on, in botany school, when I discovered that the Laurel was part of a larger collection of images, that my real love for Grandville's caricatures was awakened. My discovery had a dark side, too, because I also realized that my plate had once been in a book that was now, obviously, in pieces.

Just as the botanist is prone to plucking flowers from their natural habitat and flattening them into albums, we as artists have the same opportunity to rend the beautiful works of others and use the gleanings to our own ends.

Castle in the Air offers classes on altered book techniques, but when I've taken the classes I've always been the oddball using a newly purchased blank book. I've never been able to bring myself to break or modify an existing book with another artist's text and pictures.

By the same token, Castle in the Air sells our "Vintage Ephemera Packs" stuffed with trimmings from yesteryear's books and magazines. I have to say that for the record, none of the elements in the ephemera packs we've sold have been broken from their original source by us at the store. The pieces are brought in by collectors or found already disassembled at sales and flea markets.

For many people, old books are talismanic objects with their own inherent power. The act of dissecting the book and using authentic vintage pieces is thought to put some of that power into a new piece of art. It's a potent process even if you don't believe in magic, because what's happening is a real transformation. A more or less "original" source is destroyed, and what comes from it is a new statement from a contemporary artist. I won't stand in the way of anyone who wants to break books to get at that power, but I can't bring myself to do it.

My hope for all artists who work in collage and reinterpretations of vintage publications is that they take time to consider the effects of their actions, and consciously decide what is best. An antique book is a treasure unto itself, and even though Castle in the Air could make more money selling individual plates cut from a vintage art book, we would much rather keep the book intact to sell as is, or better yet, to add to our store collection, where choice images can be reproduced using modern methods. I've scanned the Grandville images I'm sharing with you using a computer. The same computer can allow me to recreate an almost perfect replica of the artistic plate from my copy of Les Fleurs Animees, one that I can cut and paste to my heart's content -- and probably on better paper to boot. To me, none of Grandville's magic is lost in this process. In fact, you could say that the magic is enhanced, because the image is now incorporated into something new that might turn on a new person to Grandville's work, and the original remains for those who want to experience the power that it has in itself.

As artists we live in and through our imaginations. Can you imagine a world where the beautiful original works that inspired us in the first place have all been destroyed?


Diva Kreszl said...

I read your post and felt like you were intuitively channeling feelings from my own heart. You see I too have never been able to take a book apart for it's destroy something as sacred as a book is not an action I am capable of doing. I've always felt that old books are a gift, a piece of history, a momento of a time gone by. I pray that someday our own new books will become that for the next generation. In a world full of rapidly advancing technology a book that you can hold in your hand may one day become a rarity. I too use reproductions from pages and find them perfectly acceptable for my art. I just wanted to thank you for showing that books deserve our respect and to offer other ways to use the beauty contained within their pages!

Shelley Noble said...

I fully respect your feeling about the sacrosanct nature inherent to books. Nothing is more valuable. And I think your solution of making good copies to use is a good balance of use and honor.

But I confess I am a huge book destroyer! Now granted, I've never had the means or mind to enter the world of rare fine books as you have and I may very well feel the way you do if I had.

But I can't stand having an inspiring image kept locked inside a book! I must see it. I've done this with my two most precious possessions (which will seem like McDonalds to your French Laundry but...) Lee and Froud's Fairy book, the first thing I ever bought from money I made from making art. It's filled with images that I have devoured with every cell of me.

And the most precious, which is actually a rare book now, Dare Wright's Lona, a Fairy Tale. Lona is my ultimate visual inspiration that I've had & looked at since a child. The pre-digital photographic art images/illustrations Dare Wright crafted in it are the most beautiful things I've ever seen, still to this day.

Here's one image I had already on my HD as a taste. The other images are more fanciful and mystical depicting the quest of the tiny noble princess.

Lona on Raft

The book has been abused, as I'm no respecter of things, and because I had no desk to make art on as a child an would use the large book on my lap as such.

Castle in the Air said...

I just had to chuckle at this mention of having neither the means nor the mind to enter into the world of rare fine books. I could say that while I lack the means I also lack the sense of mind not to!! A tricky situation indeed. But this is often the case with collectors.

The Lee & Froud's Faeries is more precious than gold!

With all my best,

Castle in the Air said...

P.S. I'm sure I will be a bit manic until I find a copy of Lona to look through. It sounds wonderful beyond words.

Anonymous said...

As the statuary of ancient Athens and all Greece is gone, we are at that destroyed original works time already.

Ulla said...

Ah yes, the age old discussion continues... I, as you know continue to be of the 'rip and tear' contingent. However, I wouldn't dream of ripping and tearing my antique books - just the thrift shop bargains... There are so many of them out there filling our dumpsters, why not make ART of them instead?

rochambeau said...

Oh how I share in your Grandville love!