Art comes in an infinite range of shapes and sizes. From a two-minute scribble on the back of a napkin, to a magnificent piece of architecture that takes generations to complete. One particularly impressive form of art is sculpture, which can be broadly defined as anything that takes on three dimensions.
In many ways, books are already a beautiful form of sculpture. But some artists are inspired to take this beauty to the next level, creating stunning three-dimensional sculptures that – more often than not – leave you wondering whether gravity just doesn’t apply between pages. Here, we look at a few amazing book sculptures, and the artists and motivation behind them.
Guy Laramee is famous for his carved book landscapes. Something of a polymath, Guy has worked as a stage writer, director, composer, singer, sculptor, painter and writer. Among this plethora of creation, he is famous for two stunning series of carved book landscapes – Biblios and The Great Wall. Using dense old books – which he chooses for their beauty – Guy cuts and folds and excavates to reveal a new world of mountains and caves, savannas and gardens, and ancient structures.
He said the following about these works:
“So I carve landscapes out of books and I paint Romantic landscapes. Mountains of disused knowledge return to what they really are: mountains. They erode a bit more and they become hills. Then they flatten and become fields where apparently nothing is happening. Piles of obsolete encyclopedias return to that which does not need to say anything, that which simply IS. Fogs and clouds erase everything we know, everything we think we are.”
Su Blackwell is an artist who has gained the most fame for her incredible 3D book sculptures. As you can see above, her work is often quite delicate and whimsical. Su is also known for the artful lighting of her work, bringing the story of the sculpture even more to life.
Su’s creations are always informed by the book they’re made from: “The book always informs the sculpture. The sculpture is connected to, and made from the pages of the book. I carefully select the words I’m cutting out, so that you can read an added layer of meaning when viewing the sculpture.” [link] For example, her model ‘Through the Looking Glass’ is made from an actual copy of Lewis Carrol’s masterpiece, while her ‘Wild Flowers’ model is cut from A Field Guide to Wild Flowers in Britain.
Jodi Harvey-Brown is a book lover. And she wants everyone else to share in the joy she gets from the places and characters that hide between the covers of some of her favourite reads. She explains: “The books that we love to read should be made to come to life. Characters, that we care so much for, should come out of the pages to show us their stories. What we see in our imaginations as we read should be there for the world to see” [link].
Jodi found her way to book sculpting after the pull of a box of old books in a second-hand shop proved too much to resist. She began folding the pages of a book that was squashed at the bottom of the box, and hasn’t looked back. Her sculptures are incredibly complex – and she’ll often include hand-illustrated figures to bring these dramatic tales to life.
Something a little bit different to end our list of book sculpture. Cara Barer was first inspired to create these 3D works of art when she saw a Yellow Pages that – soaked by the rain – had curled and deformed into something beautiful. She carefully photographed its bent pages and quickly began making her own sculptures to photograph.
Cara brings the books themselves to life: “Pages crinkle, curl and twirl, spines do backbends, the pages of two different volumes touch like delicate tentacles reaching out in a mating dance. In each work, it is the flexibility of paper itself, stiff, soft, and strong, that we notice.” [link]. However, this doesn’t mean she ignores the content of the books themselves: the final sculptures will often connect thematically with the story they are made from.
Cara thinks of herself as an artist who uses photography. After making each book sculpture, she carefully sets up the shoot. Her images are large and almost always shot in front of a flat, black background. This engages the viewer, placing the book ‘out of context’. Looking at these photos, it can take a beat or two to recognised them as books in a metamorphized state.
It is striking that these four artists could use the same techniques and approaches to express such different ideas. Even the books they choose to use impact on the message and meaning their art evokes. When Cara uses the Yellow Pages, she is inspired by how these forgotten books’ pages are beautifully deformed by rain and neglect. But she is also calling the mind the purpose and materials behind these books: the thin paper, covered in peoples’ phone numbers and business listings. Every year, new books are printed and old books are discarded, even as the internet makes the whole concept obsolete. And yet in the neglect, something graceful and universally striking emerges.
Guy’s large tomes and encyclopedias, meanwhile, use similarly thin-paged books with essentially the opposite associations. His chosen books evoke timeless knowledge, passed down through posterity, updated when we learn new things but ultimately reliable and steadfast. He uses his carvings to return these books – and by extension, all of our collective knowledge – to the landscapes that surround us. Human knowledge ultimately returns to nature and oblivion, as we all know it must.
The novels and second hand books employed by Jody and Su, however, give the ephemeral impacts of fiction a more corporeal existence. This works because novels live outside their own covers. These books are hoarded, borrowed, given as gifts, resold and, most of all, discussed. The books come alive in our minds, and we share this with our friends and family members both by sharing the books and by talking about them together. Jody and Su are both inspired by the living aspects of novels, and this is reflected in not only their choice of books, but of their choice of sculptures. Both ensure the sculptures reflect important aspects of the books, ensuring the books come to life in the real world the way they do in our minds and in our lives.
At Print Express, we noticed each of the artists have their own motivations and materials, but they take the fundamental aspects of both books and sculptures and combine them to make engaging artwork that says so much more than a bunch of words on a page ever could.
If like us you enjoy seeing paper and prints come to life, visit Print Express website to see how we can make this happen for you.