From fine craft letterpress works, to one-of-a-kind or limited-edition art objects, to political-based zines and comics, contemporary artists' books use almost any media. With almost 1,700 works, the artists’ books collection held in the Australian Library of Art, is one of the largest and most significant publicly available collections in the country.
The artist's book
Since its conception in the early 20th century, the artist’s book has gone through many metamorphoses, and even today artists' books remain difficult to define. Contemporary artists’ books range from fine craft letterpress works or one-of-a-kind or limited-edition art objects, to political-based zines and comics, using almost any media. With almost 1,700 works, State Library of Queensland’s artists’ books collection held in the Australian Library of Art, is one of the largest publicly available collections of artists' books in Australia and is recognised as one of the best and most significant in the country. This online exhibition covers some of the thematic areas within the field of contemporary artists’ books, from those that re-imagine the codex form and ancient scroll formats, to re-purposing existing books. It also demonstrates the variety of approaches artists take to convey their message in book form.
Vessels Vessels (2004) by Adele OutteridgeState Library of Queensland
Adele Outteridge started making artist’s books in 1989 using a variety of techniques and materials, from carefully hand-bound journals to books made from tea bags, bus tickets, old envelopes, metal and Perspex. She describes the experience of making books from transparent media such as Perspex, acetate or tracing paper: “the beauty…is that all the pages are visible and the whole book can be read at once, even when it is closed. The image or text appears to be suspended in space.”
Tennis Ball Tennis Ball (2001) by Linda NewbownState Library of Queensland
Tennis Ball (2001)
Linda Newbown states that this book was made as a response to the dichotomy between the book as an object and as a container of information: “A book is a difficult thing to define because half of it is object and half is an abstract concept. Is a book the sum of certain requisite characteristics? If a book has no pages is it still a book? If it cannot be opened is it still a book? These are the things I like to ask as I make my books. My artist’s books are a way of questioning bookishness".
Ham and lettuce sandwich (2000) by Helen SandersonState Library of Queensland
Ham and lettuce sandwich (2000)
Helen Sanderson’s work playfully draws on the connection between paper and books, using offcuts from a printer to create a shrink-wrapped ‘book’ in the form of a sandwich. It crosses boundaries in that it is impenetrable, never meant to be opened and consumed, and it is sculptural in form. It is a good example of an artist’s book that can literally be almost anything, confounding, surprising and amusing audiences.
A Roman alphabetState Library of Queensland
A Roman alphabet, 1993
Helen Malone was inspired to create this work by her interest in the history and roots of our language and culture, and the text that created them. Here, she recreates the familiar and sometimes monumental classical letters of the Ancient Roman alphabet which were often carved into stone, using a combination of hand-cutting and embossing. Malone linked each letter to a Latin word which was a derivative of a current English word and selected a concertina format to allow all letters to be viewed simultaneously, just like the text carved into ancient stone.
A-Z A-Z (1989) by Peter KingstonState Library of Queensland
The alternative title for this work is A – Z (of phobias). Peter Kingston suffered for a time from agoraphobia, or the fear of going outside. This was the inspiration for the book which features the letters of the alphabet, each one associated with a different phobia. A is for agoraphobia (fear of leaving one’s house), B is for bibliophobia (fear of books), C is for cherophobia (fear of being happy) and so on.
Tumbling blocks for Pris and Bruce Tumbling blocks for Pris and Bruce (1996) by Claire Van Vliet and Audrey HoldenState Library of Queensland
Tumbling blocks for Pris and Bruce (1996)
Produced in collaboration, the artists describe how the work came about: “… we had hundreds of folios of HMP 2.25 x 2.25 [inches] when we finished the quilt book Praise Basted In… Alphabet books are fun and the double spines allow the folios to tumble.” Bruce and Pris (Hubbard) collected quilts and miniature books, as well as the books produced by Janus Press, the publisher of this work.
Grub in the wood of time Grub in the wood of time (1989) by Mark O'Connor, John Tonkin, Sun Evrard, Frank Wiesner, and Serge AmburgerState Library of Queensland
Grub in the Wood (1989)
This book, the result of a collaborative effort, was made partly in Canberra and partly in Paris. It consists of five hoop pine wooden ‘pages’ with six text ‘pages’ interspersed between. The timber was retrieved from a fallen tree found in the bush at Mt Tamborine, which had been bored through by the hoop pine grub. All ‘pages’ are mounted onto two or three rings each, making a total of 19 wooden rings which are then held together by a dowel to make the binding.
This land is your land, this land is my land This land is your land, this land is my land (2004) by Judy BarrassState Library of Queensland
This land is your land, this land is my land (2004)
Judy Barrass was inspired to make this work following an artist residency she undertook in the historic gold mining town of Hill End in New South Wales. She was struck by how the separation of land into parcels for mining or farming resembled ‘patch work’ and set out to create a work that represented the land from which it came (using clay collected locally) and that, when opened, was able to follow the contours of the surface on which it rested, just as mining leases in the area where depicted on maps as ‘layer’ over the Hill End landscape.
The oldest book in the worldState Library of Queensland
The oldest book in the world (2004)
Kaye Stanton recalls her inspiration for this work: “It was while tramping in the Franz Josef Glacier region [New Zealand] and constantly looking for ideas for ‘bookworks’ I noticed a piece of schist and announced to my husband that I was going to make a book out of it. ‘Too large,’ he said. So, I found a smaller piece. Lying on the rocky valley floor I was struck by how like a book schist looked.”
Leaves of stone Leaves of stone (1991) by Sebastian Di MauroState Library of Queensland
Leaves of stone (1991)
In this work, Hindu symbols representing each of the five elements are engraved into sheets of slate – square (earth), crescent (water), triangle (fire), large circle (air) and small circle (ether). Sebastian Di Mauro’s use of stone was a conscious decision referring to transformation as part of the process towards immortality, and the idea that humans have venerated stone for millennia. The artist describes the connection between material and imagery: “[It] essentially reflects a polemic of life versus after-life. It brings into question the finality of the secular Western concept of death by comparing it to the Eastern philosophy of rebirth and reincarnation. At some point both ideologies merge.”
Pennant Pennant (1991) by Madonna StauntonState Library of Queensland
Madonna Staunton explains that her artist’s books often evolve as a response to material she finds and selects as covers. “This adds a sculptural element to the concept. In the instance of ‘Pennant’, the inner folds mimic the profile of the boards, playing with the theme of reverie in repose. ‘Pennant’ perhaps refers to a ‘dream ship’.”
THE BOOK AS AN IMPENETRABLE EXPERIENCE
Ex libris : soliloquy on life and death Ex libris : soliloquy on life and death (1998) by Alan OwenState Library of Queensland
Ex libris : soliloquy on life and death (1998)
Alan Owen claims that this work was produced in collaboration with the ‘bibliophilistic’ termite species Schedorhinotermes intermedium, stating: “Ex Libris is a work that documents the demise of a single book. It represents a valediction to a small Shakespearean anthology, selected and partially consumed by a colony of termites infesting the timbers in a Brisbane suburban home. The remnants of Hamlet’s famous soliloquoy on life and death are all that remain, hermetically sealed in resin behind the ubiquitous screen of information technology.”
THE EXPERIENCE OF TURNING A PAGE
Sensa and the Glat-to : an ordinary story Sensa and the Glat-to : an ordinary story (1996) by Liz Widdop and Joan PickardState Library of Queensland
Sensa and the Glat-to : an ordinary story (1996)
Pickard and Widdop were both members of the Papermakers of Victoria and for this work, Pickard wrote the text and made the papers while Widdop illustrated them and printed the work. The narrative follows the journey of a woman throughout her life, from birth to death. Widdop describes it in her artist’sstatement: “The heroic quest suffuses literature. We recognise it in mythologies, folk tales, fairy stories and modern fiction but usually overlook it in daily life. It is not the glamour of celebrity or the veneration of power, but the greatness of ordinariness imbued with the numinous [sic] that this narrative celebrates.”
Aunt Sallie's lament Aunt Sallie's lament (1993) by Margaret Kaufman and Claire Van VlietState Library of Queensland
Aunt Sallie's lament (1993)
Margaret Kaufman describes 'Aunt Sallie's lament' as “a poem that is the autobiography of a spinster quilter stitched with mutterings that accumulate as the cut pages are turned becoming a diamond quilt shape”. She reminisces about a love lost but not forgotten and the ‘mutterings’ appear at the edge of each page, remaining in view as the page is turned. The leaves of the book, designed by Claire Van Vliet, resemble the patterns of a quilt, using an accordion-fold format that can open out to 105 inches. The work seeks to elevate the status of a quilt from a decorative, if functional, object to a complex historical record
Croajingolong Croajingolong (2003) by Sandi RigbyState Library of Queensland
Sandi Rigby recalls being inspired to make this work after undertaking a bushwalk in April 2002: “Croajingolong is an area located on the north eastern coast of Victoria. Essentially an unmodified coastal wilderness, Croajingolong is part of UNESCO’s ‘Man and the Biosphere’ program, selected for its international conservation significance and typified by pristine beaches, rugged rocks, heath-covered headlands, sand dunes, textures in the sand, sea shells, seaweeds, grasses, tea trees, together with plant life and wildlife unique to the area.”
Journey Journey (1999) by George Matoulas and Peter LyssiotisState Library of Queensland
George Matoulas was born in Melbourne to immigrant parents, while Peter Lyssiotis migrated to Australia with his family. However, both artists have examined issues surrounding identity and the immigrant experience. This work looks at life’s journey, growing up in a ‘new’ land, retaining your culture but trying to ‘fit in’ with a new country with all its own cultures and customs.
Mehndi = Nature Mehndi = Nature (2004) by Catherine MoneyState Library of Queensland
Mehndi = Nature (2004)
Catherine Money was introduced to the world of artists’ books by a fellow art teacher in 2004. She liked that it was a form of self-expression that could incorporate almost any type of media and be created almost anywhere. The inspiration for this work came from a newspaper article featuring a photograph of a woman’s hands with henna ‘tattoos’ and describing how her culture forbade her to do any form of manual work while the henna remained. Money traced her own hands for this work, representing the gesture of sharing.
Dusky robin Dusky robin (2004) by Kylie StillmanState Library of Queensland
THE BOOK AS CANVAS: TRANSFORMING THE BOOK INTO ART
Dusky robin (2004)
Kylie Stillman frequently uses domestic materials and found objects such as books in her art practice. She describes using books as sculptural material which supports a three-dimensional drawing. This is then hand-carved using a scalpel, revealing a life-sized silhouette and contour of a bird. A metal plaque placed below the carving gives the name of the bird that is ‘missing’. Stillman explains that the absence of the bird prompts viewers to consider the function of the altered book: “…is it a memorial to a bird that once existed, a smuggling device for a precious species, a taxidermist’s tool or an object a child uses for keeping secret pets?”
Untitled Untitled (1990) by Luke RobertsState Library of Queensland
Luke Roberts began with a book titled ‘Journal of the century’ published in 1976. He then applied paint and nailed the book closed, adding wax seals and braiding. Roberts has rendered the book completely unreadable with his treatment, transforming ‘book’ into ‘object’.
Collateral atmospherics evidence Collateral atmospherics evidence (2017) by Peter CharukState Library of Queensland
Collateral atmospherics : evidence (2017)
In 2016, Peter Charuk was awarded a Siganto Foundation Artists’ Books Creative Fellowship at the State Library of Queensland. This object of this fellowship was to make use of the resources in the Australian Library of Art, the John Oxley Library and State Library Information collections to create a new artist’s book. Charuk selected historic photographs that eloquently evoke fear and fascination with the weather events that occur in our local ‘atmospheres’. He was also inspired by an historic weather diary from Afton Downs Station in central Queensland which described extreme weather events, rainfall, storms, floods, bushfires and sugar cane fires, cyclones and dust storms.
No diving No diving (2001) by Peter E. CharukState Library of Queensland
No diving (2001)
Peter Charuk was inspired to create this work by the words from a Leonard Cohen song, ‘Suzanne’ and his own connection to water and the ocean, being a keen surfer with an interest in underwater photography. He describes how he settled on the format: “I have an interest in children’s books, both historical and contemporary, and the way that they are engineered, such as pop-up books. This was a motivation for how the book was made so that it could be presented in a number of scenarios; you could turn the pages like a conventional book or you could display it as a piece of sculpture using the concertina effect to hold it up.”
Lessons in dictation Lessons in dictation (2007) by Noreen GrahameState Library of Queensland
Lessons in dictation (2007)
Noreen Grahame’s work references the dictation test that was part of the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, the official start of the White Australia Policy. Grahame recalled the story of Eugon Kisch, a Czech communist, who in 1934 was invited to speak at a meeting organised by The Movement Against War and Fascism in Australia. The government, who wanted to prevent him from entering, ordered he sit a dictation test in Scottish Gaelic, highlighting the absurdity of the test. At the time this work was published, there had again been calls to re-introduce a dictation test to prove eligibility for Australian citizenship, indicating, according to Grahame, “we have not learned this lesson of history”.
The book of oceans The book of oceans (2002) by Kurt SchranzerState Library of Queensland
The book of oceans (2002)
Kurt Schranzer created this work as part of a group exhibition titled The Great Library, displayed in Sydney in 2002, based around the concept of three-dimensional ‘book-objects’ and two-dimensional drawing or painting on panels. The book-objects were, according to Schranzer: “books…without pages, having (most definitely) something of the structure of a book…where the structure is the defining narrative/dimension, not the text or illustration which is traditionally contained within; pages which are hard-panelled not paper. Narratives are structural and visual rather than literary.”
Concrete poetry Concrete poetry (1996) by Bernadette CrockfordState Library of Queensland
Concrete poetry (1996)
Bernadette Crockford describes her excitement at discovering artists’ books as the perfect medium for conveying her poetry: “I found my forte. Finally I found a shell in which I could store my poetry… From the moment of discovering the artist’s book, I was determined to create a sculptural figure that resembled a book, which would have a surreal feel about it but still open and shut like an everyday book. After years of designing and making numerous amounts of artist books I came to the design of ‘Concrete Poetry’. Its triangular shape can still open out square like a normal book, but can also change its structure to resemble shapes.”
Art ClassState Library of Queensland
Art Class (1996)
Beryl Wood created this work after painting a scene representing an art class. She was interested in how people each see objects and situations from different perspectives. The work consists of paintings and laser printed text on calico stretched over board, housed within a wooden box, also painted.
The 199 The 199 (2009) by Caitlin SheedyState Library of Queensland
The 199 (2009)
Living in the inner Brisbane suburb of West End at the time, Caitlin Sheedy created this connected series of original watercolours to document the people and sights she encountered on her daily journeys to City Hall on the number 199 bus
Offerings Offerings (1997) by G.W. Bot and Yabber Yabber PublicationsState Library of Queensland
Info: G W Bot, in her artist’s statement, refers to the ephemeral nature of paper, comparing it to the fleeting nature of our own lives: “In Buddhist Daoist teaching these offerings take the form of woodcuts on paper which are then burnt as an offering or sacrifice. I love this metaphor for the potency, yet ephemerality of life which is signified in this gesture. In the West we cling on to each fragment, message of a life which has come and gone and contained for an instant on paper.”
God dog God dog (1991) by Ron McBurnieState Library of Queensland
God dog (1991)
This unusual book, concertina-folded and housed in a tin can with electrical wire, tells the story of ‘God’ who would like a dog of his own, a wish so great that he ends up creating a dog from found objects. Ron McBurnie tells the story: “On the first day God found a piece of wire… And on the seventh day he – took his dog for a wild run”.
Listening Symbol (2020) by State Library of Queensland and Symbol for audioState Library of Queensland
The present history [a project produced by The Contextual Villains] (2006)
This most unusual artist’s book exists only in the digital world. The visual component is described as a “74-page hard cover section sewn book, full colour throughout with black foil debossing on the cover and spine”. The audio component was described by its creators as “a grand attempt to create a book which is beautiful, sad and hopeful. It combines contemporary digital culture with the traditional craft aesthetic of book binding and finishing. It looks at our past with respect for our achievements and yet grief for some of the actions that led us here”.