Painted Pages

PUBLISHED: 20:21 23 March 2014 | UPDATED: 20:21 23 March 2014




As the month-long Essex Book Festival launches on March 3, literary adventure is on the agenda in Essex this spring. Stephanie Wright investigates the antics of Essex art society, Artbookart

As schoolchildren dress up as their favourite book characters and writing workshops take place all over the county, the group known as Artbookart will be celebrating a love of literature by busily preparing for their second Artist’s Book Fair.

Born out of the collaborative efforts 
of six Southend artists, Artbookart was founded on a shared passion for an unusual medium. Karen Apps, Sally Chinea, Chris Ruston, Gwen Simpson, Lola Swain and Jane Woollatt were all living and working in the Southend area when they formed the group, bringing together their diverse skills and experiences in order to provide 
support, inspiration and networking opportunities for other book artists throughout the south east.

‘Artist’s books do not easily fit into the traditional categories of sculpture and painting,’ explains Chris, one of the Artbookart founders. ‘It can be hard for those who make them to find suitable exhibitions. We therefore decided to organise our first Artist’s Book Fair in November 2012 and a second in March this year, to provide opportunities for book artists to display, discuss and sell their work.’

Indeed, an artist’s book, or art book, can take many forms. From ancient illuminated manuscripts to modern limited edition prints, or dramatically altered existing books to hand-painted folded structures, these unconventional objects really push the boundaries of what can be considered to be a book.

‘An artist’s book isn’t an easy thing to pin down or clearly define,’ says Chris, whose own piece, Fire, is characterised by its rough edges, light materials and abstract subject matter.

‘Sally (a fellow founder) has a keen interest in needlework, so most of her book art is textile-based. One of her beautiful book bags takes the cover of an old copy of Black Beauty: when you open the book bag, it’s lined with black velvet. David Howe is interested in landscape, so he’ll use objects from the landscape and bring in the text. Karen Apps’ teddy bear is made from DW Winnicott’s The Child and the Family, which talks about comfort blankets and toys as transitional objects; stitched into the form of the teddy bear, Winnicott’s words have become the transitional object he talks about.’

Chris continues: ‘I’ve always loved reading books and working in sketchbooks, but book art wasn’t as prominent when I was studying for my degree years ago. As the medium became more popular, it was the impetus for re-orientating my work and making 
the books themselves a piece of art. 
For many of us, book art has evolved out of our love of books and of working in sketchbooks.’

It seems that these loves are shared by many. This year, several Artbookart members are participating in a collaborative artists’ book project, involving more than 200 artists from across the world. An Inventory of Al-Mutanabbi Street began in 2010, 
in response to the bombing of an ancient street in Baghdad known as the street of booksellers. Each artist has produced three books apiece in memory of the 50 lives lost that day and collaboratively formed three separate collections of artist’s books. One is currently touring the USA and another tours Europe and Australia.

‘There are so many of us working in this way now,’ says Chris, ‘both in the Southend area and worldwide. The Artist’s Book Fair will be a great opportunity to meet up with artists from Essex, London and Suffolk. The last event was really busy – everybody kept asking for another one. This time, we’ve teamed up with the Essex Book Festival to raise the bar and do it even better.’

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