Saturday, May 1, 2010

~...on the trail of the Wandering Book Artists

Peter and Donna Thomas, Ukulele Book Series: Book #9 The Letterpress Ukulele, 2002. 18 x 6 x 3. Letterpress printing on shaped cotton paper. 24 one-of-a-kind books, each with a real ukulele as a structural element of the binding.
Photo: Peter Thomas

When does a book become art?
When does a sculptur
e become an artist book?
Is that an artist book or is it just "bookish"?
For that matter, what is an artist book?
Some consider that an artwork that sequences a series of images/text or that embody references to the formal structure of a book can be described officially as:
artist books.
Or book objects.
Or sculptural books.

Artist books deal with time and space in a tactile manner through movement and momentum, progression and an unfolding in a unique way. They invite and may even require the viewer's participation. However one defines it, the book as art is being explored by contemporary artists around the globe. (Download my teaching handout for artist books here. Just scroll down 'til you find it on the articles page.)

This past week has been quite adventurous here as Californian book artists Peter and Donna Thomas drove Paloma, their beautifully self-built gypsy wagon, into Tucson and right into our driveway, barely fitting behind the gate. Peter and Donna are on a year long adventure to "travel around the country to sell our books, teach book arts workshops, talk about books and see the beauty in the USA." They have already been on the road for a month. You can read all about it and follow them as they journey on their blog Adventure of the Wandering Book Artists.
It was just great to host the two of them and share time together again...I first met Peter in '96 in Copenhagen at an exciting IAPMA conference and then, in 1997, after a Friends of Dard Hunter conference in Sonoma, spent a week with eight other artists in the Thomas' beach side home in Santa Cruz collaborating on an editioned artist book.

On Tuesday, Peter and Donna pulled their colorful gypsy wagon right up in front of the University of Arizona Museum of Art, under a huge, old juniper for a bit of shade. And, like vendors of old, they showed their editioned and one of a kind artist books from the back of their caravan. Their artist book performance/ukulele concert was a lively and fun introduction to an interesting panel discussion about artist books (given by panelists Heather Green, Nancy Solomon, and Phil Zimmerman ) in conjunction with the exhibition Sculptural Books: Memory and Desire. (The show will be up through June 13th...!)
Joined by ten artist participants the next day, Peter taught a workshop in Rob's and my studio entitled "Scrolling Books from tiny to LARGE!", demonstrating a contemporary binding that he and Donna developed from historical examples.

Great fun! We got to select bits of maps from an old atlas to cover the first miniature binding. Everyone seemed to find countries and places that held a personal meaning and evoked creative ideas for content. Since the participants were experienced bookbinders, free rein was given for the second book...and some wonderfully exciting results ensued.

About learning a craft or technique, Peter advised us, "The more you make something, the more your hands know how to do it, and the more your mind can focus on the creative content."

While the workshop participants were creating their second book, Donna and I started a collaborative edition of 50 encaustic prints entitled Sky Prevailing. Our ideas melded together quickly, using inspiration from the Tucson sky and horizon combined with the motif of Paloma, carved into their gypsy wagon. My recent re-interest in Japanese woodblock printing inspired a molten technique for creating a smooth gradation (Jap: bokashi) for the sky. A first stencil of the flying bird was used during the first printing, and a second of the Catalina Mountains that we can see from our little yard added the finishing touch. The Thomases are printing broadsides and editioned artworks when they can as they are traveling to create an eventual collection or book that documents their year as wandering book artists.

Peter and Donna, collaborating on life and art together for over 30 years, are adventurous and inspiring folk: in 2006, they walked the same route as John Muir from San Francisco to Yosemite in 30 days. It took them three years to build their exquisitely hand crafted gypsy wagon. They believe in fulfilling dreams! Donna and Peter offer us a vibrant example of what it means to live life fully, creatively and from the heart and spirit. We wish them a happy and safe adventure as they continue on, sharing with you their journey's motto:


1 comment:

Peter and Donna Thomas said...

OH WOW! So many nice words, thanks, Catherine! We are now enjoying the red and gold sandstone in Arches...