artist book: a work of art realized in the form of a book
The definition may sound simple, but the world of artist books can be a bewildering place. From the familiar pairing of images and text, to sculptures created out of paper and complicated bindings that create a performance each time the book is opened, nearly anything can be called an artist book if there is intention and consideration. This series showcases artists from different realms of the art world exploring the structure and meaning of the book.
Based in Tacoma, Washington, Chandler O'Leary is an illustrator/letterer/entrepreneur who has been running her own shop, Anagram Press, since 2004. Sketchbook fanatics may know her work from her blog Drawn the Road Again. Letterpress lovers may know her from her collaborative letterpress project with Jessica Spring of Springtide Press, Dead Feminists
I was introduced to O'Leary's work through my friend/housemate/creative-soulmate Rachel Prouty. This is the piece that captured us:
Inside this unassuming, beautifully crafted cube is a stunning work of art. O'Leary has created an interactive method for experiencing the majesty of Mount Rainier; featuring a viewing window that slots in to the top of a set of drawers which hold 120 (yes, 120!) hand-cut, letterpress printed, and hand-colored flats which the viewer can use to create different views of Mount Rainier.
But wait! There's more! The Japanese-style wrapper that encloses the drawers has directions for the operation of the "book" elegantly set in a topographic map-styled border, as well as the ever important colophon. Also included is a Japanese-stab bound soft cover "Locator Key" that holds the data for the different views O'Leary documented to create this work, and the flats needed to create that subsequent view. Of course, you can also create your own views with any combination you choose.
Stanford University Art Library put together a video illustrating how the book works:
For a meteorology and geography/geology nerd, the "Locator Key" is the most exciting part for me. If I ever have the chance to see this book in person, I can imagine myself trying to feel the chill in the air of a particularly cloudy day, or the smell of the sun-warmed wheat about to be harvested as Mount Rainier overseas the environs. The attempt to document many moods of a mountain is not a new endeavor in the art world; O'Leary references Katsushika Hokusai's Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji and One Hundred Views of Mt. Fuji, and I am reminded of Paul Cézanne's many versions of Mount Sainte-Victorie. O'Leary talks about the seemingly eternal existence of mountains and landscape, and man's mortality in the face of that; the many views of life that the mountain must have seen from its viewpoint versus the slow evolution and eosin of a mountain that man sees. The day-to-day changes in weather, quality of light, and point-of-view mean that, as O'Leary says, "...we never see the same Mountain twice." Who knows what it will look like 100 years from now or what it looked like 1000 years ago, but O'Leary has captured part of the present moment of Mount Rainier in a beautifully reverent form.
One last note, Chandler O'Leary produced this book as an edition of 26. Yes, that's 3120 successfully hand-cut, hand-printed, hand-colored flats. Here's an update blog post of O'Leary's from August, 2013 (with coffee mug for scale). A reminder that no artistic undertaking is really too big. Now, go make something.
Margret Hall is a book artist and photographer living and working in Asheville, NC. Before moving to Asheville to train in book restoration (and live life in the mountains), she taught book arts at The Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University, where she also received her BFA in Photography with a minor in Art History and Book Arts.