Book arts in Southern California
Chapters: Book Arts in Southern California, the first large-scale museum survey of the importance of Southern California artists on the development of book arts, is currently on display at The Craft & Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) in Los Angeles. The exhibit is organized around four contextual themes: conceptual art; feminism; process and technology; and community and collaboration, and features over 100 artists’ books (unique and mass editions), altered and sculptural books, zines, and artist-driven publications made in Southern California between the 1960s and present day. The exhibition is on view through May 7, 2017.
The idea of using books as an expression of visual art developed in the early twentieth century among avant-garde, anti-authoritarian movements such as futurism, dadaism, and surrealism. In the U.S., book arts gained a foothold after World War II among the mail art and non-conformist Fluxus movements who championed art access for the greater public. Southern California established itself as a critical hub for book arts in the 1960s, where some of the region’s key conceptual artists, including Wallace Berman, Ed Ruscha, and Barbara T. Smith, were early adopters and innovators of the form. “Book art has been an significant practice for a number of well-known artists in Southern California and we wanted to explore this theme for a number of years,” said curator Holly Jerger. “Focusing on the artist publications produced here in Southern California was an exciting opportunity for us to explore these established local artists, while also mining the rich production of artists and communities who have not been discussed in the larger narrative of this field and the arts establishment.”
During the second wave of feminism from the 1960s to the 1980s, book arts offered woman-identified artists a form over which they could convey political messages and have complete control over production and distribution. Suzanne Lacy’s Rape Is (1976) was sold as a sealed publication with the word “rape” printed in capital letters on a red sticker. To open the book, the reader tears the sticker—an action Lacy intended to echo the violence of the act of rape. The Woman’s Building was an influential art and education center in L.A. from 1973 to 1991 and produced many artists’ books through their Feminist Studio Workshop and the Women’s Graphic Center. Notable artists from these spaces include Susan E. King, Cynthia Marsh, and Bonnie Thompson Norman, who shaped present-day book arts and printing programs in the Los Angeles area at the Armory Center for the Arts and the Otis College of Art and Design, as well as at other institutions nationally
Chapters presents a diverse range of techniques and approaches to the art form. Kitty Maryatt, former director of the Scripps College Press in Claremont, demonstrates unorthodox bookbinding technique in Duchampian Gap (2002) by inverting the spine of a large book so its pages fan out upwards. In doing so, the book has no functional value and is presented as a sculptural artwork. The Los Angeles Contemporary Archive (LACA) functions as a publisher of artists’ projects and offers residencies during which artists are invited to use their in-house risograph machine, a type of photocopier that produces an effect similar to color silk screening.
Activists and artists have used book arts and self-publishing to build their community networks and advance political messages for relatively little expense. Artists like Elliot Pinkney, Joey Terrill, and Raymond Pettibon gave voice to their marginalized communities starting in the late 1970s. All three artists used low-cost, commercial printing processes to generate works that document the concerns of the African American, queer Chicano, and youth communities, respectively. The painter Laura Owens runs an informal “artists’ book project,” inviting friends to make books using her studio and staff.
For more information, please visit www.cafm.org.