A Summer of Book Arts

With major museum exhibitions and a two-month long Celebrate Book Arts event in Sebastopol, the art of the book features big this summer in Sonoma County.

Sonoma Valley Museum of Art opened two related exhibitions on June 4. Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, Original Etchings by David Hockney consists of 39 prints illustrating six tales from the collection of the famous brothers, and is presented in the front section of the museum.

I was surprised to learn that David Hockney has an extensive background in printmaking. There’s a lot more to his work than L.A. swimming pools and photographic collages. The exhibition is laid out like chapters in a book, with five or six prints, primarily etchings and aquatints, from each story, set in their own alcove. Printed booklets available in each section provide background information about the stories and Hockney’s process.

Created in the late 1960s, the prints show Hockney’s marvelous and subtle wit as he puts his own spin on the stories by combining contemporary imagery with traditional plots—Rumpelstiltskin’s straw is miraculously “woven” into a solid brick of gleaming “Gold”. His knowledge of the old masters is nestled into the compositions here and there with riffs from classic Madonna and Child poses to Uccello’s stout horse and rider, knotted tail and all.

Hockney’s story illustrations are accompanied by a second exhibition at the back of the museum, enhancing and further expanding the theme of books. Rebound; A Survey of Contemporary California Artists’ Books, curated by Simon Blattner, offers a fine sampling of handcrafted books. Featuring a variety of approaches to bookmaking styles, examples include accordion, loose-leaf broadsides, as well as more traditional bindings. Represented in the collection are works by such notables as Enrique Chagoya, William Wiley, and Squeak Carnwath, as well as excellent examples by rising stars, like Bettina Pauly’s intricately cut out and detailed carousel books.

At Sebastopol Center for the Arts, three exhibitions offer different yet unifying perspectives to the art of the book. On the entrance lobby wall, Art of the Picture Book; Behind the Covers highlights the development of illustrated children’s books from idea to finished product. Each of four artists/authors, Christine Walker, Teri Sloat, Stacey Schuett, and Gianna Marino, shows the evolution of ideas from initial concepts and sketches to mock ups and, finally to published books.

In Gallery II, From the Endpapers, Katherine Klein explores ideas and images about the passage of time in a specific place she knows well. With maps, drawings, paintings, and installations, Klein creates a portrait of a small valley in the Missouri Ozarks, where she often walked as a child. The map’s legend guides us to the details of the trees, stones, and ripples on the water. In addition, oil paintings on birch panels, inspired by the medieval “Book of Hours”, portray the changing of seasons in the landscape along with appropriate human occupations.

The Main Gallery features Bibliophoria II. This national juried exhibition includes over 50 handmade books chosen by artist and teacher, Sas Colby. In her selection process Colby stated, “I looked for well-crafted work that demonstrated a unity in its content and form, such as the metaphorical use of materials, or the non-traditional shape of a book.” When the concept of books gets into the hands of artists, anything can happen. On view here is a marvelous variety of traditional and untraditional materials, techniques, book forms, and binding methods, as well as deconstructed and altered books.

While there are many outstanding examples, some stand-outs for me were The Wild Book, by Bettina Pauly, an accordion-type book of four pages with cut outs allowing you to see from the first page to the last, with each layer of images creating another part of the story. In Come Undone, Lisa Naas splendidly integrates the content of the book with its construction and materials. The black corset-shaped book opens by undoing the ribbons to expose soft leather pages. Some have embroidered words which look like tattoos, while other pages reveal clandestine photos. Finally, I have to love a book that comes in a petri dish. Diane Stemper’s Darwin’s Darling Finch(s), with its clever illustrations on round pages, fits snugly in the glass dish.

In general books can be more fully appreciated when picked up and “read”, so it’s a real treat that touching (hand cleaning wipes provided) is allowed for most books in the exhibition.

Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, 551 Broadway, Sonoma, CA 95476, 707-939-7862, exhibitions run through August 28.
Sebastopol Center for the Arts, 6780 Depot St., Sebastopol, CA, 95472, 707-829-4797, exhibitions run through July 23.

The celebration of books continues with Bibliophoria: Celebrate Book Arts, a multi-venue series of events in Sebastopol. For more information go to bibliophoria.com.

Boy in Fish

The Boy Hidden in a Fish. By David Hockney

The Wild Book, by Bettina Pauly

Left photo by David Hockney, from www.svma.org.
Right photo by Satri Pencak.
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About Satri Pencak

Independent Curator, art writer
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