Book art lends itself to thoughtful subjects: landscapes, inner journeys, nature. But thanks to its flexibility of form and haiku-size, it can also be a powerful vehicle for social commentary, as the recent Collins Library traveling exhibition “Al-Mutannabi Street” showed. Book-sculpted social commentary is back at the Collins this and next month – along with many other subjects – as part of the fourth annual Puget Sound Book Artists members’ exhibition, which ranges along 57 artist books made by 39 local artists in a delightful array of techniques, structures and ideas.
Two of the main contributors to the social commentary are award-winners Mari Gower and Laura Russell. Russell’s “Anything Helps” is a tiny triptych of homeless person’s signs, bound cleverly in a vintage wallet. Look closer, though, and you’ll notice the handcrafted detail: designer layout, beautiful script, a shining central watercolor of a Cinderella-tinged image of pumpkins and sparkling wishes and a rather unusual beg: “Pretty please?” The backstory is where the punch hides: Russell’s signs come from a graphic designer who sat homeless under a Seattle bridge, begging eloquently for winter coats. The reduction to miniature of a real image we’ve passed so often gives a fairytale inevitability and distance to this social issue.
Curator’s Award winner Mari Gower puts her impressive drawing talents to the GMO issue with “Alchemist’s Lunchbox.” Inside a black bento box she’s put a test tube and three beautifully-constructed booklets, each bearing medieval-style illustrations of gilt-edged symbols and words. The mystical elements being experimented on? Tomatoes, soybeans, corn. Gower also turns inward with her accordion book expanding a richly-drawn “forest of fears,” with tendrilling roots and tangling branches.
Holly Senn comments in layers about ephemerality and hoarding of truth and words with “Marsh Wren,” an evocative bird’s nest of shredded type. But is a sculpture made from torn-up books still a book? As book art continues to expand its imagination, the boundaries blur slightly. Other artists explore form like an uncharted landscape: there are books as hat-fringes, maps, beehives and (from Chandler O’Leary, in a clever stroke) an alphabet sampler of embroidered letters on monoprinted calico circles. There are books bound with floating ribbon, wire, felted rocks. Mark Hoppman, for his exquisite Escher-like, crow-inspired drawings, has made a case out of old wood, thick and gnarly and delicately carved, bound with rope and fence staples. The effect is perfect – crows coming in to roost.
Not all the works in the PSBA show are as finely detailed or technically impressive, but it’s a show that’s well worth spending time with.
Open 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday and Thursday; 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday through July 31. Free. Collins Memorial Library, University of Puget Sound, 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma. 253-879-3669, pugetsound.edu