Over the last 45 years, Center for Book Arts has been supporting book artists through providing space to learn and practice the book arts. This year it is my pleasure to introduce you to the work of 5 talented contemporary artists who are continuing this tradition. Shelly Bahl, Milcah Basel, Charlotte Becket, Alix Penticost Farren, and Bundith Phunsombatlert have spent the entirety of 2018 pondering the same questions I do every day—what is book art? what does it mean to be a book artist today? These are the questions that make the book arts so interesting to me and that make CBA such a dynamic place to work.
Over the last year these artists have enriched our community with their uniquely contemporary interpretations of the book arts. Shelly Bahl’s International Woman of Mystery II is an excellent example of this. Within this work, Bahl uses fictionalized historical narratives to bring new context to trans-cultural feminist ideas. Her work challenges assumptions of the past and makes visible how surreal these stories are when viewed from a different angle. Likewise, Bundith Phunsombatlert’s Sunny Garden in Blue: Stories from the Caribbean to Brooklyn also uses narrative explore cross-cultural themes. The cyanotype blue of his prints makes reference to Anna Atkin’s British Algae book from 1843.
Charlotte Becket’s book series Forcefields takes on a completely different contemporary interpretation of the book. Her work references electronics and mechanical objects to talk about our relationship as contemporary humans to consumerism. These books use geometric abstract compositions in combination with traditional bookbinding techniques to illustrate bodily processes like breathing and yawning while also calling to mind technology. Her use of laser cutting and paper folding is particularly effective in accomplishing this. Also working with paper in an exploratory way, Alix Pentecost-Farren combines illustration and letterpress printing with papercuts to create an interactive, rotating print. The Inclining Dial invites the viewer to reach out and touch the artwork.
Finally, resident Milcah Basel’s Governing Vessels explores the medium of the book as a sculptural interactive object. Like Becket, Basel is using the book as a metaphor for the body. It unfurls in multiple directions revealing pressure prints of spinal imagery. Her work and the works the other four residents’ are great examples of the many ways artists are working in and exploring the book arts.
Corina Reynolds, Executive Director