Thursday, December 4, 2008

Handmade Book Show

"Turning The Page," a gallery show featuring Illustrated Books, Handmade Artists Books and original artwork opens this Thursday, Dec. 8, 2008 at the Metropolitan Center for the Visual Arts gallery in Rockville MD. Among the books and original artwork on display are my handmade book "Occam's Razor" and the accompanying artwork. The book is a flag book, which opens up and expands into three long illustrations, and also features a sculptural box containing a sliced up explanation of Occam's Razor as well as an antique shaving razor. Exhibition and gallery information follow the artist's statement.

Artist Statement

As an illustrator, I've created thousands of images, mostly for magazines, and while creating art for others’ manu-scripts may allow for a little personal expression, it’s not enough. So I began exploring handmade books as an outlet to fill the void, enrolling in a Book Arts class at the Corcoran College of Art + Design. My interest in taking the class was not only to find a means of personal expression; it was also an exploration of book construction, both unique and ordinary, as well an exploration of the relationship between image, text, structure and expression.

Midway through the semester the instructor introduced flag books to the class, and showed us examples. A unique feature of flag books is the unfolding of interlocking “pages”— the flags — as the book is opened. My initial reaction was that the construction was fascinating and entertaining, but... ultimately a little gimmicky and maybe even a little pointless. I felt there needed to be a reason for making a book a particular way, a balance of form and function, and I couldn’t find much of a rationale for most flag books beyond being flag books for flag-book’s sake. To me, it was overly complicated as a means of conveying a thought or telling a story.

But, that was the assignment, and I’m always up for a challenge. After giving it some thought, I decided that if the content was going to reflect the structure, then the book should relate to the theme of complexity. So I opted to make a book about “Occam’s Razor,” a philosophical maxim credited to the 14th century philosopher William of Occam that argues for simplicity over complexity. These days the maxim is often reduced to the bite-size “keep it simple,” but it’s more nuanced than that. The “razor” refers to the act of shaving away unnecessary parts of an argument, reducing it to its simplest, and therefore most logical form: Don’t favor a complicated explanation when a simple one will do. In design, it is taken to mean simple design is preferable to complex design.

Being a big fan of irony, I thought a complex book on the virtues of keeping it simple was a worthwhile conceptual approach. Yet the real irony may be that the book, while complex to make, is, in the end, exceedingly simple.

The text, which is limited to the two inside covers, gives an overview William of Occam and his maxim, and describes three different examples. Those three examples are illustrated, with each illustration sliced into seven pieces, or “flags,” which fan out to form the completed image when the book is fully opened. It also features a second, very lengthy (2,884 words) explanation of Occam’s Razor, which I hand-sliced into hundreds of pieces and glued piece by piece, along with an antique straight razor, into a handmade box that is set inside the book.

Three of those 2,884 words are reserved for the cover, where they are inlaid into the front label to form the book’s subtitle (and central message), “Keep It Simple.”

The illustrations depict three examples of Occam’s Razor:

Crop Circles: Crop circles began appearing in England in the late 1970s. Many people claimed they were created by aliens. But, following the principles of Occam’s Razor, it would be more reasonable to conclude that humans rather than aliens made crop circles, because the alien theory is too complicated and makes too many unproven assumptions. Occam was proven right when two men subsequently came forward and admitted to creating them after evenings spent at a local pub.

If You Hear Hoofbeats, Think Horses, Not Zebras:
This phrase, often used in medical schools to explain to doctors how to diagnose multiple symptoms in a single patient, means, simply, go with the obvious. If a patient has five symptoms, it’s probably one malady, not five.

The Solar System: Copernicus used Occam’s thinking to explain that the Sun — not the Earth — was the center of the solar system, which made heavenly observations easier to explain and eliminated many convoluted 17th century theories. Copernicus was, of course, correct.

One of the unexpected pleasures of creating the illustrations for this book was the opportunity to break out of my usual 8.5" x 11" magazine-illustrator format. Because the images fan out the way they do, they needed to be decidedly horizontal, and it seemed the longer they were, the more effective they — and the book — became. And so the book grew from five flags to seven. These illustrations have, for me, always been book illustrations, and I’m used to seeing them book-size — and sliced. As such, this exhibition holds a bit of a surprise for me since until now I had never seen the artwork printed larger than what the book called for.

The book: The overall size of the book is 9-1/2" x 12", 1/2" thick. The covers are bookboard covered in black book cloth. The illustrations are printed on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag paper using an Epson 2200 printer with archival inks. The box inside is handmade, wrapped in handmade paper, and the antique straight razor is glued in with epoxy. The sliced text inside the box is a very lengthy explanation (2,884 words) of Occam’s Razor, printed on handmade paper which was then sliced and glued in piece by piece, giving it the appearance of being randomly tossed into the box. The subtitle on the cover, [keep it simple] is from this same text, inlaid into the label, which is handmade paper.

The prints: The giclée prints are 5-1/2" x 36" images printed on 6-1/2" x 40" Museo Max 100% cotton heavy watercolor paper using archival inks. The artwork was drawn by hand in Photoshop, working dark to light in a manner similar to mezzotint.

"Turning the Page" opens December 4, 2008 and runs through February 21, 2009. The Metropolitan Center For the Visual Arts is located at 155 Gibbs Street in Rockville MD, 20850. Some of the featured illustrators and bookmakers are Kinuko Craft, Leo & Diane Dillon, Sally Wern Comport, Alex Bostic, Lynn Sures, Helen Frederick and Kerry McAleer Keeler. For more information on VisArts, click here.

More info and details on the book, including more pictures, can be found on the handmade books section of my website. Click here.

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