This last weekend I’ve been back up north to Sheffield. See the folks; show the children off, etc. In amidst this scene of prosaic domestic activity, I managed to squeeze in a couple of exhibitions. I spent a good hour browsing, reading and marvelling through the entries at the 2nd Artists Book Prize at Banks Street Arts, where my own humble offerings are on display with seventy-nine other entries. There were some very unusual ones that challenged the concept of ‘bookness’, a good many altered books, lots of handmade papers and a few commercially bound editions. There were many types of format, content and execution, and most were unnamed and only identifiable by a small blue sticker with a number for voting purposes. There were voting forms in the exhibition for the public to register their two favourites.
There were too many books to go through fully, which meant having to decided which were to be investigated further. There were perfect bound digitally printed volumes, hand-made paper creations, elegant casebound books, accordian folds, flagbooks, Japanese stab bindings, loose leaves and even a CD!
I was obviously drawn first to the more formally bound books, and then moved on to those with more unusual formats and materials. An early favourite was title ‘Clocks’- a slim casebound volume in grey cloth, around 30 x 25cm, which began typographically with single words on each page, progressing to beautiful graphic swashes on graph paper, and ending with pinholes in the page in the position of numbers on a clock face: booky, graphic and mysterious – it ticked all the boxes for me.
I was also really charmed by this tiny (around 9cm tall) slim accordion book of prints depicting rice terraces, held in a gatefold cover and fastened with tooth-like toggles. The simplicity and quality of the single colour printing appealed and inspired me – I need to think about my own themes and practices if I am to produce anything as delicate and communicative as this.
My favourite (and got my vote) was this tooled brown leather box, around 10cm square and 4cm deep titled ‘Working Song for a Shetland Shearer.’ The lid lifted away to pull out a… well, I don’t know the technical term for this, but it was a sort of double/twisted accordion, which, when expanded, the panels revealed engaging wood/linocut prints in three colours. The content featured interconnected verses of Baa-Baa-Black-Sheep, with directions for sheep shearing and mixed illustrative styles. The result was a beautiful and seemingly inconsequential work, that ‘spoke’ much more intensely than I had first thought. This is a book made not to celebrate or inform, but exists for the romance of itself, imbued with importance by its own craftsmanship. The leather box binding makes the book solid, timeless, precious and personal. This is a book that I wish I had within easy reach of my desk right now. I seem to enjoy the perverse feeling of creative inspiration tainted by jealousy!
There were seven other books that really twisted my melon, and a whole host of others that sparked ideas, made me think and made me smile. Here are some of my favourites.
The winner of the first Book Arts Prize, Katherine Johnson was awarded an exhibition at the gallery where she displayed a range of altered books and book inspired concept pieces. There were two main installations. The first one, in a stark, white room, featured paper planes made from book pages, emerging from a casebound book titled “Wings of Fate; Strange True Tales of the Vintage Flying Days” by Norman Macmillan. These were suspended on drop lines fro the ceiling, and emerged from the book in a graceful arc across the room to a point just above the door. Mesmerising in the simplicity of its effect. These images don’t really do it justice, but they are all I’ve got.
The second piece, in a darkened room lit by a single spotlight, was a thick vertical column of paper chains, each link made from a line of text cut from a book. Suspended from a single point at the ceiling, they fell to the floor and spread outwards to an abrupt end.
Both were elegant and inspired works that made me smile and wonder about the possibilities held within the form of the book. There were a number of smaller pieces on display too, each confidant in it’s execution and beautiful in their detail. One to watch.
My thanks to John and the kind folk at Bank Street Arts, who gave me permission to take the photographs, as well as all of the artists whose work is shown here. I apologise for the lack of individual credits but I would be happy to add details and weblinks to any of the featured artists. Go visit the gallery if you are in the area. It’s a small, independent gallery, run by enthusiastic, friendly people. Try the Bakewell tart in the café too!
I also went off to the other side of Sheffield to the Cultural Industries Quarter, to the Yorkshire Arts Space to see an exhibition of posters by Martin F. Bedford, a designer, illustrator and photographer who was an early inspiration for me as a young pup! He designed lots of gig and event posters for many of the cities arts and music venues, especially The Leadmill, (some history here - many a lost night spent in the bar in my time!!!) which many of us aspiring designers wanted to do. I did, in time, design quite a lot of posters for them (so thanks Martin!) but back to the story.
BUT. Yes, but. There has to be a but. It was shut. Why aren’t galleries open on a bloody Saturday? So go to Martins website and take a look at his work online – buy a print (I wish I could afford a John Cooper Clark one, above!) or buy the book. I have had one of his books since last Christmas. It is really a blast from the past for me, but is also full of quirky, colourful grassroots design and striking imagery, and has lots to offer those who enjoy music design and ephemera, and may never have even been to Sheffield! It is also worth considering that The Leadmill was notorious for quick turnarounds and last minute work – many of the posters I did were commissioned on a Wednesday, printed on a Thursday, flyposted on a Thursday and Friday night for a gig the next Tuesday! As I recall, they only paid a flat fee of forty quid for each design! But you could get in to the gig for free and see some great (and not so great acts) and see lots of people carrying your posters which they had paid a pound for!
Anyway, following my disappointment at this exhibition being shut, I wandered down the road to the Site Gallery (which was open and free) and spent a while in a wonderful exhibition space showing a minimalist video installation by by New Zealand-born, Melbourne-based artist Daniel von Sturmer. I’m not usually moved by this sort of work, but these wes playful and beguiling films, well presented with crystal clear sound. The fact that I was the only person in there answered my earlier question about galleries don’t open at the weekend (they did have two very delightful ladies on reception though!) but it was nice to have the place all to myself.
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT
Visit your local galleries and arts centres. Apart from supporting real, honest people sharing and promoting the work of other creatives, you may leave inspired, educated, baffled or just smiling. Exercise your intellect and your emotions.