The Art Book Exhibition
How long do we actually spend looking at art in a gallery? A few minutes at best? That too with unfocussed attention? The duration of time spent with an artwork has a tremendous bearing on our response to, and enjoyment of it.
Looking at an artwork up close in the form of a book, rather than hung a wall from a distance, provides one an opportunity to observe nuances and details that might otherwise be missed. An artwork that takes the form of a book compels us to engage with it for days or even months, resulting in a more tactile, intimate experience – a possibility emerges for the ‘viewer reader’ to get drawn into the world the ‘artist writer’ has created, bonding with the characters with extraordinary empathy.
What is an Artist’s Book?
Not to be mistaken for an artist’s sketchbook, an artist’s book is a generic term that refers to the book the artist has created as being the artwork itself. Called livre d’artiste (the artist’s book) in France, they are normally published in limited editions, each copy being individually numbered as to its edition, and is signed by the artist himself.
Although the artist may be inspired by a classic or popular literature, poetry, history or myth, his art book creation does not necessarily need illustrate the text, but may move in and around the subject matter, responding expressively to some of the ideas, thoughts or philosophy expressed by the author in a loose, tangential manner. Thus, the artist book has an autonomy of its own as an independent work of art.
Why do artists find this medium exciting?
To begin with, in creating a book the dimension is greatly reduced. Shifting from a massive scale of say 6 x 4 feet (i.e. 24 square feet), the artist is reduced to conceiving of his image in say 2 square feet!
Secondly, the artist book format allows the artist to conceive in multiple images, as a series, rather than restrict himself to creating one single iconic image of potency, as he would in constructing a canvas. Here he has the freedom and scope to allow the thematic to unfold in sequence, one image leading to the next as the pages are turned. This format perhaps gives the artist the latitude to spontaneously improvise as he moves on from page to page, while at the same time he is not compelled to link the images in any predetermined sequential order. Like a film editor who narrates through the cinematic montage, the artist too works with visual fragments, each linked more through association, than through a literal linear carrying forward of a theme.
For the viewer moving through the artist’s book, page after page, becomes a kind of cinematic experience, that encourages one to enjoy the artists inventiveness and playfulness as it develops, not to mention a close-up look at the application of paint, the skill of the draftsmanship, etc. Thus, an artist’s book engages us through multiple sensibilities — seeing, reading and touching — making the experience pleasurable and absorbing.
The Art Book Exhibition 2019
In order to expand our audiences’ appreciation of art, Art Heritage brings to Delhi artworks that can be held in the hand, in book form. When we asked seven artists whether they were interested in creating artist books, we were pleasantly surprised when all of them responded positively, each coming up with distinct themes and approaches.
In this exhibition each artist has conceived his/her book/s in their own unique way.
Jai Zharotia has created 30 acrylic works inspired by Luqman Ali, a fictional character penned by the well-known Hindi poet and novelist Soumitra Mohan. Jai’s wild and exuberant colors spill out beyond the page, objects are suspended in a world that appears to be without gravity, as protagonist Luqman Ali sprints, cartwheels and somersaults his way, like a kind of acrobat/jester through a harsh political landscape, dotted here and there with erotic desires.
Using the book format to create testaments of his times, Rajesh Deb has been working in this genre for several years. Combining text and imagery that are graphically integrated, he conceives of his books in often a monumental scale – 3 x 2 ft and 3.5 x 2.2 ft, using roughly textured paper, the edges are uneven, giving a used look. His books are based on diverse themes ranging from Aristophanes’ The Frogs, to the life of Gandhi, to nonsense rhymes with reference to Rabindranath Tagore. For this show Rajesh has especially created large, three-dimensional ‘sculpture books’ made of acrylic etched with text and images. One is based on the evolution of the Bengali Babu, while the other references the Mutiny of 1857.
After exploring multiple texts, Gouri Vemula chose to work on the Mahabaratham, citing it as “a treasure house of the Indian culture, an insight into the attainments and solutions to all problems – even though none of these could avert the 18 day war that ensued.” Gouri avoids any trace of color. Instead the monumental work is conceived in somber grey tones with only dry point and pencil as her mediums. Using ‘hands’ as her central leitmotif in the visualization of each sequence, Gouri enhances the drama by employing strange, oblique perspectives and angles that highlight the frenetic energy of the protagonists with muscular tautness. Centralizing Krishna as her chief protagonist Gouri portrays Lord Krishna’s transcendental knowledge with the undercurrent of mathematical concepts employed by him. The artist’s focus is on “the vows, curses and boons that time and again play into the karmic cycle of karma and kala.”
Kanchan Chander responds to her immediate daily reality with documentary precision mixed with fantasy. Responding to her immediate environment while working, her artist’s book has become a kind of diary of her lived experience through the months of its making. “This book of 50 drawings depicts my various moods and are a direct expression of my emotions felt at different times of the day. These shifting moods have been emphasized through contrasts in color — black and white , red and black etc. I cannot work without listening to music – be it Indian or western classical, pop, jazz or romantic ghazals. My drawings respond to the flow and rhythms of the music, often resulting in the inclusion of lyrics into the artworks. ”
Kavita Jaiswal observes “as an Artist it’s always refreshing to explore a new space. Making books came as an exciting project and before I could blink there I was tearing paper and creating this new space. Paper books in sculptural formations providing 3-D corners to turn around on and come back to the same spot, got into action. White lines flowed along on a black surface and felt as if they were appearing out of the void. These lines running in never ending Zen-like tangled formations just kept appearing on the surface of the paper representing the life force in its endless motion.”
Kavita has created four folding ‘sculpture books’ where her refined and exquisite abstract drawings, interweave with her own poems, as well as the poems of her Guru, Master Mooji, as well as the texts of Rumi, Ramanna Maharishi and Hafeez, resulting in thread-like labyrinths of linear exposition.
In Sunanda Khajuria’s two accordion format books she notes, “what I have created for this show belongs to my series of Moving Landscapes which are the culmination of my experiences of different times and places during the last few years. In these books I pay attention to different perspectives and dimensions of the cherry blossom, using it as a symbol for life and death. The brief life span of these small flowers reflects the everlasting cycle of life, death, and rebirth. When these blossoms come into being each year, they are celebrated for their overwhelming beauty, yet simultaneously mourned for their tragic brevity of life. The blooming season is powerful, glorious and exciting, but unfortunately short-lived – a visual reminder that our lives, too, are fleeting.”
“I wish I was born in another era where there was leisure time and to appreciate the beauty in objects of everyday life. At times I feel as a misfit in this contemporary world which changes drastically every second,” says Ravinder Dutt. In order to counteract this sense of alienation from the contemporary reality around him, he sees himself instead in the role of a time traveler collecting memories and objects and converting them into fantasies and desires, as depicted in these three books. The Scented Deer is inspired by the great Mughal hammams, which he has created with newly designed wood blocks, used in Rajasthan for printing designs on fabric. Of interest to Ravinder is the fact that a luminous ambience of the hamman, was also the space where political intrigue was carried on. Charbagh is the result of Ravinder’s careful examination of the architectural science and secret behind the construction of the double dome of the Taj Mahal. The book is made from stainless steel and acrylic. Safarnama talks about how the Mughals planned to safeguard their most prized treasures when undertaking the ultimate journey.
Alongside the specially created artist’s books by seven artists noted above, will be books made by veteran artists Gulam Mohammed Sheikh and Rini Dhumal. Contemporary artist Sweety Joshi’s two installation works using books have also added to the range of approaches to this genre.
Viewers can also enjoy other limited edition art books, and the shortlisted entries for the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts Photobook Award, 2018.