Monday, February 18, 2013

Seeing The Book as Art

Each spring, printers, book artists and artisans, scholars, and more descend on the Bay Area from all corners of the world. With them, they bring the most amazing collection of fine press editions and artist books. The affair? The Codex International Book Fair.
Codex International Book Fair: Mitsui Fine Arts
When my husband forwarded me the event info from a colleague, I had visions of book fairs I attended as a child. Rows of folding tables in a dimly lit auditorium stacked with paperback books. With those visions dancing in my head I almost didn't make the short drive from San Francisco to Richmond. Luckily, I did.
Codex International Book Fair: Center for the Book
Work Pictured: Peeping Toms, Fall 2012, Origami tessellation designed by Eric Gjerde and printed, illustrated, & executed by Radha Pandey, students Master of Fine Arts, Book Arts, The University of Iowa, Center for The Book.
First, this is nothing like the book fairs of my youth. Instead of mass produced cheap paperbacks, hand crafted, limited -- or one of a kind -- works of art are neatly presented for one's viewing pleasure.
Codex International Book Fair: Julie Chen's Cat's Cradle
Work Pictured: Cat's Cradle, 2013, $950, Julie Chen
One afternoon is not enough time to fully appreciate everything on display. Alas, that was all the time I had. For the most part, I quickly surveyed what each stall had to offer, not stopping long, trying to maximize my exposure.
Codex International Book Fair: Flying Fish Press
Works Pictured: Memento, 2012, $1,575, Julie Chen,
and How Books Work, 2011, $25, Julie Chen and Cliffton Meador

The books of two women intrigued me enough to stop and stay awhile. The first was Barbara Milman of Red Parrot Press. Her current work is about "the effects of climate change on the oceans and marine life." Growing up in the bay area along the coast, minutes from the ocean, this topic resonates with me. I loved how she combined hand printed linocuts with digital images.
The second was Rebecca Chamlee of Pie in the Sky Press. From initial idea through to completion, an individual book can take six months to a year to make. Why? Reinterpreting how letterpress is applied.
Codex International Book Fair: Rebecca Chamlee
Works Pictured: Cowboy Pride, 2012, $150 | The Young Manhood of Dave Chamlee, 2012, $300 to $625
Two of Rebecca's works, The Young Manhood of Dave Chamlee and My Partial Tongue, include photographs. To get the subtle graduation of photographs and to avoid halftones, trial and error is required along with the use of dots to get an even print. (Check out The Happy Dragon's Press for more information on how in general letterpress printing works.)
Codex International Book Fair: My Partial Tongue
Work Pictured: My Partial Tongue, 2011, $500
Have you tried your hand at book making?
Photographs do not do these works of art justice. Some of the artists granted me the privilege of touching the paper and the bindings. Until talking with Rebecca, I'd thought I'd had a understanding of letterpress. I was wrong. I definitely recommend going to an artist book exhibit if you ever get the chance. You probably won't be able to touch the works, but you will be able to see and to fully appreciate the attention to detail.
Interested in experiencing similar exhibitions? If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, you have two opportunities:
Ciao Bella!
Credits: All layouts designed by and images taken by Eden Hensley Silverstein for The Road to the Good Life.