Picture Book showcases the work of a range of UK-based artist book practitioners, exploring ideas of art, design and craftsmanship across a multitude of different styles and formats. The Tetley’s exhibitions often reflect upon the concept of labour and workforce, commenting on the building’s history as a place of production. This exhibition follows suit, foregrounding the laboriousness art of book making.
Christian Barnes’ vast Bathymetric Atlas requires two gallery staff members to turn its pages. Set upon a white table, its large pages are a minimalist response to the rich and varied landscapes of the Lake District, from which the work takes its contours and cut shapes. The book is turned once a week on Saturdays, resting closed during the other days, much like the water’s surface hides the contours of the lake bed beneath.
Nous Vous have created their own reading structure, pressing a collection of books and single images between Perspex windows. The installation recalls a children’s library, colourful yet controlled, fun yet structured; its integrated shelves, displays holders and table creating one unified space. When entering you become part of the structure, a body held in a defined space like a page or a window. In this way the viewer becomes an active part of the work, not only reading, looking and drawing but being a part of a whole.
The work of Craig Atkinson, aka Café Royal, explores the significance of belonging to a part of history, tradition and community. This feeling and the books on display read well within the context of the Tetley’s historic building and its current role as a cultural hub. A new book has been created especially for the exhibition; a selection of images from the Tetley archive are translated in to Café Royal’s simple black-and-white, staple bound format.
Landfill Edition’s Mould Map offers another format for book production through a contemporary treatment of comics and cartoon strips, and their graphic demonstrations of narrative. The work is vibrant and disruptive, with publications opened to original drawings and displayed under glass. It is refreshing to see the marks of the artist – the annotations, the colour tests, the cuts and the creases – offering a raw reading of works that are traditionally only seen in their polished form.
Closing with the expressive, figurative work of David Barton, Picture Book demonstrates yet another way that an artist book can function. The viewer is overwhelmed by the sheer volume of Barton’s books, crammed into a small gallery space, his list of publications occupying an entire wall. The books contain hundreds (thousands?) of drawings, simple and spontaneous in their execution.
The curators’ utilisation of different display methods creates a unique experience of the various forms of visual imagery, however, the individual installations inhibit the flow of ideas from room to room. The depth of individual works is somewhat lost amongst the small-scale displays, giving a sense that there is more to be seen. At the same time, the show does signpost some exciting and interesting movements taking place within the artist book world and gives its audiences a taste of the scale and range on offer.
Picture Book was curated in conjunction with PAGES LEEDS: 19th International Contemporary Artists’ Book Fair, 5-6 March. The exhibition continues at the Tetley until 17 April 2016.
Image: Nous Vous installation, Photo credit: Jules Lister.
Abi Mitchell is a programmer and writer based in West Yorkshire, working as part of SPUR and the About Time consortium.