15 Drawings Dec '51 to May '52
Artist books and thoughts during lockdown
I am writing this during the COVID-19 lockdown that started on March 25th, 2020.
Before we went into lockdown I was having a discussion about possibly curating an exhibition of Pacific art in Germany and was gifted an accordion visual diary to begin thinking about what might transpire. This has been the most stimulating of gifts; pushing my brain into overdrive as I begin researching the idea of an artist book, and how to begin my own. If you want to see an impressive array of artist books the Smithsonian Museum has an online collection that shows how truly intricate these book-like structures can be.
When I lived in Banff, Canada (2014) I left behind some wooden sculptures that looked like books. An intern at the Banff Arts Centre Library found a few and asked if these could be added to their collection of artist books. I was first stunned that someone had found these, and then I was honoured; this library has developed a beautiful and intimate collection from artists attending residency over the 22 years it has been running; and now I am one of them.
I began this task searching for McCahon works that were for sale; scouting for something that I might ‘imaginary’ buy. I then came across 15 Drawings Dec’51 to May ’52, a book of bound lithography prints that reminded me of my new found obsession with artist books.
As I searched the web for images I was surprised to find portraits. Not sure why but in my head I was imagining documentation of the whenua in artist book form by McCahon.
This bound collection of works is the only artist book produced by McCahon I have been able to find through brief research. It is seemingly another experimental exercise within his wide and vast practice. However, I do imagine shelves of larger-than-life artist books by McCahon that mimic the way his paintings fill up walls and dominate the gallery space.
UK based artist John Walter is currently a part of the group exhibition Queer Algorithms at Gus Fisher gallery. His large sketchbooks are the seeds of projects where he explores through impressive mixed media illustrations. The bright and energetic pages of his diaries move into installations that claim space much like the work of McCahon. 15 Drawings is a large scale book that makes me think of that translation from book to wall and just how work is read in book form compared to on the gallery wall.
I think during this time of lockdown social media has become an artist book for many. Sculpting posts and your online presence can be seen as a digital form of presenting yourself, and considered this in time as a work in itself.
The fact that I came to the conclusion of picking this particular work by McCahon is not surprising but also seemed like something I could connect to during this strange time. Throughout the duration of the lockdown I will continue to construct my own artist book with the thoughts I have mentioned in this small read and hope to find more artist book treasures by other memorable New Zealand artists.