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Monday, March 14, 2011

The Book Art of Robert The

Assortment of bookguns from the 90s by Robert The.

"Obsession with the semiotic erosion of meaning and reality led me to create 
objects that evangelize their own relevance by a direct fusion of word and form.  
Books (many culled from dumpsters and thrift shop store bins) are lovingly
vandalized back to life so they can assert themselves against the culture which
turned them into debris."          ~          Robert The, 1995

The California-born New Yorker has found a unique way to repurpose old books - he cuts them up.  Although he has made a number of different object, the most popular are his bookguns, which he began creating in 1991.

"Statement", 2003.

"Poetic Justice", 2003.
"The Medium", 2006.

The started out with interests in language and logic, so studied philosophy and mathematics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.  Then he became interested in letters, first studying calligraphy, then hand-lettered sign painting.  He conceived of carving books and found many - too many - in the trash.  He took his first works into a gallery in SoHo, and was surprised to sell them.

"Desert Rose", 2004.
Created with 30 hollowed out KJV bibles.
One of his smaller works ala "Desert Rose".

A year later and his works are in major collection all over the U.S., including MOMA, the Norton Family collection, the L.A. Museum of Contemporary Art, Yale University, the Fine Art Museum of San Francisco, and the New York Public Library.

"Reader's Digest Cake" with wax frosting, 1998.

The doesn't consider himself part of "The Art World", but an outsider.  He is more a part of "The Design World".  He would rather sell at retail shops than galleries. He has sold virtual art on eBay.  He sold "this present moment" - what the winner actually got - for $13.21.

Bible grenade, 2001.

Author Jonathan Lethem was gifted with a bookgun made from his novel Gun, With Occasional Music. Far from being upset that his book was cut up, he instead saw it as a reward that he never imagined.  He uses it as an example in his excellent essay for Harper's Magazine discussing the appropriation of thoughts and ideas and arguing for more permissive copyright laws in the interests of creative expression.

"Britannica Vol. 14", 2008.

The's works are commentaries on language, but also are toys, so we can say he toys with language.  He was said to be inspired by ethnic crafts, which are often viewed as toys rather than art.  He realized that the people who make these have no presence in the art world.  He, too wanted to make objects that were not "high art", but that people could touch.

Simple, yet brilliant, The repurposes books and in a sense challenges viewers/handlers to make their own meanings.  These meanings are multivalent, and the objects are tactile, encouraging one to handle them with their hands and their minds.  Something a philosopher and designer could relish....

All images courtesy of the artist.  See his website for more images.

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