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Monday, March 7, 2011

Screwing Around With Books

"For Stuart Callan, 1962 - 2005", 2005, paper and screws, approx. 11.5' x 12.75' x 1.3'
Courtesy of  The Mattress Factory, Pittsburg
Close up of above work.

Well, that's what Jonathan Callan does.  The internationally famous artist uses books as a sculptural medium, screwing masses of books together.  He also uses paper, glue, plaster, silicone, rubber and other things in his creations.  Although he makes many different forms of sculpture, his used books ones are phenomenal.

"Neon", 2007, paper and screws.

An avid reader, Callan was also "drawn" to art.  Combining the two seemed a natural way for him to go.  Recycling old books as art materials that have had previous lives is how Callan expresses himself.  Born in Deptford, England, which is close to where Christopher Marlowe was murdered, he came from a literary background.  For the last fifteen years, however, his world has changed to a visual one.

"Mass", 2003, silicone, rubber and paper.
How many of you have felt this way about a particular book?

"Rational Snow", 2002, aerated concrete, wood, book, approx. 8" x 11 x 19"
Private collection, courtesy of the artist.

His "supplies" come from libraries, used book stores, and flea markets.  Most of the books he uses would be pulped, so by using them for his art he is recycling them and giving them new purpose.  In some places where he has built sculptures, the books are donated by the local people, and are collected for him to use.  A fifteen-foot high sculpture with an organic shape will use about 3,000 books.

"The Defrauder", 2006, paper and screws.
"The Library of Past Choice", 2007, paper and screws, approx. 19' x 12' x 2'
Courtesy of the Grusenmeyer Art Gallery.

The books - phone books, soft cover, hard cover, magazines - are folded over and held together with wood screws.  In some of his pieces he colors the edges with watered-down paint so it will seep into the edges.  A large sculpture, with one person helping, can take two weeks, working twelve hours a day.

"Politics", paper and screws.

His pieces aren't made to last forever, though.  Most of the books he uses are made of wood pulp which is acidic and deteriorates in time.  His pieces are about the process of becoming however, and he has stated that he's disappointed when he's done, not in the piece but that the making of it is over.  He enjoys the process.

"The Theoretical Assumptions of Management", 2008,
 approx. 3.3' x 3.3' x 1.4', courtesy of the Kudlek van Grinten Galerie.

Books are competing with electronic reading but they are stalwart warriors:  they have overcome burnings and bannings.  The tomes in Callan's work are like a meeting of the minds; a celebration of the physicality of the written word.  Using books as a skeletal framework, concepts of their meaning, import, and history can be physically and mentally reimagined.



  1. Loved reading this! And glad to see his work is using books headed for trash, one more beautiful time.

  2. Me, too, Marcy. Very creative...