Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Guest Blogger and Artist


By Tom Hobson

I've been carving books, magazines, catalogs and other publications for a little over a year now.

The basic process is to use a small, sharp knife to cut into the book, carefully working on one page at a time, hunting for images, words and shapes to carve.
I like old books in particular. I’m attracted to the wear and tear of having been read and handled by others before me. It’s like being part of a secret society. Old library books, like those I pick up at Seattle Library System book sales, are perfect. I’m especially attracted to books that cost a dollar or less. These “dollar books” are the ones headed for the landfill. Most deserve life, but have simply gotten too old. I feel like I’m rescuing them.

Although the results look like carvings, the process is more like an archeological dig. Cutting away one page at a time is, I imagine, similar to the way scientists sweep away fine layers of dust on buried bones or ancient ruins.
I begin each excavation with a theory of what I’ll find, but there are always surprises, especially as unexpected juxtapositions come to light.

It’s interesting to me to carve the words from a book (the muscle of the book, to carry the dino dig metaphor forward) leaving only the bones of its illustrations. Often the results are almost obscene in their raw nakedness. I’ve had people say that some works made them feel queasy.

And there is certainly a ghastliness to the act of gutting a book. As a book lover and teacher, it’s not lost on me that there is an element of desecration in the act of taking knives to them, exposing their innards for the world to see. That’s why I make sure to only choose books that I’m certain are on their way to the landfill. I try to think of them the way medical students think of their cadavers.

Alongside this element of horrible truth, however, is an equal measure of beauty, it seems to me.

Carving magazines is different because they have already almost been entirely consumed by the web. They already seem like artifacts; iconic pieces to be displayed on coffee tables.

Each magazine title is a self-contained world for hobbyist and fetishists. They’re communities of fashion, grooming, sports, decorating, literature, pets, real estate, and vacations. The Internet has already ingested those narrow communities for which there isn’t enough demand to sustain traditional publishing. What is left on the newsstands are magazines that host broad swaths of people, affiliated by either the overwhelming numbers of adherents (e.g., dog lovers, knitters) or the overarching principles they embody (e.g., it’s fun/important to look pretty, it’s fun/important to follow sports).

I’m working on the theory that the magazines we see at the drug store each hold some central truth about who we are as a people. That’s what I’m trying to unearth in my magazine art.

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