Chris Perry’s extraordinary book art was what made us reach out, but his nuanced articulation of how he interacts with books–and his marvelous concept for an experiential library of artistic techniques– is equally fascinating.  Enjoy! ~Erinn

138 Ripples

138 Ripples

Library as incubator Project (LAIP): Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.

Chris Perry (CP): I studied at Maryland Institute College of Art and moved to NYC in 1976 where I took an internship at the Guggenheim Museum before ending up as an assistant for a sculptor. Construction and woodworking were my next career moves, the latter lasting for almost 20 years.

I got interested in book making as a part of a larger, much delayed project. I was still painting but noticed one summer that I hadn’t touched a paint brush for nearly a year, the books had taken over. Four years later and I am still spending all my time making book-oriented pieces.

I work primarily with new paper, cutting each page individually before collating then and binding them into a book. Most of the pieces have many volumes made this way. For the newest pieces I have started using existing books, most from the local library’s recycle bins and some given to me by people who know I want unwanted books. I sometimes save a volume or two to read before incorporating them into a piece, but I find that there are many books that probably should never have been published. Maybe I can add some missing value to them.

For the newest pieces, I have started using existing books, most from the local library’s recycle bins…I find that there are many books that probably should never have been published. Maybe I can add some missing value to them.

LAIP: What are you working on right now that you’re excited about?

CP: I was the featured artist at the Center for Book Arts in NYC last January and was asked to make a site-specific piece. Getting the work off a pedestal and onto the wall and engaging the space completely made me rethink what I could do using hundreds, even thousands of volumes. I have plans for pieces that would fill entire large rooms in a way that I had never thought possible. I really want to make one of these pieces and so now I am figuring out all the engineering problems by making smaller ones and learning how to suspend and connect hundreds of books economically and efficiently.

I have plans for pieces that would fill entire large rooms in a way that I had never thought possible.

LAIP: How do you see your work interacting with narrative or story?  What does working in books allow you to do that you can’t pull off with other media?

CP: All the pieces in the series, Ripples, reference water and water shapes, effects, and structures, both man-made and natural. I don’t use copy or images to make these references; the shape of the assembly of volumes, the number of volumes and the shape of the filaments and sprays do this for me. About equally, I find that I have a title first and the shape forms naturally to fit the title. The rest of the time, a title eventually suggests itself as the piece sits in the studio, filaments slowly opening and relaxing, covers starting to flare in the humidity.

154 Ripples icicle

154 Ripples icicle

I have always liked books; I am never without one at hand. They’re filled with ideas, they’re reassuring, dangerous, inspiring…no one comes at one fully knowing what they’ll find, but they do come with a pre-conceived notion of how to access that information.

I turn the inside out, requiring the viewer to read the outside.

I suppose I could use other objects to make the things I’m expressing, but I have always liked books; I am never without one at hand. They’re filled with ideas, they’re reassuring, dangerous, inspiring, no one comes at one fully knowing what they’ll find, but they do come with a pre-conceived notion of how to access that information. I turn the inside out, requiring the viewer to read the outside. Covers are deceptive and can entice one to enter even something one never had any plans of entering. I don’t think I could quite get the same reaction with paint or pencil or stone.

LAIP: How have libraries informed your creative work? Tell us about the first library you remember playing a part in your artistic development.

CP: I worked in the local county library while in high school to earn money to go to art school. I was fortunate that it was a new one, large, really well stocked with both fiction and a very large reference section. There were programs and events all the time. I had duties in every section, but my favorite was the periodicals, both for the newspapers from all over the world and the latest magazines. It was here that I first saw art magazines like Art Forum, Art News, and others. Until my senior year I hadn’t focused on what I wanted to do, but I like to think that reading those magazines during lunch helped make up my mind.

159 Ripples runoff

159 Ripples runoff

LAIP: Can you describe a particular library-incubated project for us?  

CP: I was invited to be part of a continuing series of book art exhibitions at the main branch of the Brooklyn Library in Brooklyn, NY. The show had four other book artists or artists working with paper and/or the printed word or image. I had recently started making pieces that hung on the wall, but all the newest were too large for the venue provided. After I figured out just what to make for this venue, I decided to make a film of the making, the cutting, gluing and binding of this piece. Making the film added to my experience of the making and I hope it answered many of the questions that viewers have but cannot ask me. It has inspired me to make more films that show different techniques that I use, hopefully better ones.

LAIP: As an artist, what would your ideal library be like?  What kinds of stuff would you be able to check out, and what could you do there?

CP: As an artist, working either making three-dimensional works or flat works, a materials/processes library would be very helpful. I see a place where one could have access to new materials and techniques that one was not familiar with and more importantly, either someone there on-hand to demonstrate them or tutorial videos that could be watched while working with these materials/processes.

As an artist, working either making three-dimensional works or flat works, a materials/processes library would be very helpful…Along with the “take” aspect of this library I see a “give” part too. The artist experiencing these new things would be required to leave behind something of their experience

Along with the “take” aspect of this library I see a “give” part too. The artist experiencing these new things would be required to leave behind something of their experience, be it a comprehensive assessment of the new thing learned and/or actual steps that the next artist could take off from. I realize that many artists feel a little proprietary about their process; I’ve talked to other paper artists and asked a simple how-do-you question and received a look that says that they really don’t want to share.

Why should everyone have to struggle to learn a basic thing when you know it already?

During my career as a woodworker, I was always happy to teach someone a new thing or material. Why should everyone have to struggle to learn a basic thing when you know it already? Maybe if someone had told you something that pertains to your work, you may have been able to avoid some of the setbacks that you experienced.

 

chris_perryChris Perry has exhibited widely, including at the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, CT), Denise Bibro Gallery (New York, NY), The Williamsburg Art and Historical Center (Brooklyn, NY), and Minot State University (Minot, ND). His works are in the collections of Yale University Art Gallery, Brown University Library (Providence, RI), and the University of Washington (Seattle, WA), among others. He received his BFA from Maryland Institute College of Art.

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