Prelude: Artists’ Books Now

Prelude: Artists’ Books Now

Liz Jeneid celebrates the Clifton School of Arts and the exhibition Prelude: Artists’ Books Now.

2 November, 2023
In Exhibitions,
Printmaking, Q&A


Alan Purdom, Babel, detail, various mediums


Alan Purdom, Babel, various mediums, 125 x 10 x 10cm

Lizzie Buckmaster Dove, we are volcanoes, altered book , 2021, 40 x 55.5 x 2 cm

Mary Rosengren, Peatlands Vol 1 & 2, 2023, stitched concertina form book within a wooden box, 60 x 30 x 7 cm

On the windswept South Coast of New South Wales north of Wollongong, just before the sweeping curves of the new and stunning Sea Cliff Bridge going north, stands the iconic Clifton School of Arts (CSA). There is hardly any land in this location that can be built on. The escarpment above does not allow for much development although the railway line from Sydney, having at times what seems a precarious hold on the escarpment, is still intact. The small School of Arts stands firmly in place looking out over the sea. A thriving, community-based, cultural hub for the Northern Illawarra and beyond, the Clifton School of Arts has been owned and operated by the community for over 110 years.

The present building was constructed in 1911 after much fund-raising by the local community. Land for the purpose was donated by Mr Vickery of the Coalcliff Colliery, continuing the association begun by Alexander Stuart, former owner/operator of the local coal mine. The CSA website states that miners at Coalcliff were on strike for six months at that time, and are reported to have provided some of the labour for the construction of the building.

It is here that Prelude: Artists’ Books Now, will be shown in November 2023. The project has been taken up by a small group of artist members, to bring together selected work created by established and emerging book artists, celebrating the book as a dynamic contemporary art form that takes many shapes. The curatorial team is made up of artist members of CSA, who include artists’ books in their artistic practice and who have had curating and exhibiting experience nationally and internationally. Seventy-two artists were invited to submit work, with fifty works selected to be in the exhibition.

Prelude: Artists’ Books Now will showcase a variety of approaches to making books and the many ways that artists find to share information, to explore ideas and to convey their deep interest in a particular topic from politics to bees, from the environment to past histories and from meditations on place to our personal relationships.

According to the Smithsonian Institute Library, ‘An artist’s book is a medium of artistic expression that uses the form or function of ‘book’ as inspiration. It is the artistic initiative seen in the illustration, choice of materials, creation process, layout and design that makes it an art object.

 But, there are many other ways of describing what an artist book is!  What about the artist’s intent? It can be made through fine art printing using letterpress or hand cut lino text, using computer generated images or photocopies to illustrate the content, so, as a genre it can be an exciting and liberating art form.  For some it is a book object – for instance, a book that cannot be opened, or an altered existing book such as We Are Volcanoes by Lizzie Buckmaster Dove where the artist has reassembled pages of an old atlas to tell her story. Books can even be part of an installation or performance piece!  As you can see the possibilities are endless. Many of the works include printmaking but other artists have used watercolour, collage, text, and unusual construction techniques as in Alan Purdom’s Babel, a free-standing tower referring to the Declaration of Human Rights while Mary Rosengren’s wall hung documentation, Peatlands 1 and 2, is housed in wooden drawers.

The name Prelude was chosen for this exhibition, as it will be a forerunner of two more artist book events to be held in 2024 and 2025.

Prelude : Artists’ Books Now is at Clifton School of Arts, 338 Lawrence Hargrave Drive, Clifton, NSW, 2-12 November

The exhibition will be opened by Akky van Ogtrop, President of the Print Council of Australia, on November 3. The exhibition will be staffed by two artists who will be available to talk to visitors and explain different approaches and techniques. There will be an afternoon of artist talks by local bookmakers on Saturday November 11, from 2-4pm.


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