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Australian Library of Art

Tails from the Artists’ Books Collection

By Administrator | 14 November 2012

Inspired by the many dogs and other animals in the etchings in Ron McBurnie’s Metal as anything  exhibition we explored the Artists’ Books Collection to find ways that artists have portrayed and interpreted animal stories and lives and used them as metaphors for other situations. These were presented in a White Gloves Tour Tails from the Artists’ Books Collection on Saturday 3 November.
Christene Drewe checks out Scott Trevelyan’s “To Bissi to bee bored or lonely”

 To Bissi to bee bored or lonely  has  multicoloured etchings forming the frames of ‘honeycomb’ and is housed in a beehive shaped box.

Echinus  by Genevieve Swift is an exquisite, seemingly fragile book consisting of 5 long white pages (49cm) of fine paper with a pattern of swirls and waves pierced through them as if by a sea urchin’s spines. Text and colour are not necessary to tell this story of sand and foam.

Many of the animal books take an outwardly humorous approach to their subject. These include Bill Burns’ Safety gear for small animals and Footprints of animals wearing safety gear and Ron McBurnie’s Doggery  and God dog  (link to digital copy) while Matthew Sleeth’s  Call of the wild  is a photo album of that terrifying creature, the feral shopping trolley.


The grub in the wood of time  is a book not so much about an animal as by an animal. It has pages made of wood planed from a log ‘carved’ by the huge pupae of a species of weevil. The handwritten text tells a story of both the tree and the grub and the pages are arrayed on an intriguing system of round hinges. Link to digital copy.

 Anne-Maree Hunter’s  Zoomanity  combines lithographs of female figures with animal skins with full page embossings of the textures of those same skins.

Birds seem to be a favourite subject for book artists. Mary Newsome’s  Bird colours on creek scrolls  interprets the colours and textures of Australian bird plumage with tiny swatches of textiles and threads with, for example, the shine of iridescent feathers represented by metallic threads.

The book that caused most amazement to our visitors was  Fish book: not breathe a word  by Matt Dabrowksi. This book of 8 pages is actually made of whole dried fish, 6 cm long for the cover and 2cm long for the pages. The artist describes it as “a book of dead flesh…embracing thousands of eyes that have ‘seen’ …an inscrutable archive of experience containing no words”. One does get the feeling of being watched when viewing this book but the most potent sensation is the smell. It is housed in a sealed Perspex box to protect the noses of viewers (sniffers).


“The garden”
The garden  by Katharine and Garth Nix is illustrated with watermarks created when the paper itself was made. Link to digital copy


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