Recently I took a trip to the Fullerton Public Library to check out a small exhibition of work by an artist that I’ve been semi-obsessed with for a while now. His name is Brian Dettmer, and he creates wickedly awesome sculptures out of old books.
I first discovered Dettmer on an art blog about a year ago, and I fell in love with his creations right away. Not only does he work with objects that I hold close to my heart (cool old books!), but he works with such care and tedious detail that his sculptures seem almost impossible. The things he is able to create by manipulating these books are absolutely breathtaking.
Or at least, they seemed that way in all the images and video of his work that I tracked down online. Until I made the trip to Fullerton I hadn’t actually seen any of it in person. I was dying to inspect his work up close and try to figure out exactly how he is able to carve out specific images and words in each book to such amazing effect.
Well, let me just say, after seeing some of his work in person, the awe that I felt when I first saw a photo of it has only doubled. And my sense of wonder about how he does it has quadrupled.
You see, Dettmer claims that he doesn’t know what is in a book until he has his knife out and starts carving – he seals them up completely before he even begins. But when you examine the work, it seems impossible that he doesn’t at least have some kind of plan before getting started. The balance and beauty that each exposed word and image create is too spot on.
Now, I’m more inclined to trust people than doubt them, so I will take Dettmer at his word, as impossible as this “discovery-by-knife” method seems to me. But even so, after looking at the work closer, I had a theory about how he could have accomplished each sculpture in another way. But I wasn’t sure if it would even work.
Then I spotted the sign in the library that read “USED BOOK SALE TODAY!” and an arrow pointing down the hallway, and I was struck with a genius idea.
I’ll try it out myself!
I trounced down to the book sale, spotted an ancient looking copy of H.W. Janson’s History of Art (I was an art history major, this book is like the encyclopedia of all I loved and learned in college) and spent all of two bucks buying what I was sure would become my own amazing book sculpture. I made a quick stop at the art supply store on the way home, and four cans of spray glue and a couple X-acto knives later, I was ready to try out my theory of creating a Dettmer-esque masterpiece. See here is what I figured: I would go page by page in the book and select images and words around every 10-20 pages or so that I want exposed in the final product. Then, I’d spray glue each section, the page with the desired image/word on top. Starting at the back of the book, I’d cut out a half inch border, and then cut out every thing on the chunk of pages except the image or word I wanted exposed along with a section connecting it to the border. I would do this until I’d sculpted out all the sections and then I’d glue all the half inch borders together. I’d finish it off by cutting a rectangle in the cover that peeked in to the sculpture of beautifully chosen art and words in harmonic layers that I’d assembled.
I know that sounds complicated, but it made sense in my own head. However, once I got started, I realized this theory was much harder to accomplish than it sounds!
First of all, I’m a woman of little patience. And this art requires TREMENDOUS patience. One’s attention to detail has to be bordering on obsessive-compulsive. Secondly, I’m notoriously clumsy, and every time I accidentally cut the wrong section or slipped and cut the border, I’d collapse in tears of frustration. And don’t even get me started on my shaky hand trying to guide a knife in a straight line…clearly Brian Dettmer doesn’t drink nearly as many double shot lattes as I do.I gave up after about 4 hours, when I broke my second X-acto knife and the spray glue had me sufficiently high enough that I had started to think the reproduction of the Mona Lisa on the front page was talking to me. After giving book sculpting a (disastrous) shot, I have a great amount of respect for Brain Dettmer. His patience, steady hand and dedication to perfection are an inspiration to us all. Either that or he takes a LOT of Adderall.
Anyways, I’ll leave the artistic genius to him. Meanwhile I’ll be in the bathroom, scrubbing spray glue off of my hands.