A.K. Lee

I am a Book Artist. There are many definitions but basically a Book Artist is concerned with sequences of images rather than single images and take advantage of the elements of disclosure and participation which the book form facilitates. Book Artists often make their books by hand so Book Arts is an interesting mix of both Art and Craft.  Some Artists’ Books are very sculptural, others more conventional. On that rough scale I would be located on the conventional side.

Book Arts was principally pioneered in Britain during the 1970s. While there is always interesting work being delivered by practitioners from many other countries, from the mid-1980’s onwards most of the really groundbreaking work has come from American Book Artists. Ireland holds it’s own however with excellent work being produced by the likes of RedFoxPress in Co. Mayo, Mermaid Turbulance in Co. Leitrim, and roughly forty other individual Artists and small presses throughout the country. If you’re interested in this still-emerging and vibrant genre you may well enjoy visiting the excellent national collection, NIVAL (National Irish Visual Arts Library).

With our disproportionately high standing in the field of Literature and our characteristic ease with language (or ‘gift of the gab’ as others might put it!) we are well-placed to excel in this field. Although of course recognising that one can easily sound over-reaching when talking in such terms I nevertheless am convinced that Ireland is ideally suited to taking a position in the forefront of Book Arts.

Over the past 12 months I’ve been involved in two projects which are still in development but well-advanced. The first is a graphic novel called ‘Visitors’ about an agonising dilemma deftly resolved by my Great-Grandfather during the war of independence. I wrote the text, laid out the accompanying imagery and then liased with the Illustrator, Fiona Boniwell. The book is exactly 100 pages long and is now fully scripted, edited repeatedly, with excellent illustrations by Fiona.

I have also designed what I call a ‘Wallbook.’ This is a stout covered cardboard box with a hinged lid which can be hung flush on a wall. The front lid has a rectangular hole framing a mounted print lodged in the lid itself. On opening the box a second mounted print on the lid facing inwards is revealed while opposite it a limited edition Artists’ book is held in a jutting cardboard saddle. The entire box is covered in a mauve and orange image of a crowd looking upwards on the back of the box. The crowd are looking up at a space on the back of the box where new images can be screenprinted. This allows the box to be altered and thereby house any number of books in the future. A number of dummies have been made and improved and the first (and hopefully final!) version with the cover image added is due this very week.

I was happy to add some recent work to the Kilkenny Arts Week exhibition in the studio and will also be participating in the 20:20 exhibition. This is welcome as I mainly sell my 16 different books online via my website (ignition.ie) or else in Artists’ Book Fairs in Dublin and the U.K.

I joined Blackstack at the end of 2012, having been abroad for two years while I completed my M.A. The work I’ve made in recent months has therefore been a re-learning of skills. Fellow members have been very helpful in this regard. It’s a relief to be part of a productive, friendly and entirely professional studio. I’m moving to Kilkenny because of Blackstack (although of course Kilkenny has much else to offer –  which I know from living here very happily 20 years’ ago when teaching at St. Kierans).

As is all-too-typical I don’t live off the sales of my books. I also teach Book Making at Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray and on occasional workshops.