Gestalten’s ‘Book Art’ by Paul Sloman: A Conversation With the Designer/Editor and Book Giveaway

Book Art, Paul Sloman, Gestalten

We here at The Fox Is Black love reading and especially love the work that Gestalten releases. They constantly release books that are interesting, creative, beautiful, and greatly intelligent. We had the opportunity to speak with the compiler, designer, and editor of one of their newest books: Book Art by Paul Sloman.

Book Art, which is an exploration of the physical book and how it has become the template for various forms of art, is both a history and art book. On one hand, Sloman–along with author Christine Antaya–outlines the history of the book, the technology surrounding it, as well as what the book has become. On the other hand–and closely tied to what the physical book has become–Sloman and Antaya outline various ways the physical book has been used for art, from sculpture to installation to design. Book Art does an excellent job at displaying this art form and opens up a large conversation between written texts, repurposing items for art, and the intermix of the two in the twenty-first century.

I recently had the chance to ask Sloman a few questions related to that: the physical book, the art, and the future of both. And, with that, we have an exciting opportunity for readers to snag a copy of the book–courtesy of Gestalten!

Book Art by Paul Sloman, published by Gestalten

Book of Space by Johan Hybschmann

A big theme in Book Art is how the idea of a book has shifted because of technology. With the digital book bringing the subsequent loss of the physical book, what do you think was/is the most important moment for the book in relationship to modern technology? Has it happened yet? Is there a definitive moment or action that changed books forever

There are many moments in the evolution of the book that changed it forever, such as the moment that it went from being a scroll to a codex, or when Gutenberg created the printing press – and we are probably in just such an evolutionary moment now. Book Art is about exactly this – I like the fact that it is itself a bit like a book in crisis; it is a book about the validity of books, and artists’ and designers’ attempts at finding an answer.

For me the difference between the printed book and its digital alternative is simple and physical. My copy of On The Road, which travelled with me as a student, is battered, torn and weather-beaten; there are spilt drinks on certain pages that I remember drinking, and they have spilt over passages of Kerouac’s writing that I remember vividly reading at the time. The book itself is an object of memory, and it sits on my shelf as a physical moment of my past. I was trying to ‘live’ in the book at the time and the evidence is there. You can’t get that with a digital book.

Modern technology has pursued intuitive interaction as an end in itself, which is fantastic if you are trying to work quickly and efficiently; touch screens have all but eliminated the barrier between ourselves and our computers, so that the interaction is almost subliminal. But sometimes a physical engagement like this has something extra to offer. Just like a chunky slab of vinyl on a turntable feels good, or big clunky buttons on an old stereo that you know for certain you have pressed, I like the bulk and weight of a book, the feel of turning the page, of being ‘inside’ it for a period of time, and away from the rest of the world.

As the artists and designers we featured in Book Art try to find a use and tease out the relevance of books, this physicality keeps coming through. But there is an air of mortality hanging around a lot of these works too – one artist, Jacqueline Rush Lee, dumps books in water and watches them elegantly decay; Georgia Russell both dissects and preserves her books, slashing them into thousands of strands before immortalizing them in bell jars like relics. Meanwhile, designers like Michael Bom have moved beyond looking at the book as reading matter altogether and are recycling them to make beautiful functional items – in his case, amazing lights. In the face of digital alternatives, it is the book as object that seems to be celebrated.

Book Art by Paul Sloman, published by Gestalten

Biografias III and Contemporáneos by Alicia Martin

You speak about the physical book’s potential end, losing the battle to digital books and the like. Do you think there will come a time when the physical book will actually disappear?

No, I don’t, although the argument might seem persuasive. What is the relevance of a book when texts can be consumed so efficiently on a computer screen? In terms of efficiency alone, a little handheld device holding 1,000 books that fits in your pocket is destined to win. But at the same time, how often do you need to read more than one book at a time? And does it really feel better to hold up an illuminated screen while you relax with your coffee to read your favourite novel? So my feeling is that if you are in a hurry, or need to quickly check something such as a news story or a dictionary reference, you might reach for your iPad, but if you want to read something at leisure, the book still offers a more intimate and rewarding experience.

Having grown up with a passion for both books and computers, I feel I can see both sides. Pong fascinated me as much as anything else. I am a book designer, but I make most of my design decisions on a computer screen, which I consider beautiful and a prized possession. But still, when putting books together, the thing that I really care about is the texture and thickness of the paper, the nature of the binding – and I even love the smell of the fresh ink. I always smell a book first when it comes back from the printer. I always go for a printed book when I sit down to have a proper read. It allows the opportunity to take time, forget about being efficient and luxuriate in the pleasure of reading.

This is, I think, a feeling that book artists are trying to channel. They are articulating the importance of books and why people still care about them. I love the work of Guy Laramee, who treats his books with an almost spiritual reverence. He carves mind-blowing landscapes into the sides of the pages in a way that he describes as ‘mantic’ – as if he is trying to feel his way to something quite elevated. This might sound a bit of an extreme way to describe cutting up a book, but most people deep down seem to share this sense of reverence for books – and I think this will keep them alive, albeit in smaller numbers, in much the same way as vinyl has thrived on the fringes of the music industry. Books, as rare, beautiful creatures, will live on for a while yet – hopefully forever.

Book Art by Paul Sloman, published by Gestalten

The Reading Fly by Evguenia Johova

What is the most important book to you?

I’m not sure I could pick one out of the many that I have as they all satisfy such different needs! However, a couple of favourites are the original editions of the Invasion titles by the artist Invader (Invasion: UK, LA and Paris), all great examples of underground publishing at its best. They are ‘street guides’ to the artists work and have silk-screened vinyl covers to make them durable – it’s an expensive printing process that would never happen if the book had been published by a conventional publisher. Another, very different, book that I love is The Complete Lights – a fantastic collection of all Dan Flavin’s minimal light installations. That the printers were able to get the subtle colours right when printing these works is a minor miracle, and the book is huge, and boxed, making it a real pleasure just to pick up and hold.

Book Art by Paul Sloman, published by Gestalten

See What You Say Mike Stilkey

What is the most basic form of book art? What is the most complex?

When we researched Book Art, we found the variation in scale and complexity incredibly wide. On the one hand, you have an artist such as Gene Epstein, who folds books into simple, elegant shapes – she is all about aesthetics, and does it to perfection. At the other end of the spectrum you have artists like Xu Bing, who spent four years carving an invented alphabet into 4,000 pearwood blocks, then used them to fill a vast room with endless printed books and reams of printed paper, all featuring his new language. Referencing the hundreds of years of Chinese history bound up in books and suggesting a remaking for the future, this is book art on its most epic and influential scale.

Book Art by Paul Sloman, published by Gestalten

Untitled (Lemniscate) by Job Koelewijn

And, now for the giveaway! We have three copies of Book Art available to a few lucky readers. In order to win, please tell us what your favorite book is and why. It could be the design of the cover, a personal memory, or maybe even both? The best three answers (as chosen by Bobby and I) will win a copy of the book. Feel free to include links to photos of your books as well. We will close the comment section a week from now, on May 23, 2011, and announce the winners. Have fun with it and good luck!


21 Comments Gestalten’s ‘Book Art’ by Paul Sloman: A Conversation With the Designer/Editor and Book Giveaway

  1. Dr. David Robinson May 23, 2011 at 10:26 AM

    My favorite book is the out of print Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini. While it’s difficult to describe, it’s basically an encyclopedic guide to another world, beautifully illustrated and written in a language known only to the author. I was introduced to the Codex by the artist who did my first tattoo. Several years later, half a country away from where we first met, I ran into the tattoo artist and asked her about the book. She told me the name adding that if she knew I was so interested, she would have given me a copy because she had two. Unfortunately for me, she had already given her duplicate to a friend. Several years later, my sister – who is a book artist herself – found a copy online and bought it for me as a birthday gift. In addition to the sentimental value, the pure beauty of the illustrations and the sense of wonder they project really make this my favorite book, hands down.

  2. Matt Scribner May 23, 2011 at 10:41 AM

    My favorite book is the Bible. Even if you’re not a believer in it you can’t deny the beauty of the things depicted in it. It is the greatest love story ever written, the Creator makes a world, fills it with his creations, they go against him but he loves them still so much that he comes down more or less in disguise and dies for them. It’s also the ultimate battle between the ultimate good and ultimate evil. It has natural disasters, monumental battles, romance stories, men dying to save one another, fighting for one another, it has prophesy, and good wins in the end.

  3. Liana May 23, 2011 at 11:37 AM

    My favorite book is actually a play by J.M. Barrie called “Dear Brutus.” It is essentially a continuation of “A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream” in its imaginative and magical plot and characters. Guests are invited to a house because they have something in common, though none of them knows what it is; the plot is best summarized through one of the character’s thoughts, “Three things they say come not back to men nor women- the spoken word, the past life and the neglected opportunity. Wonder if we should make any more of them if they did come back to us.” And then the characters experience what their lives would be like if had a different past. Though I’m not sure how well the text of the play would translate into watching an actual play, it is filled with the most wonderfully charming descriptions of the characters, such as Dearth “whose tears would smell of brandy” and Mrs. Coade who has “a beaming smile that has accompanied her from childhood. If she lives to be a hundred she will pretend to the census man that she is only ninety-nine.” While it is my favorite story, I find myself trying hard not to lend my book to anyone because I do find it so special. I’ve lent it to one person, who found it as charming as I did and understood why I was unwilling to share it with just anyone (and then I post about it here haha…).

  4. Sonia Ryan May 23, 2011 at 11:53 AM

    I cannot pinpoint one all time fave book because there is no such thing. However, Jay Z’s Decoded has found a top spot on my coffee table among other books. It’s a beautifully put together book with imagery and words far too great for the Kindle version.

  5. Darrell thorpe May 23, 2011 at 11:59 AM

    My favourite book is supply and demand by shepard fairey. Amazing design and layout and much more. As aposed to most design books, supply and demand actually goes into depth about how obey giant manifested itself etc…

    Also it talks about the works of barbara Kruger,Martin Luther king, che… Like the bible above lots of great stuff so really a must for any designer, illustrator or activist.

    So OBEY me and read this book.

    {DAz* }

  6. Erica May 23, 2011 at 12:51 PM

    Favorite book is Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.
    The edition I have has a well designed cover and the pages are really soft. The story is amazing though. Ellison thought out everything really well. The boomerang plot line, symbolism, writing technique, pretty much everything was just spectacular. All to the end of… well I shouldn’t give it away I guess. But an amazing read, brilliant piece of modern literature. (:

  7. Sarah May 23, 2011 at 1:25 PM

    I have never been one to choose favourites. I find the act is nearly impossible, especially when it comes to literature. Every story has a different significance for me. However, the book that has most recently made a strong impression is definitely Les Miserables. I’ve always had a fascination with the story. My Father, who never reads, bought a film adaptation of it years ago and played it to death. His love of the story and admiration for the strength of the character Jean Valjean was infectious. One day while perusing my favourite book shop, I found a worn out copy on the shelf for 5 dollars. I never imagined I would find the time to get around to it but brought it along to a cottage on summer break. I was accustomed to the watered down, simplified, hollywood film adaptation so reading the book was like getting to know an old friend. Here was the opportunity to get to know the characters fully, and Hugo certainly did not disappoint. So many people I know complain about 19th century lit because in their opinion there plenty of opportunity for editing but I disagree, it’s the fullness of the stories and attention to detail that I love. Fortunately Norman Denny’s translation was faithful to the poetic nature of Hugo’s writing. This is probably one of the greatest stories I have read, simply because of the character Jean Valjean, his faith has challenged me to reevaluate my own. I cried a few time throughout this story (no surprise, I’m a wimp) and was constantly relating what was happening to my dad. The story features an overlying theme of grace. Jean Valjean, a man sentenced to 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread is faced with the choice of surrendering his life to God but his efforts to redeem himself are constantly being thwarted by Javert, a prison guard turned police inspector, who believes that a sinful man cannot redeem himself of great sins. The struggles of Valjean and the other characters are truly poignant and the execution of the writing is truly beautiful. This book appeals to many due to the writing, story, and historical qualities of the novel. The copy I own is nothing special, it’s a beat up penguin classic which has obviously seen numerous owners in its time.. which is partly what appealed to me. I like books that have a reading history. The cover is a painting of an older man eating alone at a table.. I don’t know why but seeing old people eating alone always makes me sad, I think the cover exagerates the fact that in the story Valjean faces his internal and external struggles alone but with a faith in God.

    PS I love this blog, I’m not an art student, in fact I study music.. but have a somewhat ignorant appreciation for the visual arts and of course literature! This interview was very interesting and this book looks brilliant. Definitely appeals to a bibliophile like myself.

  8. Pablo Lara H May 23, 2011 at 2:55 PM

    My favorite book is The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. It came in my life in difficult moments and it became my Bible. I was so obsessed with the book that finally I made a set of photographies about a passage of the book, when Rahel and Estha, two characters of the book, go from Ayemenem to Cochin, to watch The Sound of Music. I love the book because it is very graphical. Every chapter takes you to a mental trip of sensations. And the book mixes tenderness and sour feelings. As the life is. You can see the pictures I made at

  9. Susan Mercer May 23, 2011 at 9:10 PM

    My favorite book is Beautiful Joe which I read in the third or fourth grade. It was one of those Children’s Classics and is basically a Black Beauty story about a dog instead of a horse. When our family moved from Albuquerque to Orlando my father purged everything and Beautiful Joe went to the dump. I cried for days. Years later I was helping a friend clean his stuff from his father’s house and on his shelf was a copy. There are probably very few people who actually had this book. I married him!

  10. harpreet May 23, 2011 at 10:09 PM

    I only regret that all i have experienced of Luis Barragan’s work is through the book of the same name – Luis Barragan by Rene Burri.

    Its a beautiful and concise look into the life of the Pritzker prize winning Mexican architect, blessed with poetic pictures of his works that more than make up for the few words that describe them.

    The fact that it is a book by a photographer and someone who is known to Luis makes the visual insight all the more wonderful. I cherish that little book amongst my entire collection.

    Here is one of my favorite extracts –

    “a perfect garden – no matter what its size – should enclose nothing less than the entire universe” – Luis Barragan

    Luis Barragan – Rene Burri

    ISBN 0-7148-3960-4

    Phaidon Press Limited

  11. Sergio May 23, 2011 at 11:33 PM

    This ended up being much longer than I anticipated… sorry about that.

    Similarly to others before me, I too would find it impossible to pick one favourite book. I love books, both as art and/or design objects and as vessels for written (or visual — don’t forget comic books!) communication and story-telling. I could list examples — from anything from McSweeney’s or Chris Ware to Nabokov’s Pale Fire or anything by Garcia Marquez, Borges or Vonnegut — but that would only be the tip of the iceberg.

    However, if I could only save one book from a hypothetical bookshelf fire, I know which one it’d be: the bible. I’m not religious at all, more of an agnostic atheist — and in fact have quite mixed feelings about the book in general. Sure it may be the greatest story ever told, and preach love and what have you, but it’s also probably the most misinterpreted book and as such a cause for hatred and discrimination towards many… but that’s not the book’s fault, I suppose.

    But t’s not any bible, it’s my Grandma’s bible, which she had since 1983 (when she received it as a gift from my other Grandma) and which I inherited when she passed away in 2007. The thing is falling apart, text block detached from covers, the spine held together by tape, loose pages here and there, yellowing more and more. What I treasure about it is between the lines: every few pages there are notes in my Grandma’s beautiful handwriting, from small comments on some of the passages to a list of contacts for all her children and grandchildren on the extra blank pages at the back — at the top of the list is my name and number along with my address from when I first moved away from home. In between the pages, there’s a few photos of grandchildren (including a really funny one of my mom and aunts in home-made halloween costumes), a couple pieces of correspondance including a letter from my sister and some “get well soon” notes from when she started to get sick.

    I never had the “I don’t think I believe in the same stuff you do” talk with my Grandma. By the time I thought I had it figured out it was too late, and even if it hadn’t been I don’t think I’d have the heart to do it. It helped that she was the sweet, loving spiritual kind and not the preachy, stick-her-nose-in-other-people’s-faiths kind.

    It’s funny how a book you’d think you’d never own, let alone treasure, shows up in your life, full of personal history and makes you feel that much closer to it’s previous owner. In this case I was already close to the previous owner, my Grandma, but after her death, the book brought parts of her back and made my connection to her feel even stronger. The fact that the book is a bible — well… is not completely irrelevant, but in all honesty it could be a cookbook, or a novel or a dictionary, and I’d treasure it just the same (provided the personal additions are still there — as much as I hate when people write on books, but I’ll let it pass this time for Grandma).

    I do think it is important that it is a book. That it is a physical object, able to show some history in its wear and tear, and that provides the opportunity to add personal notes or store content such as photographs or letters and create in this way a much richer and personal narrative. Beat that e-books!

    Thanks if you made it this far.

  12. true May 24, 2011 at 7:22 AM

    During my sophomore year of university, as a design student, I helped a friend out with her graduate thesis and as a token of her appreciation, she gave me a book about paper.

    My favourite thing about books is their tactility. I don’t think a device could ever replace the weight of a book, how it feels when you fall asleep with it on your chest (or head) in bed or on the couch after a long day, the feel of the paper in your fingers, the simple action of turning a page, the smells of books, both new and old.

    The book that she gave me, a simple book called More Paper, illustrated the physical nature of books perfectly. The book, although it didn’t have a story per se, fiction or non, it told its own story of paper. The mundane quality of it really touched me, when she gave it to me. It was so simple: a book about paper, with the perfect paper cover, with pages you could turn and touch, feel and smell all kinds of paper. It was almost better than words, in a way, because you filled out your own blanks about the paper with your own experience, the way you fill out details about characters and settings you read about in books.

    That, to me, felt really beautiful and was the reason why I loved the book, not because of the words in it, but for the book itself. It was a work of art, perfectly in its medium: a book about paper, made of paper, made to be touched, felt and loved.

  13. CYH May 24, 2011 at 11:25 AM

    Fusion Kitsch by Hsia Yu

    A chinese translated to engligh poetry book,
    I stilll don’t find a proper word to describe my feeling when I read the poerty that wrote by Hsia Yu. That’s the reason this book impressed me and made me want to introduce to you guys.

    Maybe you can find it after you read it or maybe this book don’t need a description or adjective.

  14. Stacy May 24, 2011 at 11:44 AM

    My favorite book is Something Borrowed – really anything by that author. She has the ability to make you feel for both characters in her novels, even when they are doing something you don’t agree with. Her characters have an incredible amount of depth. I remember feeling like I shouldn’t be rooting for the girl who was cheating – and at the same time wanting her to get her guy. I also remember feeling empathy for Darcy, even when you found out how manipulative she was. They are real people, unlike so many of the cookie cutter characters you read today. Great book.

  15. Aris Blevins May 24, 2011 at 11:52 AM

    Fairly impossible to choose a favorite book week to week, let alone a book to end all books – but a book that I own, love and always find myself re-opening is ‘Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences’ by Lawrence Weschler, published by those clever fellows at McSweeney’s.

    The book it essentially a personal art history exploration of works that share a resonance of content, form, substance, feel. All told in a simple, direct way. Weschler covers everything from graphic design in the Polish Revolution to the relationship between trees, neurons and the internet.

    Amazing bits of writing that create a book to dip and dive through.

  16. Meghan May 24, 2011 at 12:09 PM

    My favorite book is Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas. Though it is billed as “a play for voices”, I prefer reading it to hearing it spoken, giving myself ample time to read and reread such lovely lines as:

    “It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea.”

    It’s both whimsical and melancholy, and utterly fabulous in every way. I find myself newly inspired each time I read it.

  17. mcky May 24, 2011 at 12:44 PM

    my favorite book is ‘invisible monsters’ by chuck palanhniuk because it makes me feel crazy, like i don’t understand anything. it’s a nice escape.

  18. headphonaught May 25, 2011 at 2:26 PM

    Whilst there are a number of stories that I truly adore… my favourite book is a large hardback version of JRR Tolkien’s masterpiece “the Hobbit”… with wonderfully vivid colour illustrations by Alan Lee that really do the story justice. Its just wonderful to have and to hold… a genuine pleasure to savour and enjoy.

    Here are a few pics:

    I picked it up in a charity (thrift) shop for £2 last year… and I just adore it. Its what a good book should be.

    Thomas x

  19. Rollie May 26, 2011 at 3:33 PM

    Since my family has been in the printing and graphic arts since the founding of my grandfather’s print shop 100 years ago books are my touchstone. My grandfather’s, now printing plant, is operated by my cousin and his son now.

    The walls of our house were always filled with books and my father, the primary designer of the Baum (buckle) folder could, at any moment go to a requested piece of information or interest pull out the book and point to the page requested.

    He brought home numerous books of many types and on many subjects and all were treated as members of our family. His older sisters had a store called the Book Nook in Riverside CA and my sister and I always received an autographed significant book for special occassions.

    My books have followed me across country from east to Rockies to west back to rockies and now west again. They are my friends and the legacy of my family.

    My grown children now have some of the books and cherish them as I do. I invited them to the International Book Fair in Guadalajara Mexico some years ago and those in college went to their teachers and were, of course, given permission to go with me. We all were in heaven walking around books from all over the world for a week. It will be a shared experience we will never forget.

    I was honored by the dedication from my son of his first book, published last year, after many years of prodding.

    The printed and bound book will always bring us the most contentment, peace and closeness to us and a permanent connection to our family history.

  20. Eiron Page May 28, 2011 at 6:15 AM

    My world was transformed when, late in 2004, I discovered a copy of Mark Z. Danielewski’s ‘House of Leaves’ in a charity shop. I had not heard much of a buzz about it in the UK, but I was drawn to it initially due to its dark and malevolent cover and, upon opening it, knew that this was going to be, more than most others, a novel experience (the pun is unforgivable, but I’m doing it anyway).

    The reader cannot be passively involved with the text; they, as much as the characters, are forced to twist and turn and to try to make sense of the environment presented to them. There are at least three narrative voices, all of whom are of dubious reliability. Entire passages are missing, struck through or jumbled. The reader is challenged to piece these clues together, fill in the gaps for themselves and derive meaning for themselves.

    Besides which the whole thing is so eerily beautiful, especially with the full three-colour edition, in which the key motives are emphasised by their use.

    It is an epic and deeply intriguing journey through layers of intrinsic mythic and cultural symbolism, Derridan and Saussurean theory, structural and stylistic play, and embedded ciphers that form part of a greater puzzle that I recommend to everybody who doesn’t mind taking a less passive role in reading.

    It has certainly had a profound effect on my life… and I know that I am not alone.

  21. Sarah August 7, 2011 at 7:48 AM

    Did you ever announce the winner for this?

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *