Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Timothy C. Ely Exhibit

Today was my chance to head off to the big city and see the art book exhibit featuring Timothy Ely's work that I talked about in this post. I was thrilled when one of my blog readers who actually lives in said big city showed an interest in viewing the exhibit too. I love getting the chance to meet and spend time with people I've only known through the magic of the internet, and although I would have made the trek alone, it's so much better to share an experience like this.

Here's my latest internet and now real-time artist friend Susan at the exhibit. When asked exactly what I'd be doing with this picture I'd snapped, I replied, "Well, I document everything and put it on the blog, of course! Fair warning." This area had a book by the artist that you could actually touch and page through, one of his sketchbooks on view to see how he takes notes and draws out ideas, and a video where he talks a bit about the history of bookbinding and demonstrates some of his techniques.

This display case held some of the examples or sample books Ely described in the video, plus many of the tools and materials he uses in his process. One that caught my attention was a double-typed pen that he said was designed to draw railroad tracks on maps - two parallel lines in one stroke.. Much of Ely's work is related to cartography.

In this case, Ely shares the sorts of things he's collected over the years that in one way or another work their inspiration into his art. I've left many of these photos quite large so that if you click, you can see the details. Yes, look closely and you'll see a transformer toy in there. An adjacent case displayed old books and comics that he read as a child, gave up, and then later in life tracked down again once he realized how much they had influenced the artistic path he would take.

One of the challenge of mounting this kind of exhibit is how to display insides and outsides. The bookbindings are exquisite and complex, and in many cases you could circle around to see front and back as well as a page inside.

Ely's work such as Redshift above, in detailed, measured and concise - instant appeal to me. But it is mystical, puzzling and expansive as well. What exactly is going on in this guy's head? Well, for one thing, this:

"As a young man, Ely pored over the maps in the Suzzallo Library at the University of Washington. It was there...that he had an epiphany...'Until that day, my view of the universe was that it was fixed and stable. I was looking at this old map when suddenly I realized everything is in constant change. The immutability of the map was an illusion, each one was simply a projection of what had been.' With that, Ely's work changed. Instead of trying to create microcosms of the external world, he began to view maps as means for diagramming the potential of what could be." (from exhibit flyer Chasing Shadows/Becoming Atlas by Ian Boyden)

This was one of my favorites - big surprise. I naturally gravitate towards this color palette and geometric forms.

This was perhaps the most interesting book in the exhibit, by virtue of the fact that the edges of the pages do not align, but form interesting angles. And there are cut-outs in the pages, windows to things deeper in the book.

One of the reasons I wanted to see this exhibit was the hope that I would gain an understanding of this art form so foreign to me. As I stared at some large watercolors of Ely's traditionally framed and hung on the wall, I suddenly made the connection that the book form was just another way of showcasing the artwork, but in a compact and accessible form. All the related individual works bound together in one place, protected by the covers as carefully and beautifully designed as the work within, ready to rest on a bookshelf or coffee table until time to be viewed. A properly bound book, Ely stated, could survive a thousand years. As I struggle with my own issues of finishing, presentation and storage of my textile art, I could not help but envy Ely's exquisite solution.


Linda said...

Thanks for this review - it's an exhibition I'd love to see!

SuSaw said...

This makes two blogs on which my alter has appeared. I may have to start a blog just to return the favor.

Had a great time meeting you and seeing this wonderful exhibit. Thanks for the memory.

margaret said...

Thanks for the trip round the show! Ely has cropped up in my reading about book arts - he's been doing this for a while... In the 80s he used a lot of glyphs to give the idea of a secret language, "magical and arcane references" says Joanna Drucker's 'The Century of Artists Books' - which I recommend as a way to get a handle on the-book-as-art -- it's written about 20 years ago but does look at artists books category by category - for example, the book as a visual form, the book as verbal exploration, the book as sequence: narrative and non-narrative, the artist's book as an agent of social change, the book as conceptual space (performance and exhibition), the book as document.
Mainly, though - the book is a container!

Michael5000 said...

Timothy Ely is a national treasure. Thanks for the review and especially for the photos!