Don’t Judge A Book…
by Marcia Santore
With paper and fabric, stitches, ribbon, lace, embroidery and reclaimed antique objects, Gail Smuda uses the contemporary art form of the artist’s book to reach into the past, creating intriguing objects that convey stories of another time.
Artist’s books can be a challenging medium to understand. Most people expect to view art at a distance, eyes only, perhaps from behind a rope or a painted line on the floor that reminds them not to get too close. Smuda’s books require a more intimate engagement. They are small, with multiple pages that must be turned or unfurled to find the treasures within.
Some stand alone, like “The Burning of the Convent,” hand-stitched fabric pages with “Love” on one cover and “Hate” on the other. Others have containers: “Cats of Nine Tales” has nine tiny paper books, each tucked within its own box, within one larger box. “Memoirs of a Victorian House” includes an open-fronted dollhouse that serves as a bookshelf for the stitched and embroidered paper books within.
“What amazes me is that even artists don’t know what an artist’s book is,” Smuda said. “It’s a self-defining medium as we get farther and farther away from a traditional book. Sometimes it has no pages, or no words, or it doesn’t open. It’s a created, unique object rather than a published book.” And sometimes artist’s books are published: Smuda has created editions as well as individual works. “Storytelling plays a big part, but not necessarily a written story. My work has always been very conceptual, so it may be very obscure. Everybody brings their own story to the artwork. There are things you’re not conscious of, but they’re there.”