Normally, coffee stains on a book would depress the shit out of me

Today, I was in my favorite Oakland art gallery/art bookstore (www.rowanmorrison.com) to pick something up for Rubyred, when I found out that there is a new book out by LA-based artist Mel Kadel. This is ironic, because I was telling Rubyred this morning about how Mel Kadel is in that like-but-don’t-love category… individually, I love her work, but in bunches, it tends to run together. Then, I see the new book, and the “have to have it” alarm goes off in my head, and I buy it. Later, at home, I contemplate why this is (of course, I contemplate it later, after spending my money).

I decided that Kadel’s work lends itself better to books than walls. I’ve seen her exhibited at a gallery in San Francisco, and that is when I decided that I wasn’t as crazy about it as I thought I was. But looking through this new book, my tune sort of changed. Part of it is the book design- both of her books (Rough Cookie and Honey Pool) are self-published and handmade (they’re essentially deluxe chapbooks). rough cookieShe publishes them in editions of 100, and sometimes will issue 2nd editions if enough people beg her (my copy of Rough Cookie is a 2nd edition), and each one is signed. The covers are really nice deckle-edged paper with color screenprinting, and the interior is all color printed on paper that has been carefully stained with coffee. Mel does a lot of art on coffee stained paper, and I noticed in the new book that she has been doing more to incorporate the shape of the stains into the art itself. The staining gives the pages a really unique look (for one, they’re wavy and brown), but it really works in the context of her art. So, here is what I mean about her work “working” better in a book than on a wall: in the art gallery, her pieces are dispersed along the physical space of the wall, whereas in the book, they are condensed into a really powerful nugget of common themes and patterns. “Yeah, but isn’t that true of all art books?” To a point, yes… but my point with Kadel is that her work works best when you digest it all at once, in a short burst, where it, and not the surroundings, is the sole focus of your attention. Rather than walking from piece to piece, the space in between them mediated by the physical space of the gallery and the whiteness and sterility of the walls, I can digest all of her work from within the book, which itself becomes an artifact straight out of the world that she creates. In this way, the book becomes a sort of missive from the world in which her ever-present female character struggles, triumphs, hides, and lives, and it provides a deeper experience of her art than the gallery setting.

I don’t feel this way about all art… I can stare at a Joe Vaux painting, for example, on a wall and get lost in it without wishing that I could digest it in book form. However, there is an important distinction here between an art book and an artist book. A glossy hardcover Mel Kadel book probably wouldn’t have the same effect described above, and so maybe the point I’ve been trying to make all along is that my “have to have it” alarm went off because of how much more I enjoy art when it is presented in the form of an artist book.  A good example here is Richard Coleman, an artist that, to me, is somewhat similar to Kadel in that there is (at leasrough cookie2t in my untrained eyes) an influence by Edward Gorey; also, Coleman, like Kadel, tends to paint in very static subject matter. (Another caveat: this isn’t the same as saying that all their paintings look the same. It is a more subjective determination that all of their paintings have the same aesthetic effect on me. Plus, since it’s subjective, you can’t get mad at me and yell at me for not finding the unique value in each and every different piece by these artists). Anyway, Gingko Press published a beautiful book of Coleman’s work that I was never really able to pull the trigger and buy (it’s only $40), because I never felt I would really look at it all that much. However, if Ckadel3oleman himself had designed and handmade a small book of his art, I think I would appreciate it on a much higher level. Clearly, I love books and that adds to my enjoyment of art, but it’s more my love of the book object as an art form… especially when there’s synergy between the book object and the art presented within, and ESPECIALLY when that synergy pays off as well as it does in Kadel’s two books.

Note: there’s a high probability that this blog makes no sense, has logical inconsistency, or demonstrates that I have no eye for fine art. If so, that sucks, I guess.

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3 Responses to “Normally, coffee stains on a book would depress the shit out of me”


  1. 1 Magda March 24, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    I agree that Mel’s work is powerful in the books, maybe because even her framed works have a quality that begs to be touched–even though the tea stains make it seem fragile. Holding the little handmade book in your hand gives you the sense that you’ve stumbled upon something very rare and personal, but something which has been loved, and labored over and touched by the artist, perhaps long after she finished the drawing.

  2. 2 Maya June 15, 2009 at 8:52 am

    Books Schmooks! Now you can get Joe Vaux in jigsaw puzzle form – giving you plenty of time to ponder all the crafty details in his art. Check it out at artifactpuzzles.com .

    • 3 chancepress June 15, 2009 at 6:09 pm

      As a Joe Vaux superfan, it should be assumed that I was already aware of such an artifact, and so I thank you for providing my blog’s ten(s) of readers with this information. I will accept one free puzzle as an exchange for displaying your advertising on my blog.


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