Archive for the '(preservation shit)' Category

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

Today, I was in my favorite Oakland art gallery/art bookstore ( 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.

I love you like a mesh bag filled with eraser crumbs

First limSo, today I received what I thought was going to be one of the cornerstones of my book collection- a signed copy of Bukowski’s novel Hollywood, limited to 150 copies (copies that are hand-bound with special touches that only matter to me and 8 other people in the world). It was the most I’ve spent on an individual book – $350 – and I had to sell some books I really liked in order to afford it. I knew it wasn’t in perfect condition (this one sells for $650-$750 in “fine” condition) but I wasn’t quite prepared for what was in the envelope… bottom line, the book was gross. It smelled like it had been sitting in a smoky den for the 18 years since it was published, and it looked that way too… it looked sickly, with a yellow patina, and little brown stains on the back (affectionately termed “foxing” by booksellers) that happen when a book sits in a high-humidity environment. I was mad, and I emailed the seller demanding $150 of my money back. I didn’t think he’d go for that, and I was ready to send the book back to him, but to my surprise, he took my offer. I felt like it was worth $200, but I still wasn’t “proud” of it, if that makes any sense.

The lovely and talented Rubyred had shown me a website about book preservation that recommended using a “dry cleaning pad” to remove stains from books, so I swung by my local art supply store after work and picked one up. I am in love with it. The obscure object of my desireIt’s basically a mesh fabric bag filled with eraser crumbs, and it allows you to erase paper without abrading it at all. I wore out my forearms cleaning off both the front and back covers of the book, and I stripped away years of cigarette smoke residue (gross). Now, the book isn’t in perfect shape- it’s still yellowed along the top and bottom of the boards, but it is pretty bright on both the front and back covers. Huge improvement. Then, I switched out the cloudy, yellowed dustjacket (most Bukowski hardcover books come with clear unprinted dustjackets) with a pristine one I had on another book, and it looked even better. Next, I’m going to seal it up with some “Book Deodorizer Granules” that I bought to get the cigarette smell out. When I’m done, I think I can legitimately claim it to be in “Very Good” condition (again using those arcane bookseller terms), whereas when I got it, I think it would probably be described as “Good” (which means “bad”, whereas “acceptable” means “acceptable for wiping your ass with”). So, NOW I think it is worth the $350 that I paid for it… good thing I only paid $200!

Hollywood first-tradeI sold a pristine copy of the standard first edition of this book (pictured to the right) to a friend in order to afford this copy, and I was a little disappointed at first that I dumped a super clean copy in exchange for this. But, in addition to having always wanted signed copies of my 2 favorite Bukowski novels (this and Ham on Rye), I do like the fact that this has some history… see, when the bookseller agreed to my refund request, he told me he could because he got the book “very cheap.” Which leads me to believe that he picked it up at an estate sale for $25 or so… and I started thinking about the crusty old chainsmoker who had this book sitting on his shelf while he puffed away and drank scotch until he croaked. Part of me feels like that’s a better place for a Bukowski book to live than a climate-controlled shrine to anal-retentiveness (or at least that some of the books in my personal climate-controlled shrine to anal-retentiveness should have come from these types of places). Of course, I wouldn’t feel this way if I couldn’t at least clean the book up a little bit, which is why I’m grateful to my little rubbery-smelling crumbly pillow of joy.

When I was done with Hollywood, I started going after some other books I had with smudges on them, and I have to say, the $7 I paid for the dry cleaning pad has probably paid for itself 20 times over just in terms of value I’ve added to my books. It doesn’t do much for yellowing or foxing, but it takes care of soiling incredibly well. There’s a magazine I bought for the lovely and talented Rubyred that I got a nasty smudge on a ways back before I sent it to her… when she brings it back to me, it’s getting the treatment, and I can’t wait (well, that’s fairly low on the list of things I can’t wait for relative to Rubyred’s arrival here, but still…).

I’m about to shut down the computer for the night and read this book (that’s one of my rules of book collecting: no owning “reading copies” of expensive books… books are meant to be read, and I’m going to read them, even if it means worrying incessantly about whatever damage I might be doing to them), after playing with it all evening, and I’m finally proud to own it. Thanks, dry cleaning pad. Some may think you’re just a mesh bag filled with eraser crumbs, but to me, you’re the sun and the moon, the oceans, and the night sky (or at least what I’d use if there were smudges on the sun and the moon, the oceans, and the night sky).

January 2022