Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

“Above and Below”: a dynamic book art exhibit

USM

Posted on December 10, 2016 in Arts & Culture
By USM Free Press

By Eli Morse, Free Press staff

There are so many mediums of art out there, but one that is often forgotten is book art. Although USM has a minor in book arts, many have not heard of this art form. At the Pope-Cheney Art Studio in the Wishcamper Center on the Portland campus, there is an exhibit of Sandra Barry’s book art entitled “Above and Below.”

Barry received her bachelor’s degree in art, with a concentration in sculpture, and her minor in book arts at USM. She was drawn to the program because of her “curiosity of nature and innate love of materials.” She grew up on the coast of Maine in a family of textile artists and was drawn to the “non-traditional way to express” herself. “I’ve always loved working with textures and finding new ways to communicate with materials,” Barry said. “So a lot of my books are texture-based and don’t even have words.”

A book without words can be an artists’ book or it can just be a book without words. Artists’ books are hard to define. They are works of art using the form of the book as the medium. Artists’ books can be altered books. They can have words or no words, or they can be sculptures or stories or make use of multiple mediums of expression in one piece. The main thing is that artists’ books do not have the traditional form of a book.

Barry’s pieces draw from many aspects of artists’ books. Her books are stunning, utilizing marbled paper, watercolor and sometimes wood or lights. She enjoys to use the form of the accordion fold, which is when paper is pleated to resemble an accordion. When stretched out, each pleat is the backdrop of the scene to a story. In Barry’s case, many of these stories were illustrated with watercolor paints.  

The title “Above and Below” suits the exhibit. Barry is an oyster farmer and also an avid gardener, so she draws on her surroundings to re-create them in the vast realm of book arts. In the exhibit, there are three shelves holding her books in a glass case. The top shelf involves elements of “above,” like water color scenes of birds and their nests, or the phases of the moon lit up by tiny LEDs (“Planting by the Moon, 2016”). On the middle shelf are elements of the ground, like flowers and gardens. On the bottom shelf are elements of the sea and include some of Barry’s most publicized work, such as her artists’ book, “Oyster,” which is many layers of pages of books cut out to create the shape of an oyster. On the inside of one of the oysters, the one word that stands out from the background of text is “transformation.” It was a well thought-out arrangement, with the sky and gardens “above” and the sea “below.”

Barry’s art reflects the natural world of Maine and fills viewers with an appreciation for the many faces of nature within the state. Her aesthetic is not confined to one form, but takes on the forms of accordion folds, sculptures, altered books shaped like oysters, sculptures springing out of altered books, tunnel books and more.

As Barry said, her work is “related to the natural world above and below.” Through her art, she hopes to give people a glimpse into her experience, while simultaneously allowing others to  engage with their own experiences through the art. She also hopes to spark people’s curiosity in books and introduce them to the manifold world of book arts.

With the variety of forms and aesthetic on display within this exhibit, one’s curiosity is sure to be kindled. “Above and Below” will be exhibited in the Wishcamper Center until February 2017.