Yinka Shonibare’s ‘The British Library’

In Yinka Shonibare MBE’s new installation, The British Library, he explores the impact of immigration on British culture by covering hundreds of books—written by those “both celebrated and unfamiliar” who, as immigrants, made unique contributions to what is now accepted as ‘British’ culture—with his trademark Dutch wax (batik) fabrics. Gold tooling on the spines declare the names of all these individuals who, at some point, came to Britain as immigrants, and made their mark.

The British Library asks us to evaluate our attitudes to immigration and immigrants.”

I am always impressed by Shonibare MBE’s work…but especially love this installation, for the sheer joy of seeing whole book shelves crammed with books that have been covered in bold, parti-coloured Dutch wax fabrics. Fabulous! Although not actually bound in these fabrics (I don’t think Brighton Library would let anyone change the covers of their books…the fabrics are merely wrapped around like dust jackets) it certainly sets my own bookbinder’s imagination daydreaming about actually binding my own library in similar, flamboyant fashion.

I did say it was a daydream. 🙂 As though I didn’t already have enough to do for 5 lifetimes…


House Festival 2014.

Oops! I did it again!

“You set out for church, and find yourself  at the dog races….”

–Naomi Shihab Nye

A favorite material to cover my handmade journals in is artist’s canvas. I usually start with a piece big enough to cover 8-12 books, paint it all different hues blending into one another, collage a tiny bit of patterned paper (tissue, gift wrap, book pages) here and there, stamp or stencil more pattern on top (hand-cut stencils, hand-carved stamps…) and finish with a very translucent glaze of more color over it all, just to homogenize the different elements. Only then do I cut the canvas into individual pieces, and come up with some focal point to paint onto the cover of each book.

I went through this process the other day, because I sold the very last of my handbound books at a Christmas fair recently (so it’s time to make  a completely new generation of journals) and I have also used up my stash of painted canvas.

Holy donuts in a gay pride parade, Batman! Here are some examples of what I came up with:

I’m not exactly UNHAPPY with the results; it’s an interesting effect, quite rich and the colors are fun…but these painted covers had me shaking my head for two reasons:

First, where and how will I add a focal point or “feature” to these already loud and busy designs?

Secondly, no one will believe me when I tell them that the plan for this next generation of journals was to go for a delicate, floral, feminine feel…I wanted to evoke bridal bouquets and fragile heirlooms, subtle perfume, lacy fabrics, love poems and Chopin nocturnes.

Instead I’ve gone and painted Goofy Uncle Harvey goes to Maui in the Aloha Shirt from Hell”!

*sigh* Oh well…back to the drawing (and painting)board.