SCRANTON — Books are more than the sum of their words; they are themselves a work of art. Their pages are art. Their covers are art.
Their persistence in a world that has rendered them antiquated is art.
This is the subtext of Everhart Museum’s “Between the Covers: Altered Books in Contemporary Art” exhibit, which runs through June 6.
“A lot of the artists are sort of investigating kind of the ephemeral nature of books,” Everhart Museum Curator Nezka Pfeifer said. “A lot of people are turning to digital media for knowledge and information, but a lot are also kind of highlighting the fact that books are so wonderful and transport you to another world.”
Sculptor Brent Crothers’ piece “Below the Surface” is a literal boat of books that symbolizes that sentiment. According to Pfeifer, Crothers and the written word were not fast friends; it was through issues of Reader’s Digest that he overcame the hurdles that separated him from the medium, and it was with issues of that same publication that Crothers built “Below the Surface.”
The symbolism in “Below the Surface” and the other pieces on display is purposefully accessible; Pfeifer wanted the exhibit to be as welcoming to the everyday individual as the blurbs on the back of a book, but hold something more for those willing to read past the front cover.
“Accessibility was key,” Pfeifer said. “I think contemporary art still often intimidates people, unfortunately, and we want people to feel very comfortable with art. Books are such a comfortable medium … it’s an everyday object at the same time that it’s something a lot of people revere. We figured this would be a perfect opportunity to get people in to look at art and think about things differently.”
Everhart Museum’s exhibit also emphasizes the role of books as a physical and intellectual tool. For Marywood University Associate Professor of Art Pamela M. Parsons, books became the main tool with which she constructed the pieces in her current collection, “Clipped, Ripped and Reassembled: New Works in Paper Collage,” showing daily at the university’s Suraci Gallery, located inside the school’s Shields Center for Visual Arts.
“As a painter using this medium as my paint, I think of them as paintings; kind of a quicker way to make paintings,” Parsons said. “The images started inspiring ideas as well, so most of (the pieces) have invested stories or narratives that you can kind of gleam. The titles are important for them; not always in paintings but in these they’re a little help.”
Parsons’ gallery showing presents big ideas like the concept of paradise, the awkwardness of destruction and an interpretation of painter George Stubbs’ reoccurring theme of lion-on-horse violence. The artist said her confidence in approaching such weighty subjects was strengthened by the palette with which she worked: cartoony illustrations from the early and mid-20th century.
“They’re mostly dog-eared destroyed books … I’m not destroying anything of real value,” Parsons said. “I believe it’s just a way of preserving some of the authors and artists in another way. I like this era, the 1940s and ’50s especially. I guess I’m trying to play with the tension of something somewhat cartoony and also very serious subjects. It’s a way for me to think about serious subjects in a fun way.”
“Clipped, Ripped and Reassembled: New Works in Paper Collage” shows through May 8 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. “Between the Covers: Altered Books in Contemporary Art” is open during Everhart Museum’s normal operating hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Reach Gene Axton at 570-991-6121 or on Twitter @TLArts