Washington State University printmaking professor Kevin Haas has collected artist’s books for roughly 25 years. With each new acquisition, a unique creative exploration is revealed. For example, Margot Lovejoy’s “Book of Plagues” examines the AIDS crisis, the fear and stigmatization surrounding it, and government indifference to the epidemic, with parallels to current crises. Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo made her book “We Are All Speaking at the Same Time” during 2020, echoing the Black Lives Matter protests, to celebrate and bring awareness of the LGBTQ and black, indigenous, and people of color communities and their voices.
Other books are meant to be playful, such as Eroyn Franklin’s “Just Noise,” which illustrates the bickering, arguments, and love that are part of a relationship.
“I am still thrilled when I discover these surprising, interactive, and affordable works of art,” Haas said. “Getting to experience artist’s books firsthand and for the first time can be pretty magical. We don’t usually get to hold works of art in our hands like we do with artist’s books, so the viewing experience is very personal.”
What is an artist’s book?
The term “artist’s book” refers to publications that have been conceived as artworks in their own right, Haas said. Emerging from experiments in design and publications by artists in the early 20th century, the field of artist’s books took hold in the 1960s as artists sought out alternative ways of presenting their work. Artist’s books provide opportunities for artists to explore text, images, sequence, juxtaposition, time, and interaction, creating everything from cheaply made zines and handmade books to decks of cards and other printed ephemera.
“The book format is attractive to artists, since it allows their work to be accessible to a wide audience, as well as being very affordable,” he said. “They are often distributed outside the mainstream channels of galleries and museums, making them an appealing medium to a wide variety of subcultures.”
A collection meant to be shared
As his collection grew, Haas said he realized it needed to serve as a resource for students, other artists, or the simply curious. So he started the Bookforms Library last January, with more than 250 items that date from the 1980s to the present. Located in room 7061 of the Fine Arts Building, the library is open to all on the last Friday of each month during the semester from noon–2:30 p.m., or by appointment.
“It follows the spirit of artist’s books themselves, which are meant to be shared and experienced firsthand,” he said.
WSU humanities librarian Erin Hvizdak approached Haas about creating a Terrell Library display, up through the end of October, as an introduction to artist’s books, their history, the issues they address, and their many forms. She said she wanted to spotlight book collections on campus not housed in WSU Libraries. (Visit the website to learn more about these collections.)
“Librarians’ number one priority, no matter how this manifests, is to get people the information and resources that they need, whether that is inside or outside of the library’s walls,” Hvizdak said. “Kevin’s collection is an amazing resource for people who want to learn more about this art form and incorporate it into their research and teaching. His cataloging of the collection and opening it up for use have made it a really valuable addition to campus. I wanted to highlight his collection as just one of the places on campus besides the library that is meeting people at their point of need.”