The first time I started painting books, they were simply used as props. I had very traditional still life subjects (fruit and the like). Books were simply there to add some new dimension to the paintings.
My own library of books had no character. They were clean, crisp and new. My mother-in-law has an amazing collection of books in her library. I borrowed some of her antique books and started using them — check the early ones out here, here and here.
Then it dawned on me. Some of the books from my MIL’s collection had these fantastic titles. The books once belonged to a young law student who was studying in 1905. These ethics and philosophy books took my work in an all new direction. The books were not just props. They were the context, the narrative, the reason to paint.
I made my way to one of the antique shops I frequent and stumbled upon a children’s primary reader It’s Story Time. Felt like magic. I was able to juxtapose the book with the lofty legal tomes. An interesting dichotomy. You wait for something like this to come your way when you paint for years. Something that you know is yours, and becomes direction that you can follow for years.
The first four paintings using It’s Story Time were with my MILs antique legal books.
Then I began collecting children’s primary readers. I’d pop in to antique and vintage shops and pick up the odd primary school book. Slowly adding to my collection. Using them to tell the stories in my paintings. Using the books to add colour, ideas, structure to my work.
Authenticity is something people can feel and understand in an artists work. The few times I’ve been asked to invent or fudge book titles, it felt wrong. It’s not what I want to do as an artist.
Having the actual books makes the work authentic. I’ve done many book paintings and I’ll continue. They really do feel like my own unique offering to the vast world of painting and art.
I put details in to the books that make the paintings more autobiographical. My children’s names in place of publishers imprints, anniversary dates, all these bring your work to a different level. In a way, these details breath life in to painting.
When you paint in a realist style and most people are looking at your work via a computer, iPad or smartphone screen, I always here “wow, that’s so realistic! I can’t believe it’s not a photo!”
When I’m standing with someone looking at the actual painting in my studio or in a gallery, they see my work is far more painterly and looser than they first thought.