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Brian Dettmer carves books into lush artwork

Modern Painters, 2008, altered books

If Brian Dettmer ever asks you for a book to borrow, you might want to think twice.  Dettmer is an artist known for taking old books and carving them into masterpieces of visual art.

Dettmer explains:

Old books, records, tapes, maps, and other media frequently fall into a realm that too much of today’s art occupies. Their intended role has decreased … they often exist simply as symbols of the ideas they represent rather than true conveyers of content. … When an object’s intended function is fleeting, the necessity for a new approach to its form and content arises.

Much of Dettmer’s work involves creating altered books from dictionaries, encyclopedias, art books, and others. With the precision of a surgeon, Dettmer uses clamps, scalpels and tweezers to expose select images and text.  As he cuts away unwanted material, the remaining paper is stabilized with a varnish.  This process of book excavation reveals the artwork inside the book and results in a complex layered three-dimensional sculpture.

Dettmer also creates 3-dimensional sculptures by altering other pre-existing media such as maps, record albums, and cassette tapes. He has exhibited extensively in galleries and museums throughout North America and Europe.

Dettmer’s work, as well as the work of other paper artists, is featured in the book, Playing with Books: The Art of Upcycling, Deconstructing, and Reimagining the Book, by Jason Thompson.

Brave New World, 2008, altered books (courtesy of the Toomey-Tourell Gallery, SF)

Libraries of Health, 2008, altered vintage medical books (courtesy of the Toomey-Tourell Gallery, SF)

The Volume Library, 2010, Altered Book, 11-1/4" x 10" x 7-1/4" (courtesy of the Artist and Kinz + Tillou Fine Art)

Watch this fascinating video of Brian Dettmer explaining his work.

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