James Allen Turns Books Into Sculptures

– University of Oregon from 1948. Books with interesting
illustrations are always fun, like that one. I find old books, sometimes new books, and I alter them. I leave all the pages bound, but I cut through the pages
to reveal the content, so I just make sculptures out of books. With this photograph I think
that border would actually be easier to incorporate than the face. Ugh, I have so many books in line. I wish I could cut faster. – In the way Michelangelo is able to carve a sculpture from a piece of marble, James is able to carve
a sculpture from a book. – [James] I’m just trying
to set the stage where the different elements of the
book seem to be interacting, almost like you could see them moving or communicating with each other. All right.
– James does book excavations, and they fall in the category
of book and paper art. He’s basically dissecting
books and making them into a completely different
graphical sculpture. – There’s the Battle of
Ecnomus in Roman history. It’s sort of about time because you’re digging into the
past, you know, I’m digging. As I’m excavating the book,
I’m discovering things. It’s almost intriguing to see how the past mirrors the present. I’ve always been fascinated
with altering existing objects, and it started out as a
way to take media that was already out there and making
it more interesting to look at. I always am surprised by the things that emerge out of the books. Something that I hadn’t even
thought would be included will all of a sudden line
up in a really nice way. – Wow, oh, you don’t do very
many with color illustrations. He can look at a book, find
that central illustration, create a narrative around it, and make this beautiful sculptural object, and how he does that one page
at a time really is amazing. – [Narrator] Laura Russell owns 23 Sandy, a Portland gallery dedicated to book arts. James is one of the artists she represents to libraries and other clients. – Wow, well, you have amazing timing, because I just had a
library yesterday call me and ask for books with
botanical illustrations. Lot of these books, if he wasn’t rescuing them
and making art of them, they would be lost. Books are being discarded by libraries on a regular basis these days. They’re really, literally,
recycling box loads and box loads of books. – Yeah, people do ask me that, like, do I feel bad about cutting the books up, and I guess I do sometimes think about, especially with the older books, and just wondering how
many of them are left. But a lot of times, like, the
encyclopedias I just found, they were just sitting on the curb. You know, if it rained
they would be all ruined. So I feel like I’m kind of
rescuing them in some ways and giving them new life and then bringing
attention to their beauty. – [Jane] So just in the center of that– – Just take these two down? – No, I think take all three down, – Take all three down?
– and just have this off the center of that. – Okay. – [Narrator] When he’s not carving, James works for Jane Beebe
at PDX Contemporary Gallery. – It’s, I think, interesting
for a working artist to see the nuts and bolts
of how a gallery works. – I’ve been doing preparator
work in art handling for over 10 years. So it’s nice to have a steady income to be able to know, well,
if my art’s not selling, I can still pay my rent and
pay for my studio space, and, you know, eat (laughs). I just want every little section of it to be interesting to look at, so that the longer you look at it, the more you’re noticing some little word, or maybe there’s, like, a little
eyeball looking out at you that you didn’t notice. As many little hidden
details as I can get. They generally tell me when they’re done, so then I just move on
to the next one (laughs). – Nice, can I take a
picture of you with it? – Sure.
– Okay. (James chuckles)

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