For the show “Outside the Dog: Paperbacks and Other Books by Artists”, Baltic, The Center for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, England. Curated by Clive Phillpot, 2003
I had been doing paintings for about fifteen years when I first stumbled on the idea of doing books in around 1984. I am not sure that I would be able to reconstruct the thought-processes that led me to see books as a possibility, but I can remember some early, strong impressions.
The first books I worked on were second-hand, usually old, and often had handwritten inscriptions in them which, for some reason, I found very moving. As I began to work on them, certain other qualities con-genial to my then state of mind became clear. I found satisfaction in the limitations imposed by the size and length of the books - it solved certain problems neatly and easily. I liked the idea of flipping the pages from where I was to what I'd done earlier; I enjoyed the shift in orientation, from looking up at a wall or an easel to looking down into my lap or onto a table, like a shoemaker or a seamstress (my father was a tailor; imitating the form of his body at work pleased me greatly.)
But most important, I now think, was the useful, liberating fiction that these works were in their very nature private, diaristic, not designed with a viewer in mind. It seemed to me that I could circumvent, so to speak, the history of art, by working in a medium that, in its modesty, most obviously made no claim to comparison with the great works of the past, and this too I found strangely liberating. Another illusion I liked was the illusion of permanence: books, after all did not die, they could be passed on for generations without the in-out judgements of critics or curators. This notion of the permanence of books was especially appealing to me in their aspect of “recordings,” of setting down a chronicle of events that, once set down, kept the past alive and available. This, I learned, meant a good deal to me personally as I began to identify my little histories with the fallen-away history of my own family's past. A diary, a book, a record of any sort contained between covers, might have preserved for me information about the history of my parents (holocaust survivors) and their relatives and friends the lack of which I think of as a black hole in my sense of self-identity.
At a certain point I found myself working with art books, usually monographs, and here it was almost the opposite of what I'd admired in books prior. Here I found myself in some sense oppressed by the ruthlessness of compression. Knowing something of the life of an artist, Iwas acutely conscious of what such monographs condensed or discarded altogether. In all artist's monographs, I believe, the life of the studio is brushed aside, and with it the very process of creation. The finished product,the material of all monographs, is, every artist knows, only a fraction of the abundant energy of life and mind that led to its making. And so, in my art books I often find myself negotiating a complex of contradictory feelings involving my respect (or disrespect), admiration (or dislike) of the artist with a keen sense of the limitations of the book which presents him to me. (It is certainly possible that the word-chains that I use in many of these books may, in some not-quite-conscious manner, attempt to fill this void.) An art book adds a new dimension to the life and work of an artist: there is the life, there is the work, there is the book about him and there is me, manipulating for my own purposes, all three.