Liverpool Book Art returns to Central Library next month. What is it? The fourth annual celebration of everything ‘book art’. Intrigued? You should be. This is a world in which even the words of Shakespeare are to be shaped to suit the windmills of the artist’s mind. By Alan O’Hare.

“What it is not, is a book about an artist.” Simon Ryder, founder of Liverpool Book Art, is talking to me about the fourth annual Artists’ Book Fair and trying to define the event. “The simplest definition of an artist’s book is a book created by an artist,” he reveals. “They are handmade, often one-off and unique, and are usually self-published rather than produced by mass-market publishers.”

There, that’s that sorted out. Now, I can tell you that the free happening will once again take place in Central Library, Liverpool, and be a highlight of the summer. “Book art brings together art and books, so the library – with its collections of books and exhibition spaces – is the ideal venue for our exhibition of book art,” says Ryder, the former Bluecoat chairman. “Some artists work exclusively in the medium of artists’ books, while others are also painters, poets, print-makers, book-binders and illustrators… but they all have these beautiful physical objects in common.”

Intrigued? Me too. So, it’s time to delve deeper and find out just what (and why) Liverpool Book Art will be opening up to local and international visitors next month…

Try again and define ‘Book Art’ for me, please!
Many artists explore different materials for their books – whether making their own paper, using unconventional materials (such as driftwood, slate or ceramics for covers) or even making pages from metal or plastic. This may mean the artist has little interest in contents, like making beautiful notebooks for someone else to fill with their own personal writings or drawings, but for other artists it is the contents which are essential: whether that be a narrative text, a sequence of images or some mix of the two.

‘Book Art’ also includes works in which artists use a book as their raw material, pushing the boundaries of any definition of a book and creating sculptural works, for example, by carving the pages of books to create something new, exciting and different. These are sometimes referred to as ‘altered books’… but what all these different types of book art have in common is that they are physical objects – things of beauty to look at and handle, even if elements of digital processing have been used.

Why Liverpool Central Library?
It attracts a wide range of people from local students to international visitors! We also offer workshops and demonstrations for children and adults, and part of the event takes place in ‘Discover’ (the children’s library) – all of which add to the benefits. It’s just a nice alternative to an art gallery.

What’s happening this year?
There will be around twenty five tables and work from fifty artists – some new and some old favourites. But, for the first time this year, there will also be a select number of print-makers participating and there will be books made with handmade paper, glass and clay, fabric and felt and recycled objects. Book topics will include fairy tales, poetry, landscapes, emotions and memory, the environment, feminism, historical figures and also notebooks and bookbinding for your own creativity.

We’re hearing whispers of something a bit different, too…
Yes, there will even be a library rave – with hand-held disco lights!

Cool. Last year’s Shakespeare theme was a big hit, wasn’t it?
Well, 2016 was the 400th anniversary of his death so we put the call out for work inspired by Shakespeare and the response was phenomenal – works came from Russia, Japan, Australia, Germany, Poland, France, Lithuania and many from across the UK.

A success, then?
Last year was such a success that I was invited to take a selection of the works out to Italy, where they were displayed in the National Archaeological Museum in Sarno earlier this year. I also found out that students at Birmingham City University had been set a project to make life-sized sculptures of Shakespeare and one of his most famous characters… all just from paper. After these had been on show in Birmingham, and then in Stratford of course, I brought them to Liverpool Central Library for six months. They were enormously popular and are now in Prescot Museum, Knowsley.

People will be able to meet artists this year – how important is that in this day and age?
These objects need to be seen and handled – digital reproduction is much more limited than for 2D artworks, such as paintings. The opportunities to see book art works, either in exhibitions or for sale, are very limited… but book artists tend to be generous and are happy exchanging information, experiences and opportunities with each other. They’re also willing to chat to the public and share their enthusiasm and expertise. Meeting artists, alongside the workshops on offer, gives people inspiration. The ‘feel’ of the event is more of a cross between a craft fair and an open studio visit.

Tell us about some of the intriguing things you’ve seen at fairs and exhibitions over the years… 
Some of the most intriguing works I’ve seen include Hilke Kurzke’s ‘Die Stadt’, an entire book that fits within a matchbox; Janie Ranger’s ‘Will at Work’, a Shakespeare scene created within a wine box; and Sophie Adams’ ‘Sparrow’, with pages made from copper.

Liverpool Book Art
Saturday July 8th-Sunday July 9th, 2017
Central Library, William Brown Street, Liverpool

Pic courtesy Simon Ryder