July 20, 2015

Two New Book Paintings: Not Rejects After All?

Book 6, cover; egg tempera on Shikibu Gampi paper, 5 1/8 x 5 1/2 in.

Sometimes it's a good idea to keep works we're not sure of instead of immediately trashing them. I made these two new book paintings a couple of months ago, didn't like them then, and stuck them in a folder out of sight; I suppose I didn't throw them away because I wasn't quite sure how intensely I disliked them. Last week I attempted a new book painting which truly was a failure, so I took these out to look at again, and I thought "hmmm....these aren't so bad".

Book 6, pp. 2, 3

With Book 6 it was the paper I was unsure of, since I liked the painting. I thought it was too smooth and too tissue-papery. Shikibu gampi is a handmade paper from Echizen Prefecture in Japan (I bought it at NY Central Art Supply) by master papermaker Futoshi Umedo.

Book 6, pp. 4, 5

When I looked at it again, I appreciated the paper's delicacy and lustrous quality, and didn't mind the wrinkling around each painted shape.

Book 6, pp. 6, 7

At only 13 gr, it is very translucent, which is perfect for having the paintings on each page interact with the ones before and after, so the entire book becomes a composition.

Book 6, back cover

Of course, without actually handling the book, my online friends are not able to understand what my doubts were and if I'm right to remove it from the dust heap.

Book 7, egg tempera on Sekishu natural paper, 5 x 5 in.

My doubts about Book 7 were of a different nature: I thought it was too busy, had too many elements. My previous five book paintings were more spare (you can see them at this link), so this made me uncomfortable.

Book 7, pp. 2, 3

As I looked at it again, I thought "well, why not more complex?".

Book 7, pp. 4, 5

Lines, curved and straight, of many colors, interact with each other.

Book 7, pp. 6, 7

Where I'd before seen a bothersome overactivity, now I saw just a different approach to composing.

Book 7, back cover

At the end, a simple square finishes the painting. I don't know how you, my readers, will respond to these previously-thought failures, but I have come to accept them. And it's a lesson to me to hang on to my marginal works until I can look at them with fresh eyes.


  1. These are lovely, Altoon. I use these papers also, and appreciate the relationship of the painted forms to the amount of white (unpainted) page, and the presence of the paper.
    Can you tell me more about how you see these books as single paintings even though there are multiple pages/compositions (or direct me to a post where you write about that)? I imagine that these might be experienced, like a scroll, over time. Yet never all at once? I wish I could see this in person!

    1. Thanks, Cathy. I see them as paintings because there's a flow from one page to the next, also because I'm not that interested in the idea of the "artist's book", but of course they are books. Here's a link to a post about the first ones I did and the inspiration for them: http://altoonsultan.blogspot.com/2015/03/something-new-book-paintings.html

  2. I don't really believe in failures.
    I am on a desert island and I find one of these. I meditate on it. It is significant.
    I hold it up to the sun and read it all-at-once.

    1. I do believe in failures, JBS, and have created some colossal ones, which is totally fine with me. These I was unsure of; I didn't see them as complete failures or I would have thrown them away. In my mind, to think everything has merit is to diminish work of actual merit.

    2. Let's go back and dig through da Vinci's, Klee's, or Cy Twombly's garbage!

    3. If an artist decides the work is not worth keeping, I totally respect that.

    4. I do too.
      Context really helps in the study of historical material-culture. I guess as an antiques-restorer I consider all information good: how to-, and how-not-to put something together. One apprentice digs privies, bringing up wealths of information from that which had been discarded...archaeologists and "garbologists" do too!
      As a craftsman, do I keep everything I make?-heck no.
      As a thrower-away, do I wish I had some of my garbage back?-yes!
      I used to collect panels from boxes fireworks used to come from China in...so horribly printed as to be a worthy historical record, in my mind, at east. Where did they go!?
      Someone, probably me, threw them away!
      Anyway, I am sure your "colossal" failures have been successful in one way: providing springboards and motivations for better things.

    5. I'm glad to hear that you Do throw things away, JBS.
      And yes, we learn from our failures...and also from our successes.

  3. I just love books. I think the blue thread compliments the second book.

    1. Thanks, Lisa. Actually, the thread came first, the paint afterward. I had to make the book before I could paint on it.

  4. I think I appreciate the second example a little more. These little book formats are attractive on lots of levels. I do wish I could "feel" that paper though through the computer:)

    The idea of not discarding something immediately is difficult to not do. How do you really know if something is a failure?

    1. Thanks for the comment, Libby. I wish I could get feel over the computer, and scent, for the flowers and recipes.
      Something that's really awful is easy to recognize, though of course it's different for each of us.

  5. Altoon-
    I forgot to ask too if you had seen Etel Adnan's leporellos. I think you mentioned in an earlier post that you had seen her work. The format wouldn't work with such delicate paper but I like the idea of a related set of images all in one place.

    1. Yes, I've seen a few of Adnan's leporellos. They are wonderful, but that format doesn't interest me at this point.