Interview with Artist Lynne Avadenka
From Peggy Daub:
Artists who produce artist’s books create multiple copies, but in small numbers. Besides swimming against the tide of mass production, they also swim against the stream of changes in the way books are created, presented, and read. Their work stands in contrast to eBooks and online eReaders, which are delivered without the tactile satisfaction of opening a solid cover or turning paper leaves. They pay close attention to book construction, to paper with heft and covers made of texturally interesting material, reflecting their dedication to the book as a physical object of art.
I became aware of Lynne Avadenka’s work shortly after I arrived at the University of Michigan Special Collections Library in 1989. Her work embodies books as tactile and beautiful physical objects, whose physicality becomes part of the message they convey. The text is integral to the books, as demonstrated by the fact that she often writes the text herself. Lynne Avadenka’s work is one of the reasons it became our library’s mission to collect important artist’s books made within our state, and it has truly been a privilege to follow her artistic path and acquire what she has created.
My interview with Lynne below attempts to bring to light the thoughts, practices, and philosophies upon which her work is based.
Interview Part I
Peggy Daub: Why did you become a printer and book artist? What drew you to this field?
Lynne Avadenka: An early memory is receiving a speedball calligraphy book and a pen with multiple nibs. Then and now, the shapes of letters, what they look like, what they signify: these elements are fascinating. The ability of an alphabet, really an abstract visual code, to convey meaning, is still magic to me.
The notion of the book, both in form and content, led me to printmaking while in college. In graduate school I learned how to set type and bind books in order to create artist’s books. Not books about an artist, or art history, not a typical book with text and matching illustration, but a book that is the work of art itself.
PD: You are more interested in words and in texts than many book artists whose work we collect. How do you think about the relationships between the words you write and the art you create?
LA: Often the work I make is in response to a text that I am moved by, feel a connection with. I look for texts that are specific, yet universal, that lend themselves to a visual response. Even though an alphabet can be understood to be as abstract as the visual art I’ve created, reading it is something most people are comfortable doing. And a text invites people into the artwork.
When I am writing a text for an artist’s book, there is a back and forth between finding a format for the text and writing enough text to collaborate with my own imagery. The creation of my book By a Thread illustrates the way I work. I researched the stories of Queen Esther and Scheherazade and found many compelling similarities. In thinking about the most effective way to present this information I imagined a conversation between the two women. At the same time, I was refining the structure of the book -- the way the reader would move through the story and accompanying imagery. I came up with a structure of 20 tabbed pages that would carry the text, then wrote the text to fit in the 20 tabs. Not a conventional creation of a text!
Interview Part II
PD: It seems particularly fitting that we are able to show exhibits of both your artwork and your artist’s books, as you have created books based on your art, and artwork stemming from your books. How do these two expressive forms feed into each other?
LA: I continually seek a complete work that contains both the beauty of gesture and a core of meaning.
I engage with classic texts, and the result is synthesis of tradition and modernity. The mark making of printmaking and calligraphy – one repeatable (printed) and the other unique (hand drawn), inspire my art. And this is something I strive to find in both my art and my artist’s books.
For me, planning and then executing a limited edition artist’s book takes a long time: conducting research, making many book models, deciding on text, type face, imagery, paper, means of printing and then finally printing and editioning. In response to this, creating drawings, monoprints, and mixed media works permits a type of directness that is a much-needed contrast in my artistic practice.
PD: How has your work on books changed over the course of your career?
LA: Over the years, my book projects have become more complex and the edition numbers have gotten smaller! I have a wonderful working relationship with Linda Lembke, an artist/bookbinder based in Vermont. In collaboration with Linda, I have been able to experiment with innovative binding structures and increase the scale of my work.
Several artists in particular have inspired and informed my work: the Russian Constructivist, El Lissitsky (For The Voice, 1923), the Dutch artist/printer H. N. Werkman (Chassidische Legenden, 1941) and the French artist Sonia Delaunay (La Prose du Transsiberien et de la Petite Jehanne de France, 1913). Each of these artists, working in the book format, created art of great power, beauty and meaning.
A Retrospective Look at Works Printed by Lynne Avadenka