The Story Behind James Allen's Book Excavations
James Allen and his "book excavations" have been a hit here at 23 Sandy Gallery ever since he walked in the door with his stunning works of art late last year. We recently placed his Skulduggery piece in the library at the Ringling College of Art and Design. Librarian Sarah Carter sent James a list of questions in order to learn more about his process and happily James and Sarah have allowed me to share the questions and James' thoughtful answer here.
- Sarah: How long did you spend planning Skulduggery? James: The planning for Book Excavations evolves organically as I cut through the book. Thus the planning can't really be separated from the process. The only thing I knew before I started excavating Skulduggery is that I wanted to lay the book down with the spine facing up so I could cut into both faces of the book and end up with two windows that would form a sort of diptych. The rest of the planning unfolded during the two months I spent working on the piece.
- About how many hours would you say this piece took to excavate? Although I didn't keep precise count of the hours I spent working on Skulduggery I would guess that I spent over 200 hours carving through the book and building and fitting the frame.
- What was the decision making process behind keeping or removing certain elements? The Book Excavation process evolves organically allowing the book to reveal which elements to keep or remove as the work progresses.Going along with the theme of comic books, I wanted to divide the space into windows with linear borders. Some of these borders are circular, and some rectangular, but I tried to use them to push the illusion of depth within the space. I also kept images of the Twin Towers, Batman, Robin, Superman, Wonder Woman, and The Watchmen to go along with the comic book theme. Many of the elements that I originally intended to keep ended up getting cut away to simplify the composition or to reveal something more dynamic hidden in the pages below. Above all, I wanted all the elements to interact together to give a sense of time and dramatic possibility that would suggest a hidden narrative.
- Were any elements moved from their original spot to add to your composition? No elements within Skulduggery were moved from the original places. I have only cut away parts of the book to reveal the content as it lay.
How do you select the books to use for your work? Do you have any preferences in regards to subject matter? I select books with intriguing subject matter and illustration. I consider size, layout, print quality, color, and many other factors before I select a book for excavation. I find a wide array of subject matter suitable for my work.
- Is there a particular narrative you try to portray in your work, or is it more of the idea you're interested in? I'm not trying to portray a particular narrative in my work, but rather I try to allow the book to reveal the possibility of narrative.
- How did you get started in book excavation? I've always been interested in taking the common everyday object and transforming it into something exquisite. I started altering color film photographs by altering the lays of emulsion by cutting and abrading them. This lead to altering other media including post cards, magazines, and cds. Eventually I began excavating books and found it to be an ideal medium. I like the idea of traveling though the thoughts of the past as I cut through the layers of old books.