BravinLee has been privileging the medium of artists books for the past ten years. We maintain a glass vitrine in the front room of the gallery and have exhibited a wide range of unique or limited edition books that range from sketch books and altered books, to cloth book, single pages, and accordion style projects. We have exhibited artists such as Brian Belott, Mariah Richardson, Jessica Stockholder and Jonathan Lasker among many others. For us, the importance lay in the intimate experience that comes from holding the art work in your hands and leafing through the pages. Some of the sketch books we exhibit are rehearsals for the larger paintings or drawings that an artist intends to make, and the artist thought process is almost palpable as they work out their ideas on the pages. Other books are more sculptural and give the viewer a whole new way to think about a book and the words on the pages.
A while back, we were invited to visit a NY collector’s office where he had a handful of amazing paintings We remember a Bonnard, among another half dozen paintings. He then ushered us into a smaller room reading room, a little library, and reached into a vitrine and handed us a book—which—after turning the pages, we realized was Karl Marx’s copy of Das Kapital. It was filled with circled texts and notes to himself in the margins. We were mesmerized by it, but really as fascinating as it was, and how wild it was to think Marx had held in his hand the very book we were holding in ours, it left us a bit cold—and couldn’t possibly live up to the staggering shock of what he handed us next—a Delacroix sketchbook; It was maybe 50 pages, about 4 x 6 inches, filled with pen and ink drawings and watercolors of lions and horses and North African inspired reclining female figures and simple quick portraits, anything and everything that you might expect to find in a proper Delacroix painting. We were speechless. Looking at finished artwork is like attending a theatrical performance, but holding a sketchbook in your hand and turning the pages is an intimate experience—more like a dress rehearsal, a read-through. A good artist sketchbook is like being presented with the unembellished strands of the artist’s DNA. All the metaphors and distractions of art are peeled back to reveal the artist’s intellectual, emotional and mechanical essence.