England's Jonathan Callan @ Sheboygan's JMKAC

Feb. 24, 2010
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Jonathan Callan calls Deptford, England home, a place close to where Christopher Marlowe was stabbed to death. This international artist, who claimed a Henry Moore Fellowship in Sculpture from the Winchester School of Art in 1993, traveled to the Midwest for a fortnight to install a sculpture for the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in the new exhibition “Beyond Words.” This exhibition's theme explores the use of language and communication through all art forms. Callan comes to construct a huge installation over the brick archway inside the center, to be made completely from recycled books that are folded over and molded, like putty, into curves with seamless shapes. Similar sculptures fashioned by Callan are seen throughout Europe, especially Germany, and stateside in Los Angeles and New York, including the Museum of Modern Art. While standing beside the beginnings of this new work, Callan discusses his process for completing his sculpture, which relates to his work seen around the globe.

Q: What’s the inspiration for your unusual sculptural forms, these large-scale installations?

A: At 12 or 13 [years of age], I began reading an awful lot of books. But I don’t do that as much anymore. Now I’m making art, which I started to do full time, to make my living at since 1996. I build my sculptures with folded books, as I see books as objects. Books are the way I filter the world, and I come from a literary background in England, as
opposed to more visual.

Q: Where do all the books you use come from?

A: Mainly from local libraries and unused books, and I rarely buy any new unless I want a very specific image. Otherwise, if unused they go back to be pulped. I often pick them up at flea markets for free. Most libraries turn out of stock or outdated books to use for free, and so many go out of date so quickly, like encyclopedias. So I’m recycling, and as I get older the more interested I am in these materials that have had a previous life.

Q: This sculpture for the JMKAC is quite large. How many books do you use and how do you construct it?
A: People in Sheboygan and Kohler collected all the books for me to work with before I came. It will probably be about 15 feet high, with an organic shape, and use about 3000 books. The books, and there are all types, phone books, soft cover, hard cover, magazines, are folded over. Then you use wood screws to hold them together, because compressed a book becomes a like wood, it's made from wood pulp. Then in some of my work I color all the edges. However, in this particular piece about of the books [the edges] will be colored, with watered down paint, so it seeps into the edges. This piece will be left more natural.

Q: How long will it take to complete this work?

A: One person is helping me, Chris, and we worked for two weeks, about 12 to 13 hours a day. As you work you get to know how it’s [the book] going to fold, and you use it like clay. It almost has the same fluidity or flexibility. All with a range of printed materials, old and new.

Q: Since they’re made of paper, are your sculptures archival?

A: Not necessarily. Most books today are made from wood pulp, which is very acidic and so they will deteriorate over time. In the 1850’s, books were made from cotton rag, much more archival. But I’m not necessarily making my work [last] forever. It’s art of the moment, with an effort to conserve. Lots of ephemeral materials.

Q: And when it’s finished?

A: I am somehow disappointed with my work when it’s finished, not the art, but that it's over. I’m no longer interested in it, when it’s completed. It’s about becoming. When it’s finished, the relationship [with the work] is over. It’s complete. I’m more interested in the next piece of work, the creative process, as a maker in this relationship.

Q: Any other comments about your work?
A: Art is an enormously subtle form of communication coming across through an image. It’s a different thing on many levels, relates to many levels. That’s what I work for, to [have the art] operate on many levels, sort of how The Simpsons [the television show] operates on many levels. I hope my art works to form, the nature of information, speaks to language, structure and colors. I want to be an artist for the rest of my life%u23AFthe thing for me is not finishing and exhibiting. I enjoy the process.

View Jonathan Callan’s sculpture at the JMKAC (Sheboygan) in “Beyond Words," which opened February 21.Additional workshops and programs are planned to coordinate with the exhibit. For information: 920.458.6144


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