I met Susan Collard years ago during a Tim Ely workshop in eastern Washington. I became and remain a steadfast admirer of her work in the book arts field. We seem to be cut from similar cloth, she and I – intelligent, quirky introverts whose lives are constructed around working with objects, words, thought and their interplay. So I always look forward to conversations with her an any variety of subjects and recognize my good fortune in being able to exhibit her work from time to time. Her work is now featured in Interactive Artifact at Abecedarian Gallery.
Susan is an architect (with an MFA in poetry), working out of her home in Portland, Oregon. Her many-layered book works are intricate, interactive and sculptural. As an architect, Susan has an awareness not only of the physical properties of objects but of how those properties and relationships shift with the movement of the objects themselves, their environment and the other objects and beings (including viewers) in proximity.
As an artist Susan understands the myriad stances a viewer might take when approaching a work whether for the first time or on a return visit. An intelligent selection of forms and objects that are the result of much thinking before hand separates these works from what is so often found in contemporary assemblage/collage works.
As a student and lover of the written word, Susan’s text are pithy and elegant. Propelled by this language Susan devised a phonetic alphabet devised from forms based on the early Celtic alphabet, Ogham which is used in 3×3. Nested, a book embodying the theme ‘secrets and lies’ also uses encrypted texts from one of her poems.
In Susan’s words:
I often describe my books as “constructed” rather than bound. I am drawn to materials and formats that demand structural ingenuity, and I often tinker with a book’s form as I go along. Wood, metal and glass have completely different virtues and limitations than paper, and much of what I do falls outside traditional bookmaking techniques. That said, I am very much attached to the book as a kinetic object — one that can be opened, studied, looked at, read—and not simply a closed sculptural piece that is made from books or trades on our ideas of bookness. I trust that each reader will have a unique, intimate experience exploring the book, and hopefully find in it an open-endedness and complexity that is not exhausted by a single viewing.
In 2005 I included Susan’s work in a curated exhibition in which I invited 9 other bookbinders/artists working in the book format to create an object using a volume from the Boys and Girls Bookshelf, a 10-volume set published in 1912. Susan chose Volume 1: Fun and Thought for Little Folk. She opted to do little to the outside of the book so a viewer really has little idea what enticements await. While this can be true of any book (hence the adage about judging a book by its cover) the contents of this one are particularly rewarding. This tendency to be inspired by the outside, or by the title, of a cover, and letting that inspiration take her down various paths of thought and research is a continuing aspect of her work, as is her love of distilling a volume into a piece that hints not at what she sees in the original but what she would have liked to see.
Another altered book, Work in Great Cities, started when Susan found this book at a flea market. Once home she experienced a bit of remorse because, other than the title, the work held little interest. But she did appreciate the confident and expansive title and went ahead and worked with it, imagining the book as a set of urban building blocks. A strong element to the work are the tiles and blokes created from cut-down printing plates. Fragmented and moveable, these elements evoke the built elements and history of cities.
Since that time Susan has been honing her skills and expanding her collection of artifacts to select from. Her work consistently includes collaged objects that take shape from an ever growing trove of found materials. It is obvious from examination that these works involve considerable time to create; what is less obvious is the amount of thinking that goes into the selection and handling of every included object.
A variation from this method is apparent in You Won’t See Me At the Anchor Inn. Although made from more conventional materials it, too, is a structural experiment, which turns a flat 9×12 collage into a small pop-up book which, fully unfolded in a meander format, betrays its single-sheet origins.
In Susan’s words
I think of this work as adhering to William Carlos Williams’ dictum “no ideas but in things.” I am at my happiest and most creative when surrounded by an unruly collection of prosaic and obsolete objects, each with their own unknowable histories, calling out to be rescued from oblivion. With this staggering abundance of possibilities, my first and most important decisions center on what will be left out. With each book, early choices restricting sources, content, scale and materials make it possible to move forward, and ensure that each book has its own distinctive character.
Click here to view the online catalog of currently available works.