The inspiration for these book cover collages came from seeing the work of artists like Katrien De Blauwer, Zach Collins, and Lynette Jackson when I first seriously got into collage art early last year. I loved how their collages were often on paper or materials that looked like some kind of artifact that was decaying, discoloring around the edges, or falling apart at the seams. But most of my one hundred or so collages have been on a regular paper backing (I have tended to use black paper to collage or the full scope of a larger image from a magazine).
A couple of months ago I started focusing on old books for my collage materials, instead of the usual magazines (Life, National Geographic, other mid-century favorites). I found a bookstore with a huge section of one dollar used books and quickly realized that it wasn’t just the images from them I could use but also the first and last pages, which were often the most faded and ancient-looking parts of the books and sometimes included handwritten notes or names. This realization made me feel like I had tapped into a secret that the aforementioned artists had stashed away: the best place to find beautiful old paper was in beautiful old books.
Some of the more ancient books were literally falling apart and I started to just rip the front and back covers off and use them as my canvases. I like how when you put old (vintage) images on them they seem to blend together there, forming a more complete-looking object. It’s like I’m saving the good parts and turning them into something that looks like a mysterious treasure.
Perhaps the fact that these collages are more visually linked to the world of books and since I’m also a publisher and a bookseller at a legendary used book mecca (Powell’s Books), I feel like I have an even stronger connection–maybe a sort of implanted nostalgia–to these pieces. Seeing the texture of the paper or the cover materials, even on a computer screen, makes me want to reach out and touch them, especially when I think of what they were like when they were brand new and fresh and coveted.
Kevin Sampsell lives in Portland, Oregon and operates the micro press, Future Tense Books. He writes the collage column, Paper Trumpets, for TheRumpus.net and runs http://kevinsampsellcollages.tumblr.com/. His last book was a novel, This Is Between Us, published by Tin House Books.