8 Art Books Worth A Look by Jacqueline Dreager
Even if you think “art books” aren’t your thing, these beautiful books might be what your collection needs.
Either on my nightstand or stacked on my Dutch baker’s table in my kitchen, one will find a plethora of “art books” begging to be read or reread. It’s usually a dilemma to choose one, and I find myself picking up several at once. At the moment, I’m reading a fascinating novel by Korean author, Han Kang. It’s a bizarre story about trying to keep one’s voice alive while being partnered to a man who wants to strip his wife of her independence. Below is my list of books that cry the loudest.
Surfland is a collection of on the spot tintype photographs that are as powerful as the beach scenes and surfers they depict. Light on text but long on photographic description, Surfland is a remarkable journey of portraits, some of surfers squeezed into neoprene wet suits, and others showing an intimate family group. Joni Sternbach creates these scenes with a labor-intensive technique directly on the sand using a 19th-century style view camera. Flipping through the pages bring back memories of my adventures of living along the Southern California coast with my brother and cousins who were surfers and surfboard fabricators. I can still feel the salt slicking my hair and I can see a tower of boards breaching the surf.
Eating Through Literature And Art resides in my kitchen and is never far from my fingertips. Artwork by Picasso, Warhol, John Cage, Eleanor Antin, Salvador Dali and an impressive list of intellectuals accompany literary writing on everything from a description of sugar, by Gertrude Stein, to Virginia Woolf’s written complaint that “The Salmon is Always Underdone.” Thomas Wolfe writes about breakfast. “In the morning they rose in a house pungent with breakfast cookery, and they sat at a smoking table loaded with brains and eggs, ham, hot biscuits, fried apples seething in their gummed syrups…” Wolfe’s lovely writing is paired with a photo of children rolling gigantic eggs. Being a foodie, a writer, and an artist, I adore this book.
The Century Hit Puberty is by art critic and L.A. gallerist Mat Gleason. It is a small book of essays from 2010 to 2014 that packs a wallop. Just let me say that as an artist you do not want to be on the wrong side of Mr. Gleason’s acerbic comments. In one incident he writes about talking with the actor Dean Stockwell who comments “Your criticism could cut a hole through any artist.” In my eyes, Gleason is a genius, a contrarian yes, but so right on about the art scene, that he cuts through all the crap. This is intelligent writing by a man that also has a heart of gold.
Soul Bolt is as slender a book as the author herself before she died of a brain tumor at age 51. Her personal vignettes make my heart ache. J.W. Reeves has created a style of writing that is as unapologetic and disarming as the assemblages she cobbles together. Whether the thickly painted pieces are placed on mounds of sugary-like snow, or on a windy knoll overlooking the ravages of a storm-tossed sea, waiting for the click of Ms. Reeves camera, her small human-like sculptures evoke the vulnerability that we all embody. In one passage she writes, “We’ll stalk love puzzles. We’ll stare. Our eyes will burn with tears but we won’t blink.”
Edith Head by D. Chierichetti is an absorbing sketch of the life and times of Hollywood’s celebrated costume designer. Head was pretty much exclusive to Paramount Pictures, designing wardrobes for Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, and the starlets in the Elvis Presley pictures, among others. The book is full of sketches and historic photos. Because my father worked with Edith Head and did special effects for many Paramount films, including most of Hitchcock’s films, I love to escape into Chierichetti’s marvelous memory book and take a trip back in time to old Hollywood and the wizardry and talent that to this day impresses me about my dad.
The Art Documents written by artist/architect, Carl Davis, is a great ride, literally, through downtown Los Angeles’s seedy industrial section in the early 1980’s when gentrification had not yet formed on anyone’s lips. Davis ran a “drive by” gallery that was, in its early life, a loading dock for a warehouse. The Art Dock was a perfect vehicle for L.A.’s car culture. His book captures the excitement of the burgeoning art scene that lit up downtown. I myself showed at one of the first downtown art galleries. I was in my studio for nine years in the 1980s, a mile from The Art Dock, making art and holding art workshops for homeless men and women. The Art Documents is filled with juicy gossip, tales of artists struggles to survive, and the nature of artist communities. Sketches, photographs and paintings pepper the pages of this unique experience and bring back a million memories of a time when there seemed to be more open space and less rules to play by.
China Chic East Meets West is the quintessential book on Chinese fashion. It covers the history of modern fashion all the way back to the period of erotic foot binding. There are woodblock illustrations, drawings, sculpture, photographs, and posters. The authors describe the dynasties as well as the practice of cosmetics and hair adornment. I picked up China Chic often when I was writing my historic novel, Looking East. Always interested in the mysteries of China, I first bought this book a dozen years ago, long before I began writing.
Slang Aesthetics! Robt. Williams is last but definitely not least, a favorite that I pluck from the pile when I want to be jolted. His irreverence sticks in my craw, and begs the question, “how does he get away with that?” Now in his mid-70s, conceptualist, Williams is as prolific a writer and painter as ever. His writing is loaded, like the brushes he uses. His palette shouts. His subjects bring to mind contorted circus performers. Twisted, scary, difficult, dense and dramatic. A feast for the senses. I was in awe when I had the great fortune to be in Williams company a dozen times. It takes a deep commitment to read his writing.
When Jacqueline Dreager began writing a memoir about her nine years as a sculptor in a studio on Los Angeles Skid Row, saving dogs and holding art workshops for homeless men and women, the literary process came as an exciting surprise. Born into a family of special effects wizards in Hollywood, she spent most of her life firmly rooted in the visual art world. Armed with a new medium, Dreager was propelled into unexpected territory with a newfound form of creativity wrapping itself around her. Jacqueline Dreager lives and works in Los Angeles and maintains a studio at the Brewery Art Colony, former site of the Pabst Blue Ribbon Brewery. She is making art and rewriting her memoirs which will include a sizable section on her varied life in and around Los Angeles and the Southern California coast. Dreager is considering a sequel to Looking East.
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