Almost two years back I went to an exhibition in Mumbai where an artist was showcasing his bookish art. Now, I am one who does not like people fiddling with her books. No underlines or side notes, no folded or dog-eared pages and certainly no cut outs of any sort. Therefore, you may be able to understand exactly how curious I was to see how can one create art with books without destroying them – in which case I would have hated it and would not have written this post, of course.
Carl Pappenheim’s art – under his label ‘Spineless Classics‘ is essentially made of silhouettes. He uses shadows/ silhouettes to make a picture of a poster of a book. And the rest of the poster is made up of the whole book or novel. So, if you were to stand in front of his paintings with a magnifying glass and an ample amount of time, you could read the whole novel. And also go home with a corresponding picture or theme floating in your head.
“In Winter of 2003 I returned from travelling abroad with very little money to my name and no job. After taking various unofficial jobs in the shadier side of Eton, Berkshire, I found myself assisting at a printing business which made architectural drawings for the numerous building projects in the slums of Chalvey. The contrast between the large sheets of paper and the tiny measurements, usually describing the cramped conditions of nearby educational establishments, got me thinking. What if the whole sheet was covered in text? How much text would that be? I experimented and discovered the amazing truth – 100,000 words on one sheet is very possible and can look amazing! I immediately knew that I was on to a winner and spent some time and resources research and development before launching the brand properly at a trade show in 2010,” said Carl, over an email to me.
Carl’s first print came from the novel “persuasion’. He made it for his mother, who thought loving the work, hated the $250 bill that came for framing it. This moved Carl to decide that either he has to make standard sized prints or do the framing work himself.
Carl takes up recommendations and uses his own sensibilities to choose the book he wants to work on next. However, whether it takes a day or a month depends on a lot of factors – the size of the book, the availability of text with the publisher etc. One of the biggest challenges is inventing a design that looks good, uses up exactly the right amount of white space, and doesn’t make a mess of the text. Lining up with the columns is a particular challenge, he added.
According to Carl, “Some publishers don’t even have the text of the book and we have to recreate it line-by-line from a low quality scan. The fastest one was probably a rush job we did as a commission last Christmas. The text was ready in a Word document and they just wanted a big number 9 as the design. That was only a couple of hours to make it look good. The longest… I couldn’t say. Possibly, Shantaram because I had to go through all 997 pages and correct the formatting line by line. The design was quite punishing on the computer too, with all those words whose positions had to be calculated over and again while building the shapes.”
When I spoke to him, he was working on a Harry Potter poster and another one on Lord of the Rings. Both of these have been completed. In my personal opinion, I love his posters of ‘The phantom of the Opera’, ‘Casino Royale’ and for completely selfish reasons ‘Jurassic Park’. Maybe a black framed poster is just what I need to liven up my room. A bookish décor for a book-loving girl.