Robert The’s Sculpted Books & Jonathan Lethem’s “Old Friend in a New Form”

Many of the altered book artists that I have featured on this blog use old books, often otherwise destined for landfills or recycle plants. The artists interpret their form and content to create new art, building on past ideas. American artist Robert The, on the other hand often creates his work from new, still readable books.

Robert The has done a series of carvings of guns from books and I was delighted to read the reaction of  Johnathan Lethem when he was given one such sculpture of one of his books, appropriately named Gun. In the extensive and fascinating The Ecstasy of Influence: a Plagiarism, he writes:

“A few years ago someone brought me a strange gift, purchased at MoMA’s downtown design store: a copy of my own first novel, Gun, With Occasional Music, expertly cut into the contours of a pistol. The object was the work of Robert The, an artist whose specialty is the reincarnation of everyday materials. I regard my first book as an old friend, one who never fails to remind me of the spirit with which I entered into this game of art and commerce—that to be allowed to insert the materials of my imagination onto the shelves of bookstores and into the minds of readers (if only a handful) was a wild privilege. I was paid $6,000 for three years of writing, but at the time I’d have happily published the results for nothing. Now my old friend had come home in a new form, one I was unlikely to have imagined for it myself. The gun-book wasn’t readable, exactly, but I couldn’t take offense at that. The fertile spirit of stray connection this appropriated object conveyed back to me—the strange beauty of its second use—was a reward for being a published writer I could never have fathomed in advance. And the world makes room for both my novel and Robert The’s gun-book. There’s no need to choose between the two. “

I was unable to find a photograph of the carved Gun, but below is an example of one of Robert The’s gun sculptures.

Recommended related audio interview:

Jonathan Lethem talks about ‘The Ecstasy of Influence’: a discussion about how art builds on other art and how writing is done.

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Filed under Art & Design, Books, Authors & Illustrators, What to Do With Discarded Books

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