Andrew Hayes may not judge a book by its cover, but he does judge it by the edges of its pages.
The artist prowls old book stores and antique shops searching for the perfect volumes for his work: Creating sculptures by marrying the rigid qualities of steel to the delicacy of book pages. Hayes gravitates toward older books with gold leaf or red on their edges.
“I don’t respond so much to the title or what’s in the book so much as the form or something that’s present visually,” Hayes said.
Hayes’s sculptures will be featured at the Hunterdon Art Museum in a solo exhibition, Andrew Hayes: Paper and Steel, which runs until Sunday, Nov. 13.
Hayes’s love of books and past professional experience as a welder informs his work. He uses steel to reshape the book’s pages creating a unique sculpture. “I take my sensory appreciation for the book as a material and employ the use of metal to create a new form, and hopefully a new story.”
To separate the book’s pages from its spine, he uses an ominous-sounding tool: an antique guillotine.
Book-cutting guillotines are disappearing across the country because they are becoming obsolete. Hayes found his cast-iron guillotine, which dates back to about 1915, in a print shop at Clemson University. The artist can place an entire book in the guillotine and securely lock it to get a crisp, clean cut. He then starts playing with the pages to see how they work and how the steel might fit.
“The process is organic,” Hayes said. “I want to find a balance between the paper and the steel, and not allow one to overpower the other, although sometimes you do want the paper to steal the show because you want to honor it.”
Hayes grew up in Tucson, Arizona and studied sculpture at Northern Arizona University. He received a Core Fellowship at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. While there, he met his wife, Kreh Mellick, an Oldwick, New Jersey native and artist who will have her own solo show running concurrently at the Museum.
Because of the nature of his work, Hayes’s art studio looks as if someone opened a metal shop in the middle of a library. Visitors are often attracted to the rows of shelved books. The longing to touch the books – hold them – seems instinctual.
“We have a relationship with books, with the way they feel and smell,” Hayes said. “They were made to be held. I think that’s what draws me to some of the older books because you can see that they’ve been handled. There’s a little extra history there; maybe the book’s a little beat up or there’s a spill on the side creating a nice surface.”
Hayes notes that he only cuts old books that were massed produced – “there’s no sinister intent,” he stresses. Sometimes, he will find something too beautiful or perfect to alter in any way.
“My favorite find was an old Webster’s Dictionary that has these really beautiful marble edges and finger tabs,” he said. “I like it so much because it’s just so beautiful. I keep it on my desk. I just couldn’t cut it.”
Image credit: Andrew Hayes, Link, fabricated steel, book pages, Courtesy of Marc and Mattye Silverman.