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Memphis Brooks Museum of Art honors Dolph Smith with new exhibition
Margaret Couch Cogswell, Keep it in the Road, 2009. Mixed media. Collection of the artist © Margaret Couch Cogswell.

MEMPHIS, TENN.- Art enthusiasts will now be able to experience the beauty and diversity of artists’ books thanks to a new exhibition opening in July 2017 at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.

Memphis artist Dolph Smith is recognized for his art in a variety of media, including watercolor and sculpture, but among the finest are his artists’ books. By the Book: A Tribute to Dolph Smith is built around six of his examples, and honors him through the inclusion of eleven artists who have worked with and admire him.

“Smith and his colleagues who are featured in this exhibition all share a desire to creatively explore the concept of a book through their own interests, ideas and beliefs,” says executive director Emily Ballew Neff. “The results are fascinating and require that viewers open themselves to thinking about books—specifically artists’ books—in new ways.”

Artists’ books have been described as cabinets of wonder, reliquaries, or portable studios that come in a variety of forms, styles, and materials. They can seem traditional with a cover and text, can challenge the notion of what constitutes a book—often appearing closer to sculpture—and allows artist a great deal of freedom to experiment.

“To begin with, I have to admit something— I’m a fraud,” says Smith. “I come from a painter’s background. A watercolorist, if I hold to the full truth. A watercolorist, then a papermaker, then a bookmaker—who’s also a sculptor.”

Artists’ books are handmade by artists and exist as single objects or in very limited editions. Smith’s are all individual works.

“Buoyk and Highkus demonstrate Smith’s craftsmanship as well as his love of puns,” explains Marina Pacini, Brooks’ chief curator. “The former, which encompasses a halved croquet ball seemingly floating along the current of the river on the cover, contains a variety of techniques including a pop-up page. The latter is actually a ladder with the text—haikus written by Smith—available in two formats so that the work can be appreciated as a sculpture while also making the text available to the viewer.”

The artists included in By the Book: A Tribute to Dolph Smith all bring personal approaches to their art, which is reflected in such issues as the materials they use and the forms the books take. The works ultimately express their individual personalities and voices, which can be seen in Smith’s work and that of his daughter Allison Smith and his colleagues, Alicia Bailey, Doug Beube, Margaret Cogswell, Daniel Essig, Julie Leonard, Randi Parkhurst, Robbin Ami Silverberg, Kathleen Strother, and Peter and Donna Thomas.

“To say Dolph influences my work would be an understatement. His love of surprise and the playfulness in his work are infectious. You can see this in my interactive pieces that are almost toy-like,” states artist Randi Parkhurst. “Dolph's craftsmanship and innovations are a constant inspiration to me as I attempt to hone my craft. His amazing body of work blurs the edges where art and craft meet.”

By the Book: A Tribute to Dolph Smith, organized by the Brooks, will be on view in the Goodman Gallery from July 15 through November 26.

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