Visiting the bookmobile every week as a child—returning one stack, leaving with another—Austin artist Karen Hawkins has always loved books. "In my childhood they were my escape. I traveled the world through books. I still love to touch them and smell them."
Today Hawkins continues to surround herself with books—decommissioned ones, pulled from shelves and discarded. Here she finds the materials and inspiration for her three-dimensional sculpted forms. "In creating small and large-scale sculptures from the pages of [these] old, forgotten books," notes Chris Cowden (executive director, Women and Their Work), "Hawkins deconstructs and re-purposes the meaning originally found there. The authority and significance of the printed page—harkening back to the first mass printed book, the Gutenberg Bible—is becoming obsolete in the digital age. In Hawkins' work, the page assumes a different role, becoming a vehicle for nostalgia conveyed through form. Her process (like reading) illustrates the passage of time but meaning is perceived as visceral rather than cerebral."
As viewers, we marvel at the transformation, the structural elements and the forms that emerge. For Hawkins, though, it is the process that drives her artistic focus. "I begin by changing the book's structure—folding, cutting and excavating it—and rendering each page largely unreadable. Each book shape shifts into an object, not of literature or science or history any longer, but an object of art. As the meaning of each book is subjugated to [this] objectification process, a shifting beauty transpires, aside from any language or text or etching held between the endpapers. . . I like seeing the type transform, from a recognizable symbol to a simple visual mark, no longer referencing a known cue, but introducing a new language. It can only be created by absolute perfection in repetition, and that appeals to me. There's something very meditative to me about this motion."