Stuff You Didn’t Know You Needed: Book Art

As adults, I think it is our personal responsibility to remind ourselves that we can, in fact, buy home décor from places other than Target, Marshall’s, World Market or Ikea. While I love a cheesy saying plastered on a wood block just as much as the next lazy decorating fool, there is more out there. Art is a detrimental part of our homes. It can say “sophisticated, educated and worldly” or it can say this person is xx years old and still, their favorite quote is “live, love, laugh”. See what I mean? Luckily for us, there is no shortage of both discovered and undiscovered art that is just waiting for a wall to call home. While my budget errs on the Target side of the spectrum, there are so many interesting, intricate and one-of-a-kind artists out there who live off the minds that dare to do more than just live, love and laugh. One of my favorite recent discoveries is artwork done by Ekaterina Panikanova.

Ekaterina Panikanova’s work is incredibly unique. As an artist, she has become known for taking hold of a rare mixed medium combination where she layers paintings across expansive spreads of worn books. Panikanova was born in St. Petersburg in 1975 and went on to show promise from a young age, graduating at the top of her class from the Academy of Fine Arts. After she graduated, the academy even took it upon themselves to give Panikanova a studio to work from for five years. In the present day, the artist lives and works in Rome.

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Now, book art isn’t as rare as one might think. In fact, I think I vaguely remember spending one painful, callused night using an x-acto knife to carve a picture into a book for a required freshman year art class. I also vaguely remember trying to desperately explain what the carving was supposed to be to my perplexed professor. Ah, well – not my calling – others, however, have created incredible carvings by slicing through a book’s pages, as well as printed graphics on book pages and other obscure adaptations.

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Panikanova’s book art is unique because she combines multiple used books with the occasional vintage piece of paper to create one large canvas. Then she uses black ink (and/or occasionally watercolors) to create one of her masterpieces, which have been said to “blur the line between painting, installation and collage”. How does one get inspired to ditch the traditional canvas for a more scholarly medium? According to Panikanova, she was first inspired when visiting a flea market. At the market, she came across a 700-page manuscript and was “struck by the difference between it’s original purpose and how it had ended up”. From there, the artist embraced her new medium and seemingly never looked back.

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Just because a book ends up in one of Ekaterina’s paintings doesn’t mean it will go unread. Panikanova actually reads some of the book’s text to draw meaningful inspiration from the canvas itself. It seems like the artist tends to draw from some overlying themes that she represents using objects commonly found in her paintings such as pie, antlers, bicycles and rocking horses. For Panikanova, it seems most important to represent some type of movement in her paintings, so they are unlimited by time. Other themes that frequently inspire the artist include animal instinct and tradition. When speaking of her choice of medium, Panikanova says “I like working on old books: I like the way they wear and tear, underlinings, notes and scribblings enable me to perceive the personalities of the people who have read them. In Russia, there is a difference between an icon which has been ‘prayed to’ and one which has not; a book which has been read has the same kind of energy as an icon which has been worshiped.” Panikanova had her first solo exhibition in Rome in 2013 at the Z20 gallery.

If after seeing some of these beautiful pieces, you aren’t rethinking your previously proud choice to have “eat cupcakes for breakfast” as the statement piece of your living room, then well…I applaud you. However, if you’re anything like me you have a slightly more scrutinizing eye when coming home to “conserve water, drink wine” and “you had me at bacon” wall art. I’m not saying to stop going into Target for some hand sanitizer and coming out with a new interior-decorating plan (plus some dollar bin finds, a new swimsuit and a bag of addicting trail mix). What I am saying is there are some amazing artists out there (including Ekaterina Panikanova) that create beautiful and captivating pieces that Target has yet to scoop up. If pieces like that are out of your price range, you can catch a live glimpse of Panikanova’s work at galleries such as SCOPE (NYC) and Converge (Williamsport, PA). Until then keep living, loving and laughing…

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