Return to Articles


by Judith Christensen

"Fresnel's Tower," sculptural book, ed. of 38, 6 x 5 1/4 x 5 1/4" closed, 1997.

"The Roar I (Wall Easel)" (detail), pastel monotype/laser print/chart, 23 1/2 x 15 1/2", 1997.

"Shipwreck Stories: Overview" (1) ,photogravure/mular drawing, 10 x 17" (page spread), 1996.

"Shipwreck Stories: Overview" (2), photogravure/mylar drawing, 10 x 17" (page spread), 1996.

(Artworks Bookarts, Santa Monica) An effective relationship between form and content is critical for the success of an artist's book. (Exceptions are those books that focus on the fine printing process--redos of classical texts or other texts produced by typology and binding enthusiasts.) Charles Hobson's books and other works on paper demonstrate his mastery at creating a dynamic interplay between his subject and the piece's structure.

Hobson draws his subject matter from the history of lighthouses and shipwrecks from 1716 through the early 20th Century. Acknowledging that history is sometimes unknown, sometimes embellished and rarely straightforward, he titles the work Legends and Stories. His "Lighthouse Legends" text blends historical details, constructed fictions, diary accounts and legendary tales. In The Lady in Black, for example, Hobson combines facts ("Boston Light was first lit in 1716. . ."), details about scientific research ("students from MIT. . .lived on Little Brewster. . .studying the phe- nomenon"), and legend ("It is her restless spirit that. . .tricks the. . .fog horns into silence").

Likewise, the artworks' structure is a tapestry of interwoven elements. Taking a maritime chart, Hobson overprints a monotype that is worked with pastel. Within this form is a cutout--in this piece, a silhouette of the woman whose story Hobson reveals in the accompanying text. Other pieces also integrate handwritten accounts from the journals of the keepers of the lighthouses he profiles.

Maritime accidents along the Northern California coast provide the inspiration for "Shipwreck Stories", an accordionfold book. Both text and image begin with researched information--a fusion of details drawn from marine historians, the California Historical Society, the Bancroft Library, 19th Century photographs, and actual historical maps. To this base Hobson adds an interpretive layer. Humanizing the historical incident, he constructs tales that he titled fiction. In one narrative, he imagines what the Captain is thinking as he attempts a dangerous repair to his sinking schooner in a lightning storm. Hobson makes the visual details vivid by drawing an image of each shipwreck, which is then transferred to an etching plate using the photogravure process. In the book each image has over it a transparent page with the silhouette of a figure, denoting a bystander viewing the shipwreck. The book's structure --the blending and layering--aptly reflects the character of the information it presents.

Form and content reflect one another literally in Fresnel's "Tower", a sculptural book the reader assembles. Cylinders, each containing an image of part of a lighthouse, stack one upon the other to create the completed structure. The material--glass pieces--which separates and supports each section, also reflects the piece's subject: The 19th Century designer of the Fresnel lens, which revolutionized lighthouse optics. Like the fog horn that sounds in the night, repetition is a strong element in this piece. The text from the accompanying traditional page-form book repeats on the pieces of glass so that they, too, become pages.

Reading an artist's book takes the form of discovery--of text, image and structure, and how these elements integrate. Hobson uses this complexity as a vehicle for examining an equally complex subject--how events come to us across time: Incomplete, filtered, interpreted and, often, embellished.