Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Interview - Nicholas Jones

One of Nicholas Jones' beautiful book sculptures

Full desk!

Nicholas talks about his work

Another of Nicholas' pieces (this image from Daily Imprint)

my favourite piece... isn't it beautiful?

Work in progress on Nicholas' desk

The Flinders Lane studio Nicholas that shares with jewellery designer Marcos Davidson

I'll admit it. I have a tendancy to get over-excitable in certain circumstances. I just can't contain my enthusiasm if I feel genuinely inspired by something or someone. In fact, it has been brought to my attention that I have a habit of gushing if I encounter someone I truly admire. Ouch. BUT in my own defence, this time it's seriously warranted.

I first saw the work of Nicholas Jones recently when Natalie profiled him on Daily Imprint... I was immediately taken with his stunningly delicate sculptures made of beautiful old books. Nicholas contacted me after I left a comment on Natalie's post, and he kindly agreed to an interview for this site. I was lucky enough also to visit Nicholas at his studio in Flinders Lane in the city last week... I think 'kid in a lolly shop' would be an accurate description of my excitement.

Nicholas' work is truly stunning. The delicate cuts and folds, the attention to detail, the mathematic intricacy of such a repetitive creative process... the soft, faded colours of the bookcovers, and the gently yellowed surface of each aged page....

Nicholas was such a charming host on the day I visited his studio. He answered all of my inquisitive questions patiently and thoughtfully, and encouraged me to handle his delicate works, even though I was initially nervous to touch them! I feel so lucky to have had the chance to chat with Nicholas first-hand about his work, and to have been invited to visit his treasure trove of a studio. Wow.

See. Gushing.

Tell me a little about your background - what did you study and what path led you to what you’re doing now?

I come from a fine art sculpture background, studying from 1995- 1997 at the VCA. For the majority of my course, I made work from the expected media such as bronze, aluminium, clay, wood etc…, but when I got to my final semester, I started experimenting with books and found paper as a potential sculptural material. One of my lecturers, Elizabeth Presa had been working with folded books, wax and mixed media and these were media I empathised with. The more I read about deconstructivist theory as expounded by Jacques Derrida and the Baroque and the Double Fold, by Deleuze and Guattari, the more I started to feel that my chosen medium had relevance. The idea of divesting a book of its utilitarianism and forcing it into the realm of the surreal and futile was confounding and enticing at the same moment. Books become objectified rather than useful and beautiful, rather than taken for granted. The Japanese theory of Wabi Sabi also inspires me greatly and the notion that nothing is perfect holds a great deal of weight.

What have been some of you recent projects/exhibitions? Which galleries/shops can we find your work at?

At the end of last year, I decided to dedicate myself full time to making my Art work for at least a year, or as long as I can survive without any money! This has forced me to chase after opportunities rather than taking the usual Rastafarian notion of “Soon come” to the extreme. I have shown work at Craft Victoria consistently for the past six years or so and a lot of interesting projects have sprung out of this. Last year I had a major show at Australian Art Resources in Southbank and a small show at Third Drawer Down in St Kilda. I have also shown at Perth Institute of Fine Art, The State Library of Victoria, Westspace Gallery, Australian Galleries and many other galleries.

How would you describe your artistic style? How has this style developed over time?

I would describe my artistic style as book sculpture, although it has been referred to as altered book making, book surgery and other things. It has developed very organically over time. I have let the ideas come out very naturally, rather than using too much force. I make work at a reasonable pace, but I realise that if I try to work to quickly, the subtlety of the process is lost. Also, I can sometimes cut myself if I rush!

Another shot of Nicholas' latest work in progress... can't get enough of his fantastically messy desk!

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about the distinction between art and craft. What category would you say your work falls into? How would you distinguish between art and craft?

I know this argument very well, but try not to get caught up in the politics of the Art/Craft divide. I have always aimed to make beautiful, interesting objects and if people say that it is Craft, rather than Art, I have no problem with it. Craft is such a nebulous and all encompassing notion; from doilies and baskets, to ceramics and knitted scarves. There is also a utilitarian notion attached to much Craft such as vases, tea cosies and beanies. My work has no utilitarian value. It is made purely to be displayed and enjoyed.

Which designers, artists or creative people you look up to or are inspired by?

I have always been inspired by the work of artists such as David Mach and Buzz Spector. Large scale installation work which questions the notion of space and content. I studied with Ricky Swallow and always enjoyed how his work has evolved over the past ten years. Sharing a studio with Jeweller, Marcos Davidson is wonderful as he is extremely knowledgeable about many styles of art and is a great problem solver.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

I work in the studio five or six days a week, usually from 10 am until late, depending on what needs to be done. I spend a fair bit of time on the email, the phone and running around. I will often travel out to the suburbs to look through secondhand bookshops to find interesting books. Also I have the wonderful Basement Books just around the corner in Elizabeth St. I will try to do at least some cutting, tearing or folding every day to mix it up.

Nicholas with a collection of pieces

What are you most proud of professionally?

I am proud professionally each time I sell a work or get invited to be a part of an exhibition. Making work is very gratifying in itself and now that I have been doing it full time, it is getting so much more enjoyable; less stressful. I was interviewed on the Sunday Arts show on Channel 2, which was a highlight and being written up in magazines and books is always fun.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration all around me. From the patterns in nature, seed pods, shells and nests, to music, other Art, conversation, food, drink, everything. Inspiration is everywhere, it is just a question of coaxing it out! It can sometimes be quite shy!

What's the best thing about your job?

………Don’t have one!…………………….

And the worst?

……… Don’t have one! …………………….

What would be your dream project?

My dream project would involve a very large collection of books being at my disposal to arrange them in a strange manner in a European setting like a 12th Century church or 18thC French palace…something like that!

What are you looking forward to – professionally or personally?

I am looking forward to having a solo exhibition of recent works at the new Sydney Gallery, Pablo Fanque, in Paddington. I always work better when I have a deadline.

Melbourne Questions –

Best and Worst things about having your studio in the CBD?

The best thing about having a studio in the city is that I am close to everything. Bookshops, galleries, record shops etc… I have lots of friends who work at cafes and shops in town, so there is a strong social network. The worst thing about the Flinders lane area is that there are people who stand in clumps outside like a bunch of tourists and I can be a little grumpy at times. People blocking the street does not sit well with me.

Nicholas Jones / Marcos Davidson Studio

Nicholas Jones / Marcos Davidson Studio

What/where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

I had a delicious dinner the other night at Comme in Alfred Place, where Mietta’s was many years ago. Terrific service, food and atmosphere.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

I am usually found having breakfast at Small Block Café in Lygon St, East Brunswick. A great place to go with your children and friends. Well priced food and great coffee.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

Melbourne’s best kept secret. Such a difficult question to answer. There is a great number of great bookshops such as Collected Works in the Nicholas Building. Also the wonderful little parks which are hiding around corners in the suburbs. Also the incredible examples of Architecture, the Town Hall, Princess Theatre, Windsor, Forum. Superb.

A big thank you to Nicholas for his time and for the invitation to visit his amazing studio.

If you're in the market for a beautiful, unique artwork, I must recommend Nicholas' work. Please visit his website, or you can contact him on He's currently working on pieces for his upcoming exhibition in Sydney, but I'll be sure to post when he next exhibits in Melbourne.


  1. oh i see, it all makes sense now. great great post. gush away, i love it.
    see you on bicycle on sunday.

  2. yes yes gush gush
    isn't it beautiful!!
    Thanks for commenting :)

    Hope to see you Sunday. I will be grubby and tired of bathroom demolition. But anyway :) a cup of tea will be lovely. xxx

  3. these sculptures are gorgeous! the photos make me want to invade his studio and touch everything, thumb through every page.

  4. Oh thankyou for your lovely comment Robin! Aren't they stunning. His studio is also like an artwork in itself!

    I know what you mean about touching everything in there... I think I hyperventilated from excitement at the time. :)

  5. Beautiful stuff.
    I recently came across the art of Brian Dettmer as well, I was blown away.

  6. Thanks for your comment. I am so glad Nicholas' work is reaching so many new people :)

    Yes Brian Dettmer's work has been brought up a couple of times today! Stunning stuff also... wow. All those tiny details...

  7. This work is fantastic. I have seen many book artists, but Nicholas' work is far more interesting. I have sent his page to an Art Center in upstate New York that is having a book exhibit. Good luck.

    Sandra (Massachusetts)

  8. i don't think it's very cool destroying beautiful books... no matter what you're doing with them!

  9. Wow, these are absolutely amazing! One of those things that just seem to make so much sense you wonder why you haven't seen it somewhere before. I found this page this morning at work and emailed myself the link so I could come home and look at them some more!

  10. I think these pieces are beautiful. Thank you for sharing!

  11. Thankyou Kira, Ana and Sandra for your kind words! I am so glad Nicholas' work is reaching such a wide audience through this little article... it's really exciting.

    Sandra - thanks so much for passing Nicholas' work on to that NY gallery! I'm sure he would be very appreciative and excited about that possibility.

    regarding the anonymous comment - I can only defend Nicholas work as I did over at design*sponge.. I do see your argument, but I really don't think 'destroying' is a fair or accurate description of Nicholas' work. I would say he breathes new life into these books, offering a new way to respond to and appreciate them. As I have mentioned before, a large quantity of Nicholas books are donated to him from libraries etc that would otherwise be throwing them away!

  12. its good, but seeing all those destroyed books kinda makes me want to cry....*tear*

  13. haven't seen any such work earlier but could have done something recycled than tearing books!

  14. It is an unfortunate statement regarding this society we live in that we would rather carve up books than read them.

    In all those books, I didn't see any book that was an 'art' book, or a coffee table book - only the written word. I would be interested to know why he doesn't carve up an 'art' book. It seems that it would at least be more appropriate.

    I would assume, of course, that he doesn't carve up art books because he would be destroying someone's hard work, or at least a representation of it.

    My opinion, however, is that if you won't do this to art books, or picture books, and only to the written word, aren't you still destroying someone's life work?

    I would much rather read a book to enjoy it than look at some defenseless book that was mutilated.

    As I said - it's a sad state of affairs.

  15. 'defenceless books'? That is ridiculous.

    I have defended Nicholas work here and at design*sponge. The overwhelming response to this work has been positive and enthusiastic. I would have thought there are bigger problems in the world than an artist re-modelling second-hand books.

    As I said, a large quantity of the books Nicholas uses are donated to him by Melbourne University library and elsewhere. These books would otherwise be thrown away.

    If you're going to leave such dramatic comments it would at least hold a little more weight if you didn't leave them anonymously.

  16. Well done Lucy on your blog posting. Not often a blogger gets away from their computer and builds a story from scratch. It's even rarer for a blogger to visit and interview their story subject.

    Maybe that's one of the reasons this story has got so much response.

    Now to Nick. Part of the appeal of his work is how some are confronted by the cutting up of books. It really mucks about with the you must read this book to the very end to make you a better, more disciplined and intelligent adult doctrine most of us grew up with.

    But here's the bit that makes those angry about this "destroying" of books have no choice but double take.

    I've been a good friend of Nick for gee maybe 14 years and get this: Nobody I know loves books and lives his love for books (yes, reading them damnammit), more than Nick Jones.

    So there.

  17. Hey Glenn, thanks so much for your kind words about my blog and this interview! It was such a great experience meeting Nick and visiting his studio... I feel very lucky that this site has put me in contact with such lovely, talented people :) I wish I had the chance to personally meet more of my interviewees...

    Thanks too for stepping in to give your own personal take on Nick's work and his passion for books! I'm sure if people had a chance to meet and talk to Nick they'd realise his work is far from 'destructive'.

    Blah. Anyway, thanks so much for your comment :) I appreciate it!

  18. Dear god people he isnt using a first edition of the bible. Its a raw material and Im sure you can go to many garage sales and libraries and bookstores across america and find those very titles he is using. Even in the face of art and talent people will still find a reason to hate....relax everyone...breathe in

  19. I'm new here on Stumble and I think the book sculpture is just that, 'ART'. I've never seen anything like it. I'am an artist myself. He ,Nicholas, the artist, is very original with his work. I'm sure the publishers of those books made more than one copy. I love the work. Thanks.


  20. Thanks so much for those last few supportive comments! I like the 'first edition of the bible' bit :) hee hee.

    It's great to see this work is still reaching so many new people. Thanks so much for taking a moment to say hi and give your opinions :)


  21. Such beautiful work I find it petty to be conflicted, but...

    I do take some issue with the carving up of the books. It just seems too much like an opportunistic use of an interesting media - resulting in the destruction of the original.

    I wonder if certain passages are left readable, if the work in question dictates the design.

    It just sounds sad to have a literary work sacrificed at random, even if the result is a beautiful sculpture.

    Now I can't decide if I really have a foot to stand on!

  22. wow! amazingly beautiful work.
    thankyou for showing me :-)
    i just found your site.. . hooray.
    manda :-)

  23. Manda,

    Thanks for your lovely comment :) I'm glad you found my site... I just looked at your blog too... gorgeous gocco prints! Thanks for saying hello!

    Lucy :)