Artist uses old books to tell new stories
Most people would look at a stack of dusty old books and think about putting them in a garage sale or giving them away. Richard Williams, a League City resident and retired Clear Creek Independent School District art teacher, combines his artistic and carpentry skills to keep the books, but alter the stories.
“I’ve had this encyclopedia since I was a child; it had been in my parents’ garage for at least 50 years,” Williams said. He was referring to creation in which he cut out photos and drawings in the encyclopedia, arranged them on the front and covered them in acetate.
Williams works from the periphery to the focus area, and uses a variety of tools, including a bandsaw, an X-ACTO knife and different drills, to make his art, he said.
“I convert the books into different panoramas or pictograms, and that’s how I find a different use for the books when we’re done with them,” he said.
Choosing which book to alter is the fun, creative part, he said.
“I often go to a place like Half Price Books and look for well-bound books with an interesting or odd title,” he said. “Sometimes, I choose it because it has a certain color or look, and I come up with something clever. I found a book called ‘A Walk Too Far’ and cut it into the shape of a sandal.”
He also finds plenty of ideas within old Life magazines.
“My technique is to cut out the ‘negative’ or empty spaces on the pages of the magazine, and cut through the pages till I find something that I’d like to use to fill the negative space,” he said. “That becomes my focal point.”
Williams also uses and teaches a technique of cutting books into simple silhouettes, folding pages into patterns and creating shadowboxes.
Often, Williams alters a book when he sees an opportunity to put art and a face together that fits a particular moment in history, he said.
“My most unusual altered book was from an old congressional directory from about 120 years ago,” he said. “At the time, some members of Congress were involved in a scandal linking them to prostitutes, and I took the directory and put in two female figures and covered them in the American flag. I sold that piece.”
His faith is reflected in much of his art, including an altered book in the shape of a cathedral.
“In the center of this book, I have a statue of the Madonna, and I’ve added a tiny light and created an illuminated stained glass effect using some colored plastic,” he said. “The Madonna is covered in text from the book, and then I put some framing around it.”
In his art workshops, Williams teaches his students by drawing until they understand the concepts.
“For me, drawing is a second language,” he said. “I rely on my intuition to let each project develop. I have no preconceived ideas on how it will evolve. Each of us has a different perspective. I always see possibilities by looking at a few different things, and I see something new.”
For information about Richard Williams’ workshops at Upper Bay Frame and Gallery, visit www.upperbayframe.com.