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Sunday May 12, 2013

The art of reading

Fantome’s mash-up of Frankenstein and Romeo
And Juliet is part of the Read Carefully
exhibition by Kult Gallery in Singapore. Fantome’s mash-up of Frankenstein and Romeo And Juliet is part of the Read Carefully exhibition by Kult Gallery in Singapore.

Art meets literature as artists from all over the world come together over a love of books.

Books can inspire fervent emotions, and every reader will remember at least one specific tome that left a lasting impression on them. Building on this, Singaporean art magazine and gallery Kult has rolled out a project that gives a visual dimension to the act of reading. Bringing together books and art, their latest exhibition Read Carefully features a series of book covers that have been reimagined and redesigned by over 50 different Singaporean and international artists.

Names as varied as Genevieve Gauckler of the Netherlands, Russell Taysom of Britain, Timothy Daws of Australia and Speak Cryptic of Singapore were asked to choose a book that had been influential in shaping who they are today, and conceptualise a cover design for that book in their own style. As a result, titles ranging from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury to Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk to The Kamasutra are interpreted in singularly unique and often surprising ways in this quirky exhibition.

Introduced as part of the Design Society Festival in March, the artworks were initially displayed at various venues in Tiong Bahru, Singapore. Now, the entire collection is on display at the Kult Gallery.

Kult creative director Steve Lawler says the idea for the exhibition came about because they wanted to make books cooler.

“We want to make the young people who are glued to their iPhones and television screens take a step back and read a book,” he explains, adding that the exhibition fits in with the magazine’s practice of getting artists from around the world to respond visually to a theme.

“The book covers felt like a way to learn about the artist, and hopefully bring forgotten books back into the mainstream,” he says.

According to Lawler, Kult selected artists whom they thought were in a position to teach and impart valuable knowledge to be a part of the project. “We selected artists we respect, people who are perhaps more senior. A lot of young designers today are talented, but not willing to learn. We wanted to tap into the old-school thinking of mentors and apprentices,” he says.

Speak Cryptic’s interpretation of Last Exit To Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr. Speak Cryptic’s interpretation of Last Exit To Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr.

Seeing the completed artworks for Read Carefully, Lawler shares, was very exciting.

“Every time a new entry came in, we would be waiting anxiously. Of course, some works spoke to different people in different ways. But the sheer range of styles and designs was a giant reward.”

For the artists involved, the project was an opportunity to examine their relationship with particular books, and to think about how it had affected their lives.

Soph-O of Singapore, who is currently based in Los Angeles, chose to work on William Golding’s Lord Of The Flies because it took on new meaning for her each time she read it.

“I read the book when I was a child, then as a teenager and again as an adult, and it’s really fascinating how this classic story evolves and reinterprets itself each time I read it,” she says.

Her design for the cover, she explains, was inspired by her childhood conception of the island in the book.

“The island was such a mystical place but I never lost track of where the characters or my imaginary self in the book would be. Hence, I decided to re-draw a map of the island as though I was a kid again, without much conceptualisation, just drawing instinctively.”

For Sakiroo, who hails from Seoul, Korea, the book Principle-Centred Leadership by Stephen R. Covey played an important part in determining his life’s path. Despite having no formal training in art, he left a nine-year career in the corporate sector to realise his dream of becoming an artist.

“I have recently been interested in various ancient religions. Covey’s book showed me what I had to do for the future, almost like a religion. The book also made me realise the importance of humanity, which naturally led me to think about art and philosophy.

Jon Burgerman’s modern retake of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. Jon Burgerman’s modern retake of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.

“And as the book’s title is Principle-Centred Leadership, I portrayed Covey as the centre of the universe between the sun and the moon,” he explains.

Meanwhile, Briton Jon Burgerman’s choice of book title seems like it was meant to be.

“I was reading Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov at the time this project came around. At the same time, I’d also started a new project called Drawings Of Girls I’ve Seen On Tumblr, where I draw images of girls I’ve seen on Tumblr. There seemed to be a connection between this and some of the themes of the book,” says the artist, who is currently based in New York.

The process of creating the artwork then came naturally.

“I start by thinking and then move on to drawing, and then the work seems to take on a life of its own and somehow gets completed almost by itself. It was great fun, especially since the scenes and ideas from the text were still swirling around in my head,” he says.

Read Carefully will be showing at Kult Gallery (Emily Hill, Blk C2-5, 11 Upper Wilkie Road, Singapore) till May 25. The gallery opens from 11am to 6pm on weekdays and by appointment on weekends. For more information, go to