Breathing New Life into Old Books – Artwork by Brian Dettmer

What can you do with an old book, which no longer serves you? You donate it to the poor? Other life sustaining donations would be more welcome. Recycle it? Yes, this is the answer. But there are various ways to recycle a book. You can hand it over to a paper collection company to turn it into pulp and make new paper out of it.

Or you can transform it into an artwork. Our featured artist of today, Brian Dettmer, does just that. How? In a very simple, yet original way: by cutting through books.


Shedding the Layers

Centuries ago, Michelangelo used to say that he can see the statue inside the block of marble and his work was simply to chip away the extra layers of stone. In the same manner, Brian Dettmer sees potential artistic models inside books, both with and without illustrations inside them.

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He finds a way to reveal beauty, color, shapes and meaning, by cropping, cutting, chipping away through pages in thicker or thinner layers, vertically or horizontally, in any way necessary to reveal a unique view.

A World of Possibilities

There are so many potential 3D or cut-out images hidden in an old book. Making a choice and seeing it through till the end is an exciting adventure for Brian Dettmer. It feels like unearthing old worlds, inventing new universes, being the master of a world of possibilities and choosing just one – the most expressive one.


However, Brian Dettmer chooses to define his artwork as a “remix”: he uses someone else’s creation to create something new, just like a DJ scratches on a vinyl disc of some other artist’s music to create new music. It is a modest and generous view – acknowledging the previous artists (writers, illustrators, printers) who make his type of artwork possible.



Like the Phoenix Bird

What is so inspirational about this type of artwork is that something is destroyed in order to create something else. Brian Dettmer’s art is created from the destruction of a book. However, in this manner, the book remains eternal, as an artwork. Just like the Phoenix bird, books that were meant to be forgotten, gather dust, or be turned into blank paper, get a new life of their own. And this life may be more meaningful than their original one.

Watch Brian Dettmer discuss his creative process in this TED Talks session:

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Ionut B
Digital Art Director with an innovative creative thinking able to translate ideas and concepts into useful and memorable interactive marketing campaigns.

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