For the past five years, Nyack-based artist Stanford Kay has painted books. Books on shelves, in stacks, and in boxes. His interest in the subject developed after Kay noticed how people display their collection of books in their homes as they would artwork. “They’re both identifiers of who people are,” Kay explains. “Books contain information and culture in the same way paintings do.”
Before he began painting his “Gutenberg Variations,” a series of over 60 book paintings, Kay developed an attraction to the visual motifs in modernist grid paintings. “I’ve always had an issue with content in paintings—what they’re about and how to get content in there without being too literal. This [painting books] was a way to evoke content that I or the viewer could project onto.” The paintings, void of any text—allow the viewer to decide what’s on that bookshelf; Tolstoy, Nancy Drew, or a biology textbook.
Though Kay’s book paintings look similar to one another, he insists he avoid repetition through experimentation. Right now, he is painting books in boxes, as if packed for storage and viewed from above. “If you repeat yourself, you just make another doughnut, and it’s not about making doughnuts,” he says. Kay’s technique entails taping off parts of the raw canvas so when it is peeled back, the empty space has created a level bookshelf. “The paint will drip down from one layer of shelves and creates spaces and opens up opportunities to create little forms,” says Kay. The short, heavy paint drips, noticeable on some on the paintings, give a piece that would otherwise be known as a grid painting freedom for abstraction. The vivid color schemes are simply chosen by Kay’s interest in a palette at the time being.“As the color starts to assert itself, it starts to become part of the content—red, white, and blue might remind me of French Impressionism,” he says, referencing his bookshelf painting titled The History of French Painting. “The color will start to dictate what the painting is about, and then I try to steer the painting in that direction.”
What’s next for Kay? “I don’t know. This is the longest I’ve worked on one theme. I am always exploring new ideas—whether one will turn into an extended preoccupation is hard to predict,” he says. www.stanfordkay.com.