Taking its inspiration from Walter Benjamin’s seminal 1931 essay, Unpacking My Library: Artists and Their Books is a spirited exploration of the reading and book collecting practices of ten leading artists, who have chosen to share their private and studio libraries with readers. Striking photographs offer views of the libraries and close-ups of favorite bookshelves, providing an evocative glimpse into the personal touches that make a library one’s own, as well as the individual volumes that have shaped each artist’s life and practice.
Jo Steffens contemplates what libraries can say about the artists that own them, exploring the role of literature in shaping an artist’s self-presentation. An excerpt from Marcel Proust’s essay “On Reading” emphasizes the unique pleasure of finding friendship in books. Each artist also supplies a list of ten favorite titles, and the accompanying interviews are full of inspiration for book lovers and collectors alike.
Chris Cran is an internationally recognized painter who lives and works in Calgary, Alberta. His artwork explores issues of representation, on one hand related to the construction of personal and cultural identities, and on the other involving perceptual/cognitive illusion- both interests critically underpinned by a disarming and revelatory sense of humour. Most recently he has major exhibitions at the Art Gallery of Alberta (Edmonton), Southern Alberta Art Gallery (Lethbridge), both in 2015 and which combined into a major thirty five year survey exhibition (Sincerely Yours) at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa (2016) with over a hundred works exhibited. Cran was inducted into the Royal Canadian Academy in 2002. He received the ACAD Alumni Award of Excellence in 2011 and the Doug and Lois Mitchell Outstanding Calgary Artist Award in 2014. He was included in Alberta Venture’s “Alberta’s 50 Most Influential People of 2016 and The Calgary Herald’s “Alberta 150”. He is represented by Trepanier Baer Gallery in Calgary, Clint Roenisch Gallery in Toronto and Wilding Cran Gallery in Los Angeles.
Jo Steffens devised Unpacking My Library in 2009 and co-published the first book in the series with Yale University Press. Previously, she published Block by Block: Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York, with Princeton Architectural Press, based on an exhibit she conceived and co-curated. Jo Steffens is the former director of the Municipal Art Society of New York’s, Urban Center Books— and Wordfest, Banff-Calgary International Writers Festival. She received the Rosza Award for Innovation in Arts Management in 2014. Apart from working on her books, or book related projects, she can be found lap swimming, listening to public radio, reading graphic novels and drinking Oolong tea.
Samantha Warwick is the author of the novel Sage Island, and her essays and poetry have been broadcast on CBC Radio and appeared in various literary and commercial publications including Geist, Event, The Globe & Mail and FASHION. She blogs for the Writers’ Guild of Alberta where she has also directed an event and reading series in Calgary since 2005. When she is not writing, blogging, hosting literary events or coaching swimming, she walks the city with her tiny dog Lulu, reads many books, keeps warm in hot yoga and builds fires at a cabin in the woods.