Sculptor Pushes the Love of Books to an Entirely New Shelf

Suzanne Dittenber abstracts the concept of book art. Photo by Audrey Goforth

One day, Suzanne Dittenber dropped her Artforum magazine in the tub. “It was really quite beautiful watching the water spilling and the pages moving,” she says. She pulled the soggy periodical out to dry. And forgot about it for a while.

Dittenber, a painter and professor of art at UNCA, is new to the area. In addition to her time at the university, she shares studio space in Grovewood Village. She grew up and attended school in the Midwest, but she speaks passionately about her time in New England and love of the seashore.

Her New Hampshire landscapes are driven by color, chunky application of paint, and emotion. In these gestural works, saturated reds and warm details invite the viewer to linger, feeling Dittenber’s love for these places and noticing the small pleasures within — a cat on a porch, notes tacked to the fridge, boots kicked off on the floor, or a path along the beach.

In the artist’s “Pages” series, wrinkles and folds are memorialized in plaster. Her oil-on-board series of still lifes are also memorialize her love of books.

 

Her more recent paintings depict the printed word. Books and magazines lay casually open on tables or slipped into a window frame. Human forms often gaze out of their pages, then out of the paintings. “I’m interested in conversation about the imagery of these publications and how one experiences the imagery through this mediating object of the book or the magazine,” she explains.

The theme comes up over and over. An English teacher before she became an artist, Dittenber listens to audiobooks as she paints and reads every evening. She was reading that fateful day that the magazine fell into the tub.
As it dried, it changed. Completely. “It turned into this really rigid, brittle, sculptural form, with all kinds of undulation,” she says. “I just found it to be a really interesting object and started working with it, painting it, and using it in these videos and photographs.” These works investigate themes from the pleasures of reading and the beauty of the book as its own form, even when words and imagery are no longer present.

To make them, she pours plaster over books and magazines and casts them in ceramics, wax, cement, or leaves them in the plaster. “Sometimes there’s a little water damage or crinkle beforehand, but the plaster also wets the surface and makes them take on this complicated, wrinkled form.”

Pages crease, swell, and fold unpredictably. Each piece captures the fleeting and perhaps irreverent moment a page was just turned, furthering the narrative.

Suzanne Dittenber, Grovewood Village adjacent to the Omni Grove Park Inn, 111 Grovewood Road. Her work will appear in “Still Life,” a group exhibit in the Lower Level Gallery at Blue Spiral 1 (38 Biltmore Ave.), through April 27. For more information, see suzannedittenber.com.

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