While Josh Hockensmith, ‘95, studied English and interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in medieval studies, one of his favorite classes was a Japanese art and culture class he took with Dr. Stephen Addiss. Hockensmith got hooked on the aesthetics of Japanese art and formed a strong bond with Addiss that continues today. After he graduated, the two started a local haiku poetry group and have edited a haiku magazine together for nearly 15 years. A few years ago, Addiss sent Hockensmith a collection of haiku poems he had written and it inspired Hockensmith to combine his love of Japanese art and culture, with another passion, bookbinding, to create a unique artist’s book.
He moved to North Carolina for a position with UNC-Chapel Hill’s library repairing books. The experience taught him about the materials used in making a book and techniques used in the bookbinding process. “I began to think about how a book was made, rather than just as a vehicle for its content,” he says.
His fascination with bookbinding led him to consider how he could make his own books, and made his first artist’s book in 1997. “An artist’s book is a book that is created as an art object,” Hockensmith says. It’s not meant to merely showcase poems or photographs, but instead “everything that is part of the books is one cohesive art object.” Other aspects that can be involved in addition to text are the binding, the page material, and the addition of visual elements. Some artist’s books are unique and one-of-a-kind creations, while others have small editions of maybe 25 to 30 copies.
Hockensmith’s artist’s book featuring Addiss’ haiku poems is their most significant collaboration to-date. The pair collaborated closely throughout the entire process, working together to select materials, to add visual elements to accompany the text, and to decide how to print the book. stitching speechless celebrates haiku and Zen through the use of fine Japanese bookbinding techniques. Addiss studied and collaborated with experimental artist and composer John Cage; as a result, stitching speechless also has some of Cage’s influence. Hockensmith burned and smoked the pages in the book, a nod to Cage’s art, and determined the placement of each burn on the page using a sequence of randomized numbers that Cage and Addiss created for a previous project. Hockensmith created 14 unique handmade versions of the book using Japanese bookbinding techniques and hand-stamping the text on each page; each copy took several hours to complete.
Hockensmith currently works at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Art Library and spends his spare time working on an artist’s book inspired by a recent trip to the beach, which triggered his memories of surfing. The book’s pages are constructed from a neoprene wetsuit, and he is imprinting the text using surf wax. He also writes poetry, makes blank books and artist sketchbooks, and is working on a line of photo albums.
Hockensmith and Addiss will have a chance to reconnect in person in early October, when Hockensmith returns to campus to present a joint lecture with Addiss in conjunction with an exhibit of John Cage’s art on campus. The pair will discuss Cage’s art and how it has influenced their work, particularly stitching speechless, in a public lecture. Hockensmith also will work with printmaking students, sharing his expertise in the book-making process.
Hockensmith said he was pleased to see a small, yet growing market develop for artist’s books; many art libraries, museums and universities, have collections of artist’s books and he has found many individuals collect them as art pieces. He has been asked to give lectures over the years, and is particularly thrilled when students take an interest in the art of bookbinding. “In an increasingly digital world, I think people are coming to appreciate the bookbinding process even more, for the art of it.”