Bryant Featured in Book Arts Exhibition in New York City

Kelly Bryant in the air

Kelly Bryant, professor in the School of Industrial and Graphic Design, has been recognized in an exhibition by the Center for Book Arts in New York City for her art book in the air.

Bryant is one of only 30 member exhibits included in this year’s celebratory show, titled, “Hello Thank You Come In: 50th Anniversary Members Exhibition,” which opened on January 18 and runs through May 1.

According to the Center, “This ambitious exhibition features artists’ books or publications…which make use of cloth, found objects or archival material in addition to traditional bookbinding materials and which challenge—and honor—the form of the book.”

The Center for Book Arts in New York is the oldest of its kind in the United States, founded in 1974 by book artist and master bookbinder Richard Minsky and dedicated to contemporary interpretations of the book as an art object, while preserving traditional practices of the art of the book. Book arts centers now in operation around the country like those in Minneapolis and Savannah are based on Minsky’s concept.

Kelly Bryant in the air

Bryant has planned a trip for March to see her piece among the anniversary exhibits.

“I’ve entered pieces a few times before, but this was my first time to be part of a members exhibition,” she shared.

Bryant has been doing art books for years. She has a background in publication design, which led her into the medium, with in the air her most ambitious piece so far. In the air is a conceptual and experimental piece that uses collage and what Bryant calls “the act of responsive play.” She was originally inspired by Issue #9 of ‘Dot, Dot, Dot’ magazine, which she experimented with “through a series of reactive processes.”

“With my background in publication, it only seemed natural that I would turn to typography in my personal work,” she said.

Her artist statement about in the air describes the development of the piece. Bryant paid particular attention “to the pacing of text, page breaks and the use of circles for suspension and angles to denote division. Initially, this allows the viewer to encounter a compositional interplay of asymmetry, contrast and balance to convey the themes of dark versus light, and the absolute versus the evasive.”

The book came to life during a sabbatical in the fall of 2021. “I had this old magazine, this big stack of paper, and I started experimenting with it,” she explained. “I started cutting and folding it, I bound it, and I eventually completely changed that original material into something else.”

Kelly had been working with collage for more than a decade at the time, but in the air was something different. “Usually, collage pulls from lots of sources, and this piece used only a single source.”

“Creating art books like these is putting all the things in my career together,” Bryant said. “Publications, imagery, typography and merging fine arts and graphic design.”

Kelly moved from Indiana to Huntsville, Alabama, when she was 13, and at Auburn she studied graphic design alongside fine arts. “You couldn’t declare a major in both,” she said, “so I was a fine arts major until the last quarter, then I changed to graphic design.”

After she graduated from Auburn in 1985, Kelly went to work in Birmingham at Southern Progress, then a publications titan, on its Creative Ideas for Living magazine. “That’s where I learned about publication and grid design,” she said.

Bryant next went to work on the Women’s Missionary Union’s Contempo publication. She began teaching graphic design part-time at Samford University and discovered being a design educator was her future.

She left the corporate world and Alabama to study design at Syracuse University, where she earned a Master of Arts in Illustration. Bryant then went back to Samford, ultimately teaching there for 12 years, before coming to Auburn to become a professor of graphic design. She is now in her 25th year in the School, where she currently teaches typography, publication design, magazine design, illustration and drawing.

Even before Bryant has a chance to see in the air in exhibition in Manhattan at the Book Arts Center, more of her work will be on display in Columbus, Georgia, beginning February 1 in a show that features artists from eight colleges across the South. As the 2023 Alabama State Fellow and Southern Prize Finalist, her artist books and collages will be featured in a touring exhibition hosted by South Arts, a regional non-profit that supports artists and community art organizations.

For Bryant, book arts has become an excellent extension of her personal work with collage, using existing material in a new way to find new meaning. While on first glance it may seem she has destroyed the original material to make in the air, as she says in her artist statement on the project, “Upon further investigation, the actual language of the book emerges through the altered text which reads: ‘meaning still stands. The patch of darkness… and thy light… suspended in the air… a part.’”

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Kelly Bryant