Kenny Pittock, Book Sculptor

Kenny Pittock is a Melbourne based artist who works across a variety of mediums. He shares with us his process and the inspiration for his book sculptures, many of which have been presented to and signed by the authors.

How did the idea of making book sculptures come about? What was the first one?

The first book sculpture I made was in 2010, I was trying to blur the boundaries of whether my work was a painting or a sculpture. Also, I’ve always wanted to be a writer so I made the piece mostly because I wanted to know what it might feel like to see my name on the cover of one of those Penguin Classics.

Here’s a photo I took of it at a book shop.

The second book sculpture I made was of The Godfather, which is a book my Mum gave me for my 17th birthday (and the book that has made me the hardened mobster I am today). I made this one as part of a series of Italian-themed ceramic sculptures for an art exhibition I had in Rome in May 2014.

The first author I showed a book sculpture to was the artist David Shrigley in November 2014. I was invited to interview him for Vogue Living, so I got my hands on a copy of his new book and made a ceramic sculpture of it for him to sign. I also made a ceramic sculpture of a ruler as a gift, as I’d learnt that he collects rulers. I made a 31cm ruler because I figured he’d have lots of 30cm rulers but probably none that were 31cm.

Artist and author David Shrigley with Kenny Pittock

31cm ceramic ruler by Kenny Pittock

Ceramic book sculpture by Kenny Pittock

How do you choose which books you’ll recreate?

It’s a pretty simple system really, I write down the name of every single book ever published onto separate individual scraps of paper and then I put them all into one ginormous hat. Now, when I feel like making a sculpture of a book I just reach into the hat, pull out a name and get to work …

Ha, no, it’s actually much more improvisational than that. I just make the book sculptures for fun when I’m not working on exhibitions, commissions or other projects, and so when I get a little gap of time I look into who’s got a talk coming up or doing something interesting and go from there.

What materials do you use and how long do they take to make?

They’re all kiln fired earthenware ceramic, painted in either glazes or acrylics. They take a while to make, about a week or three. There used to be an ad on TV for Kettle chips with an old man in his little shed, full to the ceiling with potatoes and it showed him working for days to carve out a single potato chip. It’s a bit like that.

Kenny in his studio sculpting Georgie Porgie by George Calombaris

Do you read the books and do you think about the cover design in the process of making your sculptures?

Yeah I always try to read the books, I wouldn’t make a sculpture of someone’s book if I wasn’t a fan of their work. Having said that though a lot of the books I’ve made are of visual artists so they’re mostly just pictures with a couple of essays.

Also a lot of comedians I like tend to write kids books and  they’re pretty fun to read. A few months ago I read Peter Helliar’s new book, Frankie Fish and the Sonic Suitcase, and I enjoyed it so much I might continue reading the next in the series.

There was one joke in it I keep thinking about where the main character Frankie is a bit shaken up and his sister says to him ‘Maybe you’ve got PTSD, like the soldiers when they come back from war.’ And Frankie says, ‘If anyone has PS3 it’s you!’

It’s funny how you can read a whole book and then it’s one line like that that sticks with you. I’ve also recently read (and sculpted) Finding Nevo, How I Confused Everyone, a powerful  memoir by Nevo Zison about their experience of being non-binary.

And right now I’m reading The Library by bibliophile Stuart Kells, which is an amazing and hilarious look at the history of libraries. Anyone interested in learning more about the significance of books should definitely check it out. It has a beautiful cover (designed by W. H. Chong) with artwork by Melbourne artist Nicholas Jones, who has a studio in the Nicholas Building where I’ve also worked for the last four years.

How do authors react when you present them with a ceramic version of their book?

I remember when the amazing Dame Quentin Bryce was autographing my sculpture of her book and she asked me what my name was, I said ‘Kenny… Like that character from South Park’, and she laughed and said, ‘Oh no, not that rude show!’. I laughed and replied, ‘It’s okay, I wasn’t allowed to watch it growing up!’

Meeting Miranda July was also really awesome, but not even meeting her, just getting to hear her talk about her art for an hour was  cool. I really like her work.

Another fun moment was when I got to briefly meet Ai Weiwei. I gave him a ceramic sculpture of him as a Lego man, as he was making work with Lego at the time. But I also made a sculpture of his passport, which is something the Chinese government had for a long time taken away from him, so when I showed it to him he laughed and said ‘I really could’ve used one of these a year ago!’.

Kenny Pittock’s ceramic sculpture of Ai Weiwei’s passport

Artist Ai Weiwei with Kenny Pittock and his ceramic Lego sculpture

Ceramic Lego sculpture of Ai Weiwei by Kenny Pittock

I really like when I get to meet the author but there have been a few times when it wasn’t possible. I think that’s all part of it though and it just makes the times when I am able to meet them even better. I would’ve loved to meet Mario Puzo to show him my sculpture of The Godfather, but sadly Mario is currently sleeping with the fishes.