by Mia Adams
Julie Chen is a well-renowned book artist and instructor that is famous for her inventive and non-traditional style. Chen was born in 1963 in Inglewood, California but currently resides in Berkeley, California. She has received her undergraduate education at the University of California, Berkeley and a graduate degree in Book Arts from Mills College in Oakland, California. Chen is currently producing limited-edition book works under the Flying Fish Press imprint in Berkeley, California where she has worked for over 20 years. She currently teaches in the Book Arts Program at Mills College in Oakland, California and conducts book arts workshops across the country. Her artist’s books are displayed in libraries and museum collections all around the globe. Her works can be found at libraries of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, the special collections library at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, and many other locations.
Chen prides herself on her thorough concepts where everything is organized and well understood. This allows viewers/readers to easily connect to the content of her works. According to Chen, “These systems of organization allow me to present content in ways that can be understood and translated into the reader’s own life experience. An essential part of my creative process involves a deep investigation of my understanding of and response to a chosen topic or concept through a combination of research, personal observation and inquiry, and intensive exploration in the studio of various ways to express my ideas through writing and image-making in purposeful combination with the physical form of the book”.
For viewers to have an experience, Chen believes it starts at the shell of a piece and continues as they turn pages and interact with its structures. The artist is well known for her three dimensional and movable book structures that completely engulfed her readers. As stated by Chen, she strives “to present the reader/viewer with an object that challenges preconceived ideas of what a book is, while at the same time providing a deeply engaging and meaningful experience through the presentation of my own text and imagery in a purposefully structured format. Often the reader must engage in unexpected physical actions such as the unfolding or sliding of pages, the turning of a wheel, or the tilting of a box in order to fully read/view a piece”. Her books are often interactive that make the reader and book come together to form a full-fledged experience. Chen also uses a personal narrative that can be interpreted by readers in their own way. She pairs her intimate text with captivating designs and objects that can be viewed similarly to any painting or sculpture.
Chen utilizes techniques such as letterpress printing, hand bookbinding, and modern technologies such as laser cutting and photopolymer plates. Limited editions of her work can range anywhere from 10 to 150 copies and function traditionally as books or as sculptural objects. With the use of vibrant color, evoking text, and extravagant dimensional structures, Chen lures readers/viewers into a book that they will never want to put down.