Tom Sowden




Centre for Fine Print Research, University of the West of England, United Kingdom


Tom Sowden is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Fine Print Research, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK. Recent research projects include the AHRC funded Paper Models, investigating laser-cutting technology for artists’ books. He is Art Editor for the Artist’s Book Yearbook and The Blue Notebook. From 2006-2009, Tom co-curated the exhibition Sitting Room with Lucy May Schofield, of 130 artists’ books in a recreated sitting room touring gallery spaces, allowing books to be handled and read in comfort.

Tom works across a number of disciplines: artists’ books, video, photography and printmaking, with a knowing but light-hearted approach that references and mimics the aspirational work of American conceptual artists from the 1960s and 1970s. Instead of sharing their utopian ideals, his approach is more to do with commonplace concerns - commuting, walking in the park and supermarket shopping - whilst still alluding to systems and processes that artists such as Ed Ruscha and Lawrence Weiner employed. His work is playful, yet undercut with suggestions of futility and failure. His books produced in tribute to Ruscha include: Some of the Buildings on the Sunset Strip; Record; Winter Gardens; Fiftytwo Shopping Trolleys in Parking Lots, and Homeless People.


Follow-ed (after hokusai) - presented on Tom's behalf by Sarah Bowden


I can't stop making books in the style of Ed Ruscha. It has become an obsession, and my failure in trying to replicate an Ed Ruscha book, whilst always trying to succeed, is entirely part of the appeal to me. I don't live in 1960s California and my city is not as aspirational a place as Los Angeles was then, but I am not alone in this and many other artists share my passion and also produce books in an Ed Ruscha style. But why do we do this?

This paper first looks at my own practice and my journey as an Ed Ruscha rip-off act, and then looks at some of the books from my collection of Ed Ruscha tribute books. Direct tributes such as the amazingly faithful reproduction of Royal Road Test; Macintosh Road Test by Corinne Carlson, Karen Henderson and Marla Hlady - true to the spirit even in the clothes they are wearing for the photographs - in which they substituted a Macintosh Plus (Model 'X') computer for the original Royal typewriter; to more conceptual books such as Doro Bîhme and Eric Baskauskas' Various Blank Pages, which presents all the blank pages from Nine Swimming Pools, Colored People, A Few Palm Trees and Various Small Fires.

Although the books collected so far vary enormously in size, subject matter and style, they all have an intrinsic 'Ed' theme, however tenuous the connection may be. The prevailing quality that I feel they all have is the element of humour reminiscent of Ruscha. Where each artist has taken one of Ruscha's books and reinvented it with a knowing twist; referencing with wit, the time and environment that they find themselves in, just as Ruscha did in the 60s and 70s.


Wednesday 28 September


1:30pm - 3.00pm





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