Mike Stilkey’s: Artist Renew Old Books by Turning Them into Stacked Sculptures

For a very long time, we’ve been following Mike Stilkey’s regularly developing gathering of book art. Using arranged and disposed of reading material, the Los Angeles-based artist creates striking sculpture that inhale new life into overlooked stacks of old books.

Stilkey’s exceptional creations run in scale, materializing as both table-top game plans and monumental installations. While he regularly experiments with size, he generally employs the same subject matter: “a melancholic and now and atimes a capricious cast of characters occupying ambigous spaces and stories of fantasy and fairy tales.”

Similarly, Stilkey relies on an unchanging mixture of materials to produce each piece, including ink, colored pencil, paint, and lacquer. Using these mediums, he paints along the spines of the books, which he acquires from nearby library branches. “I reuse books that have been discarded or that are going to be destroyed,” he tells worldartreview. “There are several local libraries that I work with who donate large numbers of books to me, as they know I will give them a second life in my artwork.”

It isn’t just books, however, that these libraries offer Stilkey; they are also where he finds his artistic inspiration. “I find inspiration in everyday life,” he says. “I also really enjoy going to the library. I will gather twenty to thirty books, bring them home and peruse them. I’m always looking for something to spark my imagination.”


Mike Stilkey’s Early life

Mike Stilkey was born in Tarzana, California, and spent his childhood moving from city to city primarily in the Los Angeles area. From age 8 to 14, Stilkey attended a different school each year. Most of his childhood was spent in Malibu Lake, a small town Stilkey describes as a “hippy party community”. The son of addict parents, Stilkey found himself at a very early age immersed in a world of drug culture, parties and a life without discipline. “I was allowed to do anything I wanted. There were no rules.”

In his teenage years, Stilkey picked up skateboarding. He described skateboarding as a retreat away from his dysfunctional family. Stilkey claims his artwork was partly inspired by the spirit of skateboarding which taught him how to take a different perspective on life and living. “When people are looking ahead, I’m looking at the details of the curb…looking at different things.” Stilkey’s dream of becoming a professional skateboarder was crushed at age 20 after a series of injuries.

With his injury sidelining him from skateboarding, Stilkey turned to drawing and painting. “My family never talked about feelings. I was not allowed to express myself as a kid. Skateboarding was where I let out my emotions, but since I couldn’t skate anymore, I picked up a pencil and expressed what was inside…the good, the bad and the unknown. This was the only way I could let it out.” Stilkey has described going into a fantasy world while creating art: “I was doing drugs, I had addicts for parents and a messed up family. Art saved my life”.

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