Tim Ely Eye Candy

Ely The Impossible Landscape I


I’ve been very, very happy lately to be having wonderful correspondence, and conversations in person, with several really talented binders. One of them, Tim Ely, is a binder who is far more than a binder. I think he is, in my humble and completely biased opinion, one of the greatest living books artists. I’ve examined three of his recent artist’s books in person (I’ve seen a few of his bindings, too, but that’s not what I’m talking about here). I spent hours with them. They are beautiful inside and out. I could write a very serious essay about his books, science, and literature, but I’ll leave that to someone else. Instead, I’m going to brag that Tim sent me a bunch of catalogs from past exhibits and the postcard (above) advertising his upcoming exhibit of paintings and drawings in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. It sounds like an improbably remote location, but it is actually about 10 minutes from Spokane, Washington and near where Tim lives. I considered turning up for the opening, but I won’t. Instead, I’m going to the Center for Book Arts 40th Anniversary Colloquium on artists’ books at The Museum of Modern Art in New York on October 11th. I hope to see some of you there.

In honor of Tim’s exhibit The Impossible Landscape, I’m going to treat us with some Ely eye candy.

First and foremost, Ely is an artist who wanted his drawings and paintings viewed as a series – not hung on a wall or peered at through glass. His notebooks provided the answer – books. To him the book is a ‘looking-at’ machine. The problem with the total-book enthusiasts is that though they tackle one operation well, they may remain amateurish in disciplines outside their immediate interest. Ely set out to research and learn both binding and papermaking, so that his striking work does not consist of talented drawings and paintings with a cover crudely stuck on, but can be integrated as a whole. Typically, he is less critical of his contemporaries, “I do not want my books damaged by accident or through process suicide. This does not mean I discount paper between clay tablets tied with linen as frivolous – only dangerously fragile.”

–Roy Harley Lewis. Fine Bookbinding in the Twentieth Century, 1984.


Silences and Distances, 1983. Lewis, p. 65
Silences and Distances, 1983. Lewis, p. 65

The following images all appear in the catalog from Line of Sight, 2010-2011, an exhibit at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane, Washington.

Ely Line of Sight
Index, 2009. 15 x 22 inches. Lilly Library.
Ely Line of Sight front cover
Secret Books of Natural Philosophy: Color, 2010. Lilly Library.
Ely Line of Sight front cover 1
Materia, 1996, private collection.
Halo Chalice, 2005, Lilly Library
Halo Chalice, 2005. Lilly Library.
Ely Flight into Egypt
One of 40 drawings in Flight into Egypt: The Third Magnitude, 2009. 17 x 22 inches, private collection, England.
The Well, 2010. 15 x 20 inches, private collection, Berkeley, California
The Well, 2010. 15 x 20 inches. Private collection, Berkeley, California.
Ely Well cover and spine
Cover and spine detail of The Well, 2010. 15 x 10 inches. Private collection, Berkeley, California.
Ely detail from Dark Materia
Detail from Dark Materia, 2008.
Private collection, San Diego, California.
Ely Dust detail
Interior detail from Dust, 2006.
University of California, San Diego.
Ely black maps spread
One of 24 drawn and painted spreads in Black Maps, 1997. 15 x 22 inches. Collection of the artist.
Ely Secret Books
Cover and interior detail from Secret Books of Natural Philosophy: Time, 2008. 15 x 11 inches.
Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.



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