The saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but Library, published by Drawn & Quarterly, is a book by visual artists Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber that requires viewers to stray slightly from this idiom.
Library consists of hundreds of paintings of book covers with invented titles that showcase the artists’ classic deadpan style, resulting in works that are simultaneously thoughtful and entertaining. These paintings, which are bold, minimalistic and colourful, exist in the real world as acrylic and ink works on medium-density fibreboard and are printed in Library in a variety of grid layouts.
The concept behind Library has been going on for some time, with the original project beginning in 2009.
“I painted a book, Neil added a title, and we realized we could do that for a long time,” Dumontier said.
“The thought and then opportunity to make a book came many, many years later.”
Library’s paintings — of which there are over 10,000 to date — were first shown in an exhibition by the same name and have been exhibited many times since. The paintings are often installed in large grids similar to some of the page layouts in the book.
Dumontier and Farber met while attending the University of Manitoba school of art in the 1990s, and their working relationship began 25 years ago when they founded the Royal Art Lodge collective alongside Marcel Dzama, Drue Langlois, Jon Pylypchuk and Adrian Williams.
“When the collective disbanded [in 2008], leaving just Neil and I, our focus really turned to writing,” Dumontier said.
Although Dumontier’s and Farber’s personal artistic practices differ greatly, their separate modes of thinking complement one another wonderfully in Library. The paintings themselves are initially created by Dumontier, which Farber adds titles to afterward.
“The imagery is always pretty graphic or simplified,” Dumontier said.
“I like to make them quickly […] The books are painted first and Neil adds a title he’s already written, or he reacts to the image provided.”
Farber’s solo work as a painter is very different from his work with Dumontier, but he found Library to be an outlet for different forms of creative energy.
“When we started, I was just enjoying the possibility of making up pretend titles, but I think I figured out pretty quickly it was a good place to put any form of short-form writing,” he said.
His titles contain a wide array of ideas, forms and energies — some are humorous, some are vaguely existential and others are more like short-form poems.
“I write things down on my phone off and on pretty much every day,” Farber said.
“I’ve always got thousands of little bits of writing in my notes app, so whenever Michael gives me blank book paintings, I just scroll through and pick ones I like or ones that will fit in the space.”
Both artists said their favourite part of creating Library has been in enjoying the finished product of each work.
“My favourite part is reading Neil’s titles and laughing,” Dumontier said.
“I am part of the process, but I can enjoy the work objectively. I am grateful for that.”
“I love writing for [the] project and I’m always proud when we get to show one of the large Library paintings, and I’m really grateful that we’ve had this book made,” Farber agreed.
Considering the sheer amount of paintings Dumontier and Farber have created over the years, it comes as no surprise that neither artist has a singular favourite piece. However, Dumontier did mention one highlight from Library.
“I can’t choose a favourite, but I like the back cover title as a summation of the book,” he said.
“‘It’s not going to be what you think. It can’t be described properly, or understood easily. It’s everything to me. It may be nothing to you.’”
Signed copies of Library can be purchased at McNally Robinson, and you can visit Drawn & Quarterly’s website to learn more about their signed bookplates, which are available to those who order Library from an indie bookstore or comic shop.