Books for holiday giving, Part 1

Andrea Kirsh reviews and recommends three outstanding artbooks to buy for yourself or a loved one this holiday season! The assortment spotlights legends like Angela Davis, Pennsylvania gems like Thaddeus Mosley, and travels all the way to Patangarh India, for a book on the aboriginal Gond peoples. You'll want to check out everything in Andrea's 2020 collection.

Two page spread of patterned drawings in book "Origin of Art"
Spread, Kodai Matsuoka and Bhajju Shyam “Origins of Art; The Gond Village of Patangarh” (Tara Books, Chennai: 2019) ISBN 978-81-939841-3-0

Gerry Beegan and Donna Gustafson, “Angela Davis; Seize the Time” (Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey and Hirmer Publishers, New Brunswick and Munich: 2020) ISBN 978-3-7774-3574-9

The University of Chicago Press; Barnes & Noble

Images of Angela Davis generated an international response to her indictment for kidnapping and murder in 1970, which many considered to be a political trial. All featured Davis’ face surrounded by her abundant natural hair, which itself was a political statement at the time, and came to stand in for Davis herself. The young philosophy professor was an unlikely subject of the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list, and the fact that she was photogenic certainly contributed to the iconic status her image assumed. The book was published in association with an exhibition scheduled to debut in the fall of 2021 in New Brunswick, where it was organized. It features an international selection of posters, buttons, banners, magazine and newspaper illustrations, record covers, photographs of rallies and court illustrations from the period as well as a range of period and recent artists’ responses to the trial. It is a case study of widely-disseminated printed material in forms that preceded the internet. Articles by five scholars analyze the phenomenon of Davis imagery, and the book is supported by a timeline of Angela Davis’ life and a selected bibliography. It will be of great interest to readers involved with current activities on behalf of racial justice and to anyone interested in the political possibilities of visual imagery.

A current exhibition of contemporary artists referencing Angela Davis called “1 Million Roses for Angela Davis” is currently on view in Dresden. The exhibition closes on January 24, 2021.


“Thaddeus Mosley” (Karma Books, New York: 2020) ISBN 978-1-949172-37-9

Karma Books; Bookshop

This beautiful volume covers work by the Pittsburgh-based sculptor, all but one example made since 2003. Thaddeus Mosley is a wood carver – as great as any alive – and the wonderful illustrations with multiple views of each sculpture as well as details give the best understanding possible of three-dimensional work translated into print. Readers can imaginatively move around the works and follow the varying rhythms and patterns of chisel marks which leave intimate records of the artist’s hand. Like all great sculpture those by Mosley seem to whisper “touch me.” All of his work is assembled from multiple parts, largely wood but also including horn and found pieces of metal which still reveal their original functions. The pieces are all abstract, but because the orientation is largely vertical and many of the shapes are soft and biomorphic it is impossible not to see recurring references to the human body. Mosley has discussed influences including the work of Brancusi and Noguchi, African sculpture, Scandinavian furniture and jazz, which he reported on for a local paper. While he studied journalism and had no formal training in art, Mosley made great use of the collections of the Carnegie Museum of Art and has attended all of the museum’s International exhibitions since the 1950s. This monograph has an interview with the ninety-four year old artist and several short essays, but lacks a history of exhibitions or collections which own his work.

Kodai Matsuoka and Bhajju Shyam “Origins of Art; The Gond Village of Patangarh” (Tara Books, Chennai: 2019) ISBN 978-81-939841-3-0

Tara Books; EthiCollective

Cover of the book "Origins of Art" featuring a partial view of a woman wearing a sari
Cover, Kodai Matsuoka and Bhajju Shyam “Origins of Art; The Gond Village of Patangarh” (Tara Books, Chennai: 2019) ISBN 978-81-939841-3-0

Art produced by Gond artists from the village of Patangarh has been shown internationally over the past several decades. The Gond are an aboriginal people who live in a broad area of Northwestern India, and their exported art, like that of aboriginal artists of Australia, is a new phenomenon incorporating traditional subjects and motifs but created in formats and with materials (modern paint on canvas, drawings and prints on paper) acquired and learned outside their culture. Much traditional Gond art took the form of decorated buildings: painted walls and floors, low plaster relief on walls and figuratively-carved wooden doors, shutters and pillars. The new, portable art forms were initiated by Jangarh Singh Shyam (1961-2001), who was given a residency to work in Bhopal and subsequently mentored a number of younger artists. This book takes the form of a discussion between Bhajju Shyam, an artist trained by Jangarth, and the Japanese photographer, Kodai Matsuoka; it is illustrated with scenes and details of everyday life in Patangarh and artwork by more than a dozen artists. It reveals a people who still obtain water from a communal well or more modern water tank, but also drive motor bikes and watch tv. A surprising and beautiful inset section, printed with silkscreen on textured paper, illustrates many patterns the artists employ and their sources in the human and natural life of the village. This volume can be appreciated as a visual study of a village that retains its traditional culture as it absorbs various modern goods and ideas, as well as a study of the interaction of its residents with a larger art world.

Tara Books is a small publisher in Chennai which has published a number of books illustrated by indigenous artists, including others by Gond artists. Some of their titles are entirely handmade.

Two page view of the book "Origins of art" with a page turning
Spread, Kodai Matsuoka and Bhajju Shyam “Origins of Art; The Gond Village of Patangarh” (Tara Books, Chennai: 2019) ISBN 978-81-939841-3-0