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Gallery of Artists

Odette Drapeau

Art binding is the abode of the written word. Within it dwells the measure of emotion and imagination that the writer offers to the reader.

During my career, I have produced hundreds of bindings and participated in numerous exhibitions. I'm interested in concepts that push the boundaries of creativity; by becoming involved in many areas of my discipline and collaborating with various writers and artists, I have created installations where I can explore new technologies.

Since the 1980s, I have been interested in giving greater flexibility to bindings by introducing fish skin tanned in the Gaspé Peninsula. By challenging the European tradition and using these skins with their natural colours, and varied textures and shades, I have been able to create bindings that are arranged like a pictorial work but have the structural support of a three-dimensional creation.

I have not abandoned the fundamentals of the craft. Rather, by mastering these time-honoured techniques, I have grown to create forms that are functional, original and able to be part of the bookbinding world and the world of contemporary art. With this perspective in mind, I established La Tranchefile, an art binding studio in Montréal, where I can share my skills with beginners and professionals, and ensure that they, too, will pass on this knowledge.

—Odette Drapeau

The bookbinder is a craftsperson, an artist who takes the reader by the hand during that initial contact with a book that has been enhanced by the bookbinder's art. Traditionally, the contribution that the binder makes to a book lies in the assembly and decoration, which offer clues to the story contained within. But by working closely with books, these objects to be read and seen, one develops a desire to emancipate them and give them lives of their own. Accordingly, it is that part of book artist Odette Drapeau's bookbinding experience that will be presented here.

The freedom that artists bring to their work is rooted in the confidence that they have mastered all aspects of their art. Odette Drapeau has a solid background in this regard. She began by studying bookbinding with Simone Benoît-Roy from 1968 to 1972. Ms. Drapeau then travelled to Paris, where she worked from 1977 to 1978 in Henri Mercher's studio. In addition to bookbinding, she received specialized training in gilding. Upon her return from France in 1979, Drapeau established La Tranchefile, an art binding studio in Montréal, which has become renowned not only for producing and promoting a creative and innovative approach to art binding, but also for educating others in the art.

In the background is a container shaped like a house with a tiled roof, standing upright and opened. In the foreground is a book with white pages opened to reveal a colour illustration of a castle and some small black text in the centre of the right page, and some black text in the centre of the left page.

L'enfant de la maison folle


The book object L'enfant de la maison folle demonstrates an initial attempt at breaking down the traditional structure of the book. Enlivened by the arrangement of kinetic and musical elements, its binding is derived more from this staging and installation. Drapeau continued her exploration of form in a series of blank books, created in 1982, in which the book becomes the subject.

The works Le parallélogramme and Le losange examine the aesthetics and apprehensions of the book as a shape. Playfulness and formalism go hand-in-hand in Cube noir, livre blanc , with the contrast between black and white, the circle set perfectly within the square, and the entire work set within the cube.

The book sculpture Sphère breaks away from the conventions of the codex by moving the point at which the reader's journey begins. With no beginning or end, the potential text can be read in a random fashion. Drapeau returned to this reflection on reading in Du coin de l'œil . The "technological" aspect and the use of modern materials transform this "book" into a kind of poetry machine. The evocative shape of the iris of an eye animates the text in a circular approach and enables the text to wrap around the object.

For Odette Drapeau, the process of creating a book finds its extension through installations that focus not only the book, but on the reader as well.