On a quiet corner not far from the hubbub of Hoxton Square is one of London’s most curious bookshops. When the co-founder and director of Bookartbookshop Tanya Peixoto says, “It’s not just a bookshop, it’s a space”, you start to get an idea of the idiosyncratic nature of this not-for-profit venture. Through the porthole of convex glass in its bright-red door, what at first appears an old-fashioned local bookshop – all crammed floor-to-ceiling shelves – quickly reveals obscure ephemera, surrealist tomes and one-off, handmade publications.
Bookartbookshop began life, neatly, on palindrome day, February 20 2002, in answer to Peixoto’s question as to why London didn’t have a shop selling artists’ books (as opposed to an art bookshop). The answer came in the form of a challenge from Alastair Brotchie, editor at avant-garde publishing house Atlas Press. “He said to me, ‘If you run it, I’ve got the shop.’ So, there and then we went to look at the premises, which are under where he lives.”
Now the single-square space sells work by about 400 artists, its entire stock in situ on a sale-or-return basis – 70 per cent of it from people who approach Bookartbookshop directly. It’s all bound together by Peixoto’s passionate belief in the power of artists’ books, alongside changing exhibitions, window displays and events, such as Bookeatcakeshop – a show of edible books and readable cakes. Until March 3, illustrator Sioux Bradshaw, who’s had cartoon strips in Private Eye, is exhibiting her “very funny little books that are sort of informative but quite cynical”.
“If somebody has an idea and we can accommodate it, we do,” says Peixoto. “You can’t pigeonhole it. It’s like artists’ books – you can’t really define it.” But if pushed, how would Peixoto define her stock? “I’d say an artist’s book is something that reflects on the form of the book; you’re aware of the feeling of the pages, the weight of the book, the turning of the pages.”
Thus tiny, photocopied leaflets such as There’s a Girl in a Wheelbarrow Parked Outside my Door by Jessica Jane Charleston (£3) nestle next to A Book of Surrealist Games compiled by Brotchie (£10); there are poems in matchboxes (£6), handmade journals (£15) and Memories of Water by Gethan&Myles (£30) – a publication on the back of an art installation that filled a lido in south London with hundreds of quotes.
Children’s books include Suzy Lee’s Alice in Wonderland (£15), a darkly photographed set-up of the story in a fireplace, and Alex Czinczel’s mini creations, such as The Alphabat Book (£32), displayed on a tower of her own making. Indeed, Czinczel’s tower has inspired a possible new touring incarnation of Bookartbookshop in a suitcase. But whether in store or in suitcase, please do touch the art.