Dapper penguins, nonchalant musicians, and self-destructive politicians are a few of the distinct figures adorning Mike Stilkey’s sculptures. The Los Angeles-based artist (previously) rummages through heaps of discarded books, plucking out complementary titles that become the basis for his towering works. Using ink, colored pencil, paint, and lacquer, he renders minimal portraits of figures with exaggerated limbs or instruments and gestures that show a flair for the absurd.
Vacillating from the playful and whimsical to the cheeky and ironic, Stilkey’s idiosyncratic, sometimes anthropomorphized characters translate an essential interpretation of the volumes’ messages or subject matter through a contemporary lens. He explains:
Sometimes it’s a wry, tongue-in-cheek, satirical kind of thing, and sometimes it’s an extension or interpretation of it. It depends on the book and my mood. There’s been a lot of fodder over the past couple of years with all of the political conversations and things you hear or read on the news or social media. But I’ve always been able to do this with books. It’s one of the reasons I started using books as a canvas or vehicle for painting—the richness of layering literary and visual narratives over each other to convey something more complex.
As well as the repurposed sculptures shown here, Stilkey also creates installations with thousands of books and large characters, although these on-site projects have been put on hold since the onset of the pandemic. Prints and postcards are available in the artist’s shop, and you can follow his works on Instagram.
Do stories and artists like this matter to you? Become a Colossal Member today and support independent arts publishing for as little as $5 per month. You'll connect with a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about contemporary art, read articles and newsletters ad-free, sustain our interview series, get discounts and early access to our limited-edition print releases, and much more. Join now!