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Artist Profile: Ben DiNino

South Williamsport artist makes collages out of books

October 23, 2011
dsp By MATTHEW PARRISH (mparrish@sungazette.com) , Williamsport Sun-Gazette

(Readers beware - the following content includes graphic descriptions of books being disfigured).

Book lovers, before you judge artist Ben DiNino for cutting up books and turning them into art, be aware that he is one of you and he has the resume to prove it - he was a librarian for several years and he is familiar with bookbinding.

"I worked at the library when I was in college at Tyler and then I got a job at Temple - just working at the circulation desk," he said. "Then I got promoted to head of circulation and I was there from '96 to '99."

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While DiNino, a York native, lived in Chicago, he worked at Paper Source, where he learned about bookbinding.

"I was a manager of the store and they had classes in bookbinding," he said. "I learned from a few of the classes, especially Asian-style bookbinding."

The artist loves reading and believes that through his book art, he is giving the objects a second life.

"I'm taking these books that would be thrown away otherwise," he said. "I feel like I'm saving these items."

He's built his life around collecting and preserving things - he has stacks of records, films and film projectors (8, super 8 and 16 millimeter) and photos.

"I collect ... anything with a history that is weathered and worn," he said. "I also collect playing cards that I find on the street. I've been doing this for about 15 years and have made a complete deck."

His first book project, cutting all the "a" 's out of "The Scarlet Letter," began as a gift to a friend who was going through a hard time.

"[It] was originally started for a friend that had an affair, which caused some problems amongst my circle of friends at the time and she felt a bit ostracized," he said.

He wasn't able to complete the project before his trip to Korea, where he completed an extensive stay at a temple outside of Seoul in 2000.

"I meditated every day and was focusing on trying to be a good person," he said. "I thought by going [to Korea], I might end up becoming a monk."

In the temple, meditation was required from 7 to 9 p.m., "with silent breaks for working and cleaning and eating with monks," DiNino said.

However, the artist realized that the monk's life wasn't for him.

"It was amazing but I realized it wasn't what I wanted to do," he said. "It's really hard - my knees were killing me."

During DiNino's trip, he forgot all about the book and lost touch with his friend. Despite this, he completed the artwork upon his return to the U.S.

"By the end, it was like a library punch card," he said. "Since I finished it, I don't know where she is and I still haven't figured out what to do with all the 'a' 's."

The project opened up a new world of book art to DiNino, who began cutting out images in old science texts, creating 3D collages like the ones that were on display at the Grey Art Gallery, 140 W. Fourth St., in August and September.

"A lot of the books I choose tend to be older - maybe around the '50s," DiNino said. "There's a certain type of illustration - an older style - that works really well."

Most of the texts DiNino chooses are black and white, although he has experimented with color ones as well.

"I was only picking black and white books for a while," DiNino said. "I like the sparcity of black and white. I've done a couple in color ... but sometimes it's too much."

DiNino has used how-to manuals for girl's gymnastics and scuba diving as well as books about insects and birds.

"I did one for a friend of mine, it's a girl's gymnastics book," DiNino said. "It's simple outlines of girls doing somersaults and filled with that style the whole way through."

DiNino recently moved to South Williamsport because his wife is studying at Pennsylvania College of Technology. At the moment, he is a stay-at-home dad for his son and he only found the Grey Art Gallery by accident.

"I had just gotten to town," he said. "It was the beginning of July and we had just finally unpacked everything. I wanted to find where a book store is. I went over, found a parking space and I was feeding the meter when I turned around and found an art gallery."

DiNino ventured inside and talked to gallery co-owner Casey Gleghorn, who invited the artist to bring his work in so Gleghorn could look at it.

"He really liked them, which was encouraging," DiNino said. "I hadn't pursued showing my work at all. I usually trade my work for a friend's work or give them away as presents."

DiNino has quickly become an enthusiastic participant in Williamsport's thriving art scene.

"I didn't expect there to be so many creative people," he said. "There's a lot of creativity here and that's exciting. It's not like small-town art. There is a group of people here interested in doing something different."

Artistically speaking, DiNino is now looking to embark on the most daunting book project yet - a National Geographic encyclopedia.

"I'm not sure, personally, how it's going to work," he said. "I don't know if it's going to look like a muddled, colorful mess. It's interesting for me to see it develop. It's exciting for me."

For more information about DiNino, visit greyartgallery.com/portfolio/ben-dnino.

 
 

 

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