by Shelby Stringer
“I have always appreciated special collections. The experience of viewing work in those settings is so intimate and a real privilege. So for me it is not so much about a choice of medium, as to how I hope the work might be encountered.” -- Fred Hagstrom
Fred Hagstrom, a book artist and printmaker, has taught art, printmaking, drawing, and artist’s books at Carleton College in Minnesota since 1984. Before working Carleton, he received his MFA from University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He also studied under S.W. Hayter at his studio, Atelier 17, in Paris. Many artists including Picasso, Rothko, Míro, Calder and Chagall frequented the atelier. Hagstrom's work delves into a more broad definition of social issues through his art. He sees art as a means for changing the way we view the world, and he has found that working in the abstract is the best way to capture the ideas he explores.
In ASU Special Collections, we had a chance to view some of Hagstrom’s work. We looked at The Little Book of Slavery (2012), which is letterpress book that opens to 5.5” x 11.” We also explored Can’t Win, “a 15.5 x 22" book of 24 unnumbered pages. Inside the book, "there are twelve large format woodcut images printed in three colors, and text printed in silkscreen. It is bound in cloth-covered boards with a woodcut (9.5" tall) that spans the middle of both front and back boards” (Vamp & Tramp Booksellers). Looking at his work, I was moved by the abstraction of social issues. The small size of The Little Book of Slavery does not minimize but rather emphasizes the seriousness of the social issue at hand. There are three other artist's books in the Hayden Library collection. At the end, I have listed and provided images for some of these works.
I asked Hagstrom about how he views technology and the medium he chooses to work in. He states, “If you only wanted a big audience, you would not work in books, but would use digital platforms. I could reach more people with an attractive Youtube film.” In addition, he mentions the experience of visiting special collections, which is exactly how I was able to view his work. The images below to little justice the beauty of the structure that one can only experience when holding the art. Hagstrom mentions, “I have always appreciated special collections. The experience of viewing work in those settings is so intimate and a real privilege. So for me it is not so much about a choice of medium as to how I hope the work might be encountered.”
First working in ceramics, he shifted to drawing, which led him to printmaking. He recalls, “drawing started everything for me.” Hagstrom’s journey to book arts began with printmaking, when he started printing in college in 1975 at the University of Chicago. He had had been “interested in printmaking’s history of making strong statements on social issues.” However, he couldn’t achieve the nuance necessary to approach these topics “in singular prints without clichés.” The format of book, gives him “enough room to explore these topics in a way that” he can “avoid being simplistic.”
I asked Hagstrom about another artist book he admires. He mentions Johnathan Tse’s Portrait of an Australian (1998). A small edition of ten, the book is “in the form of a passport that chronicles his family as they moved from China to Australia.” Below is a video of Tse talking about this work.
Hagstrom is most proud of his book, Deeply Honored, which is about a Carleton student that came to school from an internment camp. Hagstrom indicates that “it is the best story [that he] will ever find, and it is about the school where [he] has spent [his] adult life.” He adds, “I don’t think you can read that story without being moved.”
Looking toward the future of art, he concludes his artist statment: “I want to see the art world become more concerned with passionately held beliefs and beauty, and less concerned with irony or market based strategies.”
works by Fred Hagstrom at asu
At the Hayden Library, Special Collections you can look at Fred Hagstrom's work. Below, is a slide show of some of the works available.
Works by Hagstrom in Hayden Library
The Little Book of Slavery (2012)
Deeply Honored (2010)
Can't Win (2009)
images and book design by Fred Hagstrom; text by Charles Bukowski
text by Joanna Rawson; images by Fred Hagstrom
Your Life in Two's (2008)