It might seem that these hand-made cover designs are merely for protection. But the creativity of the owner slips through the cracks of the practical purpose and new creations arise via unexpected materials – quirky cut-outs, accidental lettering, reused papers or cryptic collages – understood only by their creator.
The result of preservation is often the appropriation of other graphic materials. Books are covered with papers (gift wraps, newspapers, cloth), pasted and bound unexpectedly.
The reuse of printed matter that is larger than the book itself (posters or letterpressed calendar boards) recalls one of the gimmicks of Pop Art: using advertising and mass media as the essential subject. The Pop aesthetic, now assimilated in mainstream culture, has meant some custom covers resemble overdone, reluctant Warhols. Yet the images that represent (to the author) the content and soul of a book are part of a compositional exercise that almost belongs to conceptual art. In this sense, customised covers are closely related to Arte Povera in their relationships with object, shape, material and production.
The authors are, however, oblivious of the result. Second-hand Pop or Povera, custom covers reveal the unconscious aesthetics of popular culture. Alongside the recycling of existing graphics, these covers also reveal drawings and scripts, some even transcending the graphic to the literary.
The antiquarian-collector universe values the cleanliness and conservation of the original piece. Any signs of use, manipulation or decay are unwelcome. This is the reason why these books are hard to come by. Booksellers rip these dust-jackets off, assuming no one will be interested in them. But you can find them in the most humble piles of old paper and magazines in flea- markets.
Their life, however, usually ends in the dustbin. They are hugely undervalued designs that still feel fresh because of their freedom and ingenuity. And, without doubt, they also remain inspiring pieces of work.
The books featured here were all discovered by the authors at The Sant Antoni Market in Barcelona. This 125 year-old market is open every Sunday morning acting as a depository of the city’s graphic heritage.
Graphic designer Jordi Duró heads Barcelona-based Estudi Duró. Mery Cuesta is an art curator also based in Barcelona.