Designer Tom Buchanan explores the unusual world of box art in his new book

Out of the Box offers a kaleidoscopic view of a practice and pastime that often goes overlooked

A new book titled Out of the Box presents a decade’s worth of research, curation and documentation revolving around ‘box art’. The term is a vague one, but the book’s author, Tom Buchanan, offers a comprehensible – if slightly ambiguous – definition: “Artworks which have evolved, been created within, or even escaped from a box.”

Understandably, such artworks are vast, varying and open to interpretation, and the practice of creating them is almost impossible to neatly categorise. As a result, those found in this book encompass “fine art and design, decorative and serious, and artefact and artifice captured in miniature”.

Top image: Shore Finds by Lisa Woollett; Above: Me Tarzan, You Mad Men by Maria Rivans. All book photography: Peter Mallet
The owl of Minerva takes flight in the dusk by Steffen Dam

The job of finding, understanding and curating such a miscellaneous mix of artworks undoubtedly requires a dedicated and knowledgeable figure, and Buchanan is just that. The London-based designer and artist has long been interested in the human desire for collecting and using objects, and has been organising exhibitions on box art since 2012, when he first put a nationwide call-out for such pieces.

The response to this search was overwhelmingly positive, and Buchanan soon realised that what once seemed like an obscure and potentially limited area of the art world was actually fertile ground for discovery. Since then, he has spent much of his spare time studying and curating box art, and now, ten years later, has compiled over 500 works from more than 100 creatives to be featured in this book, which takes its name from his very first exhibition all those years ago.

Photo of vintage toothbrushes, hair curler pins and combs by Lisa Woollett
Objects from Micah Lexier’s archive

“Perhaps when I started this project it was more innocently about artistic possibility, how material objects inspire our creative practice,” says Buchanan, speaking on the origins of this endeavour, “yet the study became as much about anthropology and our need for collecting and containment.”

He goes on: “As a rule, us creatives tend to be compulsive collectors. The finding, locating, cataloguing and displaying of souvenirs provides some kind of ordered path through the everyday.”

Photos by Docubyte, from his collection of vintage technology
Erased Composition by Marcius Galan, photo by Marcela Arruda
Dice by Martin O’Neill

Naturally, the contributors featured in the book come from all walks of life, and include both hobby collectors and established artists, some resulting from submissions and others from chance encounters. Each brings something different to the table, quite literally, and yet all are bound by a desire to collect and use images, objects and materials, creating new forms, functions and understandings.

Discussing the book’s curation, Buchanan explains: “I like the fact that the book provides an equal stage for really established professionals as well as total outsider artists, all bound by a curious concept. The final choices were sometimes driven by this diversity as well as sharing very individual stories. The study of course is infinite and we could easily do another book.”

Out of the Box is published by Eight Books;