This month our February Bookshop of the Month takes us over to the vibrant, creative city of Bristol to visit the Arnolfini Bookshop! Located in a former tea warehouse dating back to the 1830s, the gallery and bookshop are a delightful place to spend an afternoon. The bookshop boasts that it is 'one of the country’s best arts bookshops' and certainly lives up to expectations. We sat down with Jon to learn more...
Can you tell us a little about what makes the Arnolfini Bookshop special?
The Bookshop first opened its doors in 1970 and has been an important part of Arnolfini ever since. Over the years it has built up a reputation as being one of the best specialist Arts Bookshops in the country. Being part of a Gallery our main focus is obviously on Art books but we also carry Fiction, Children’s Books, Magazines, Jewellery, cards and lots more in between. Our aim across the whole shop is to showcase the unusual, strange and hard to find titles that you might not see elsewhere. Also, like most cities, there are fewer bookshops than ever in Bristol these days and so the fact we’re still here nearly 50 years later makes us something of an institution!
What are the benefits of being located in a city like Bristol?
Bristol is such a creative city and always has something interesting going on. It has great venues like Arnolfini, Spike Island and Bristol Old Vic that showcase international artists and annual events such as Mayfest and the Festival of Ideas bringing visitors to the city. There are also lots of local artists, writers, designers and illustrators producing amazing work and this makes for a really vibrant and eclectic arts scene, which is obviously great for us. As a bookshop we’re also very lucky to have really supportive customers who love unusual books and want somewhere in the city that they can see them first hand.
You are known for being a specialist arts bookshop. Can you tell us what your top three best-selling art books are?
Last year Arnolfini was privileged to present a new exhibition by Richard Long and the accompanying book Time and Space was our bestselling book of 2015. Intended to be an Artwork itself rather than a traditional catalogue it focuses on recent work whilst celebrating an amazing career spanning 6 decades.
Next would be Miriam Elia’s brilliant We Go to the Gallery, which is an incredibly smart and funny pastiche of old Ladybird books that has since been imitated widely. We can’t do it justice with a description but anyone with a background or interest in contemporary art should check it out.
Another book that always sells out is Drawing Projects which is both an overview of contemporary drawing practice and a practical guide that includes projects to work through. 2015 also saw the sequel Drawing Projects for Children, which is also excellent and another big seller for us.
And what are your personal top three art books – and why?
Such a hard question but at the moment we really like…
Henry Darger (by Klaus Biesenbach) isn’t a new title but we just got it back into stock and have been reminded how good it is. Henry Darger was an outsider artist who spent nearly his whole life writing and illustrating a 15,000 page book that was only discovered shortly before his death. This is probably the largest collection of his work currently in print and is absolutely incredible.
The World of Charles and Ray Eames is the catalogue for the Barbican exhibition and both are absolutely brilliant. The book itself is really well designed and mirrors the playfulness of the Eames’ design work. The only downside is not being able to afford all the things inside.
The Cat Photographer Our favourite photography book of last year celebrates the career of Walter Chandoha and is worth seeing for the cover alone. Full of brilliant and ridiculous images it’s a classier affair than most of the cat and dog books we see, and we see a lot.