Art Books Make Great Gifts

In addition to all the wretched things 2020 produced, there were some wonderful books by and about Northeast Ohio artists and their works.  No matter your interests as a spectator, collector, colleague, or student of the regional art scene, these titles are worth a look and make great gifts.


the Flying Banana: Art of George Kocar

The Flying Banana
George Kocar, introduction by Douglas Max Utter

George Kocar’s colorful paintings look like they are all fun and games, but as Brittany Hudak noted in writing about his new book earlier this year, it is “Kocar’s political paintings that resonate most – especially in these absurdly dark and twisted times. Using the same riotous color and a heavy dose of satire, his political paintings are peopled with some truly obnoxious characters.”  With big honking red noses and rows of teeth like picket fences, they are all about excess, both visually and in the clownish depravity of their brazenly power-hungry subjects. The Flying Banana is available at BAYarts gift shop.


Pool Drawings
Liz Maugans

Of all Liz Maugans prodigious output, among the most charming and least known are her drawings. Maugans has drawn constantly, as a stream of conscious practice—especially while lounging at the pool, but also at church and just about any situation wherein she finds herself spending time. They flow out of her like conversation, unaffected, un-guarded, un-self-consciously documenting the confluence of what she sees and what crosses her mind while looking.  They call to mind Lynda Barry’s beloved Ernie Pook’s Comeek, both in their drawing style (though Maugans drawings are better) and in their accompanying texts, which share both humor and sadness, a love for every wrinkle, pimple, fat roll, bald spot that makes people human.  Maugans teamed with HEDGE Gallery recently to produce Pool Drawings, a full color book these works. It’s just $30 at HEDGE Gallery, where the’re hosting a book signing December 12.


Free Period Press Collage Kit, Vol. I

Collage Kit, Vol, I
Free Period Press

The ongoing isolation of the pandemic, the need for at-home projects, and the Winter search for stuff to do indoors are like a planetary alignment. If you find yourself looking for inspiration, Free Period Press offers the raw material of creation in its Collage Kit, Vol. 1. As the introduction says, “Whether you’re new to collage or an X-Acto-wielding pro, we hope this magazine inspires you to slow down, umplug, and make something with your hands.”  It’s 120 pages of graphic material you won’t feel guilty about cutting up, because that’s the whole point. If you follow Cleveland art, you’ll find the visual style of some familiar makers, like regular Free Period Collaborators Erin Guido (whose murals you can find around town, and whose whimsical collaborations with partner John Paul Costello were featured in CAN Triennial) and Amber Esner (maker of mail and Cozy Up Collective Co-Founder) and rising-star photographer Amber Ford. From background textures to the intricate detail of birds and embroidered patches to vintage photography, to colorful street scenes, to nature and still-lifes, you’re sure to find inspiration.


Chicks With Balls: Judy Takacs Keeps Painting Unsung Female Heroes
Judy Takacs

Figurative painter Judy Takács captured something of the zeitgeist of 2020 with her second book of her Chicks With Balls portraits. The publication coincided with the February opening of her first museum show, at the Zanesville Museum of Art. Just a few weeks later the Covid crisis shuttered every museum and exhibit in the state, which meant the paintings were up on the walls, but people couldn’t go see them.  Her book of the—Chick With Balls: Judy Takacs keeps painting unsung female heroes—offers an enduring look at her ongoing practice.  As Takács writes, it “celebrates unsung female heroes, whose portraits [the] contemporary figurative realist  has painted — topless, holding balls to symbolize their strengths and struggles.  The book is available exclusively through the artist’s online shop. They can be signed or inscribed.



Photocentric Gallery, with Bob Aufuldish, Bruce Checefsky, Lori Kella, Michael Loderstedt, Nancy McEntee, Arnold Tunstall, and Garie Waltzer

Photocentric Gallery is just one year old, and its first year was a doozy of a time in which to launch a gallery, but proprietor Michael Loderstedt has done so while publishing some of the most beautiful catalogs and artist books we have seen. Starting with photo-based materials from the likes of Bruce Edwards, Greg Martin, Lori Kella, Bruce Checefsky, and Loderstedt himself, they are completed by gorgeous design by Bob Aufuldish.  In addition, their prices are beyond affordable. Douglas Max Utter recently reviewed the book accompanying Loderstedt’s own recent exhibit, The Yellowhammer’s Cross, a memoir of growing up in a rugged and wild place, on North Carolina’s Emerald Isle. We also heartily recommend the inaugral exhibit’s catalog, Hopeful. It is gorgeous to look at, with images by the artists in the show (Bob Aufuldish, Bruce Checefsky, Lori Kella, Michael Loderstedt, Nancy McEntee, Arnold Tunstall, and Garie Waltzer), and Aufuldish’s clean design. But each artist’s poetic statements about their process and use of photography as a medium are also compelling. For example, there’s one of Bruce Checefsky’s garden scans on the cover, and inside, he tells the story of discovering that technique one day in what he calls a “prank”: attempting to scan his cat, Nadja. To get Hopeful, or The Yellowhammer’s Cross, or anything else in the Photocentric catalog, visit the gallery, or order here.


Kent State: Four Dead In Ohio
John Derf Backderf

No 2020 Cleveland art book list would be complete without John Backderf’s graphic nonfiction treatment of the Kent State Massacre.  Beloved in Cleveland and in cities across the country for his long-running comic The City (which ran in the Free Times and Scene, and many other alt-weekly papers), he entered the realm of “comic books”–maybe more accurately long-form graphic narration–with “Trashed,” which told of his experiences working as a junk man. Since then he has repeatedly connected his personal experience with subjects and specific events of national intrigue, including the rise of a punk rock scene around Akron, centered upon “The Bank” (Punk Rock and Trailer Parks), and of course My Friend Dahmer (Backderf went to high school with the serial killer). His most recent work delves into the Kent State shootings of 1970, with extensive research. Derf was 10 years old and living essentially just up the road when it happened. In a mixed review for CAN Journal, jim izrael noted among other things that “Sadly, the Hough Race Riots remain a footnote to this incident even though they (arguably) set the stage for it.”  Izrael also noted that the language did not have the flavor of local college vernacular, as works like Trashed did. But much more widely circulated outlets praised it enthusiastically. None other than the New York Times said it is “as passionate as it is meticulous.” Pointculture magazine, of Belgium, called it “a real tour de force.” It made the  Library Journal’s list of Best Graphic Novels of 2020, which said “This memorial to the lives lost or forever altered should be required reading for all Americans.” Likewise NPR. And it ranked #1 on Publisher’s Weekly’s graphic novel critics poll. There were many, many more. And Yes, we mined Derf’s Facebook page to gather this list of accolades. You might still be able to get a copy at Mac’s Backs on Coventry. Good luck.




The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.

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