Iconic buildings like the Tower of London or the Gherkin might appear across a tall vertical stack of Daniel Speight’s hardcovered books. Another collection features horizontal rows of books screen printed with everyday buildings from the historic but relatively unknown Lower Marsh neighborhood, tucked behind Waterloo station.
Based in East London, Speight, who works under the name The Soft City, studied printmaking and graphic design, both of which come in handy for the Book Block series. Working from photographs or renderings of buildings, Speight uses graphic design programs to create the artwork for his screen prints. Then, using a custom-built jig he designed to hold the books securely, he screen prints the artwork by hand. A single piece might require three screens — a base color, a highlight color, and a black outline — and requires precise registration and attention to detail.
For a while, he scoured secondhand shops and dumpsters for books. A lucky conversation led to an introduction to a book publisher, who keeps him supplied with remainder books otherwise destined to be pulped. He still keeps his eye out for discarded vintage books though, as he finds they have more character.
In an increasingly digital world, Speight explores the materiality of books and the built environment with the Book Block series. Part art, part interior decor, they certainly warrant the real estate on any bookshelf. One thing’s for sure: You won’t see that row of books at the Goodwill the same way ever again.