Creative Living

Artwords Bookshop


ARTWORDS is an independent bookshop founded in 2001 that specialise in books and zines on the contemporary visual arts and visual culture, Covering fashion, graphic design, architecture, photography, fine art and visual & critical theory. For 20 years they were close neighbours of ours, with their first store on Rivington Street and are now staples of Broadway Market. They have been much missed in Shoreditch so we asked them to curate an edit of books for the Goodhood community that will be forever evolving. To get to know more about the people behind the bookshop, we visited their Broadway Market shop and had a chat.

GOODHOOD: What did you do prior to opening Artwords Bookshop?

BEN HILLWOOD-HARRIS: I worked at the Serpentine Gallery, running their bookshop and publications department. Prior to that I did a fine art degree.

GH: How did it lead to opening up your own bookshop?

BHH: Working at the Serpentine Gallery was great and gave me a chance to develop skills in bookselling and organising the Gallery’s print and publishing, whilst also feeding my interest in the visual arts. After a few years of success at the Gallery I wanted to start something myself. The pay wasn’t amazing at the Gallery in those days, and there wasn’t a way to develop the role, so I decided to leave and start up on my own.

GH: How did the name of the shop come about?

BHH: Hmm, I thought and thought about this for a long time – it wasn’t an obvious choice! I could easily have chosen my own name or the area I opened in, but in the end Artwords stuck!

GH: Can you talk us through your selections for your Goodhood curation. What decisions were made, and why, when selecting each book?

JESS YOUNG: I should say all the choices were selected for their content, and you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. That would only be half true! Books operate on multiple levels in our visual-focused world now; the attention and consideration towards book design and printing elevates them to become art objects in their own right as well as sources of inspiration or insight. I went with a selection that I thought reflected a cross section of the wider cultural conversation, from mycelium to experimental furniture design, from publishers I personally gravitate towards. I find they manage to explore interesting themes and ideas whilst being beautifully and thoughtfully produced (special mentions to Hato Press’ Cooking with Scorsese titles, Dent-de-Leone’s POTS and Apartamento’s Nicola L). With a collection of books you need a sense of texture to make each one have a presence, keeping it interesting as a whole - putting a big yellow book on food culture in film near a delicate little zine thattalks about compost seems like it wouldn’t work, but that’s the trick, it makes you look closer!

GH: If you had to choose a favourite title from the curation, which would you choose?

JY: Would probably have to go with ‘On The Necessity of Gardening’ – the publisher Valiz always absolutely nails the design and feel of their books and this one is no exception. That giant green softback cover with the swirling medieval letters?! A dream. Don’t let the title fool you either – it covers ‘gardening’ in a wider sense with sections on culture’s relationship to nature and depictions of ‘paradise’. A proper gem to treasure. (Honourable mention to ‘Kein Morgen’ from Spector Books. The combo of the full-bleed photos from raves and parties in clubs all over Europe with the puffy silver grey cover and big red Times New Roman lettering, it’s such a pleasing object in itself and has a real nostalgia embedded in it for me. Sometimes you should judge a book by its cover!)



GH: What would you recommend I read first?

JY: Most of our focus is on contemporary visual culture, but if you want something to read I’d go with a title that combines visuals with some really poignant writing. If you haven’t come across it already, ‘Home Is Not A Place’ by Johny Pitts, which he made in collaboration with poet Roger Robinson (and accompanying the exhibition at the Photographer’s Gallery) is an incredible collection of vignettes of Black British culture. The photos and poems weave together to make a beautiful record of Black joy and experience, from communities in all different corners of the UK. It’s brilliant. We’ve stocked it continuously since it came out last year and people always gravitate towards it.

GH: You opened your doors for the first time in 2001. What’s your experience being an independent store in East London?

BHH: Shoreditch was quite different in 2001! There were lots of commercial galleries around, notably White Cube in Hoxton Square, and lots and lots of smaller galleries dotted here and there all over Shoreditch. There weren’t many shops in the area, and it was actually quite difficult to find retail property as most space was restricted for office use, not retail. Over the years landlords realised the potential of the area and made successful applications for changes of use to retail. SCP were established on Curtain Road, but Redchurch Street and Boxpark hadn’t even been mapped out as shopping destinations. There were other retailers, but sadly so few of those from that time survive. ‘Hoxton’ was talked about a lot in the press in the early 2000s as the Young British Artists (Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, etc.) were based in or associated with Hoxton. After all the initial hard work the bookshop worked well from the outset, we opened just around the corner from Goodhood, on Rivington Street. Our original shop was small but crammed to the ceiling with great books and magazines. Aside from the galleries and their audiences, we also had great customers in the numerous small creative businesses in the area, photographers, fashion designers, model agencies, independent magazine offices etc.

GH: How does being an independent East London store differ in the early noughties compared to the early twenties?

BHH: We’ve developed our stock and our customers tastes have developed over the years. Of course, changes in stock offering bring a change of customer. The internet has changed things hugely for a specialist visual arts bookshop. Whereas books were the standard source of information on the visual arts, pre-web, ‘information’ on say a designer’s work, can now be found online at the touch of a button, freely. Post-web we’ve had to develop, as have the publishers. Broadly speaking I suppose there’s been a shift away from ‘information’ filled art publications to something else entirely.



GH: How do you source the books that you buy, what decisions are made when buying your stock? Particularly from indie writers/publishers/up-and-coming.

JY: SO many sources. It’s one of my favourite parts of my job. Being from a visual art background like Ben, I can’t help but always be subconsciously on the lookout; you follow certain publishers, go to independent book fairs, get ideas from other creators and writers on Instagram, podcasts, art shows; the list truly goes on. There’s so much out there! We also work with really brilliant suppliers and reps too who are always bringing fresh things to our attention, and likewise us to them; almost daily people come to us looking for advice on how to get their own books and projects out in the world, so you see new things constantly. Customers can be a great source for recommendations too! My general approach is to go with titles that make you feel or think or have an opinion on – you’re often right. I’m a sucker for anything colourful, tactile and creatively put together, where clear decisions have been made on why the book has been made and what makes it interesting or different. I’ve definitely developed a taste for what I think works; I try to represent as broad a collection as I can of publications I genuinely like and hope others will too, and tend to lean towards supporting independent publishers and distributors.

GH: Your thoughts on digital reading vs. the book as a tangible object?

BHH: I’ve found that although a lot of our customers did buy e-books, once they malfunction, or breakdown completely, lots didn’t/don’t buy a new one. I think it’s true that carrying around an object like a vinyl record, or a book, speaks to the rest of the world about who you are.

JY: I think screens dominate most people’s lives as it is! Tangibility has become even more important for that reason. Most people still want to be able to feel the weight of a book, appreciate how it’s been designed and printed, collect them like cultural souvenirs. Like Ben said, a book is still a big signifier of who you are or how you’d like to be seen; look at most people’s bookshelves or coffee tables and you’ll see that. Print is still very much alive!

GH: Your top spots in East London?

JY: Army and Navy pub in Stoke Newington - the karaoke every other Friday. IYKYK. Third Culture - an all vegan deli conveniently opposite Artwords. I’m an absolute fiend for their breakfast croissant. Waste! Store on Hackney Road – absolutely chock full of DIY art objects and handprinted tees, a few friends have their pieces stocked there. They have a space next door where they host pop up exhibitions and launches aswell. Bungu Store – stall on the market on Saturdays on Broadway Market selling amazing handmade vintage Japanese ornaments and hard to find Japanese comics and books. Genesis Cinema in Mile End - £6 cinema tickets? Can’t go wrong. They show a real mix of old and new films too. De Beauvoir Rose Garden - Go in the summer and sit right in the middle. You’ll forget you’re not far from Kingsland Road!



GH: What’s the best advice you can give to people interested in supporting independents but aren’t sure how or where to start?

BHH: I think it’s safe to say that we’re both so, so grateful to all our customers. Working with very limited space means that we can only offer a tiny fraction of everything that’s available but we try very hard to choose what we think is currently the best within our field!

JY: Be brave and talk to the staff! Community is so important, and the knowledge and care taken by people that work in small businesses is often such an untapped resource. Every decision has been made deliberately and not by an unknown faceless algorithm – speaking for Artwords, we put so much effort into how the shop’s curation is going to feel to the customer walking into it, from our window displays to which books have been put next to each other. It’s greater than the sum of it’s parts and hope it feels like a place you want to return to again and again.

GH: Maybe an impossible question… What’s your favourite book of all time, and why?

BHH: One of my favourite books is ‘Private View’ by Bryan Robertson, Lord Snowdon & John Russell. Published in 1965, It documents the mid-sixties London art scene. Visually, it’s rich with Snowdon’s great photographs of art schools, artists galleries and parties – it documents a really exciting time in the visual arts.

JY: Truly an impossible question – I think it would have to be Miffy At The Zoo by Dick Bruna. A kid’s book I know! The illustrations are just so stylish and timeless and bold, it still looks contemporary though it first came out in the 50s.