Page 1

John Risseeuw Professor, School of Art, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA

Content-Specific Handmade Paper in Prints and Artist Books

When I was a wide-eyed and undecided art student in 1967, I took my first printmaking classes and felt like I had come home. I found that I loved printmaking - lithography, screenprinting, etching, you name it - and I loved making multiples. At the same time, I was introduced to letterpress printing and books, and found that I loved them equally. In the next few years, I would continue studying printmaking and bookmaking, and later have the good fortune to teach them in a major university. In 1972, I made my first handmade paper and discovered yet another love. The idea that I could custom make the paper on which I printed choose the color, thickness, shape, size, surface, texture, and so on - was icing on the cake of printmaking. Finding out about custom handmade paper was like first finding out about ink and color mixing in printmaking. It was another variable to be chosen and manipulated. It was not until much later that another potential of hand papermaking for prints and books became more apparent to me. That is, it could also contribute meaning. The content of the print, or book, could actually be enhanced and deepened by the nature and content of the paper. I once thought that such ideas were corny or obvious - and I still have concerns. For instance, printing a book of poems on paper made from the poet's clothing can be meaningful or it can be a gimmick. Yet in 1987, I did just that, with results that were satisfying for the poet and seem to provide an extra layer of meaning for those who have purchased the book. In 1972, I printed an artist's book titled The Politics of Underwear in which images of underwear are used with text to make a political statement about the United States. It was intended to combine whimsy, humor, and a certain outrageousness to achieve an intellectual connection. The suggestion, made by some people at the time, that I should have made the paper out of cotton underwear seemed inappropriate to me, and silly. It would have

John Risseeuw / Content-Specific Handmade Paper in Prints and Artist Books

2nd Impact 2001

1


detracted, I thought, from the meaning of the piece by creating a side issue. Still, last year, I created a print with references to underwear printed on paper made in part from cotton underwear. Somehow, it seemed right at that time. I will get back to these concerns about the use of paper content later. In 1987, I began producing a portfolio of collaborative prints with various artists and writers based on the theme of a contemporary Dance of Death. After receiving the invited woodblock, plate, image, or text, I made an edition of paper for each piece, and then printed it. For some prints, a special content seemed appropriate, like an essay on hunger by Frances Moore LappĂŠ, printed on paper made from plant fibers from Third World nations where most, though not all, of the hunger exists. A print by Walter Askin about noise pollution was printed on a medium value gray paper (so that both white and black texts could be readable) but I included visible threads and fibers to create a visual 'noise' to go along with his concept. Bill Weege's print about wasted resources contains recycled fiber to complement that idea, plus sisal, abaca, and coir fibers from the third world to represent the global context. For Carolyn FourchĂŠ's poignant poem about a survivor of Hiroshima, Japanese style kozo sheets were laminated to Western-style rag paper, including blue denim, that very American fiber. By wedding two differently made handmade papers - Japanese and Western - into a common surface, I attempted to complement through material what the poet provided in words. In 1988, I printed a keepsake print of my father's family farm, by making paper solely from fibers collected on the farm just before it was sold out of the family after a hundred and thirty-two years. The fibers were: sisal binder twine, a jute feed sack, straw, hemp ropes, and cotton seed sacks. The work that describes the place is of the place. A true keepsake, it is the farm. While this piece was not created to be a work of visual fine art, I have found that it still touches many people. The knowledge of the source of the fibers in the paper makes a huge difference in their perception, evaluation, and appreciation of the work. In 1991, at the press I direct at my University, we decided to produce a broadside print commemorating the bicentennial of the U.S. Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to our Constitution. In consultation with a law professor who teaches courses in the amendments, we decided to emphasize the first five words, 'Congress shall make no law,' because that phrase sets our constitution apart from John Risseeuw / Content-Specific Handmade Paper in Prints and Artist Books

2nd Impact 2001

2


many others. Then we printed it on paper that was handmade from cotton American flags and blue jeans. These are, to my mind, two quintessential sources of American fiber and absolutely appropriate for the substrate on which the Bill of Rights is printed. It is purple because it is a mixture of red, white, and blue fibers. Colors of which, many of you know, Americans are rather fond. Although some people have viewed our use of flags in the paper as disrespectful, most perceive it as an ultimate act of respect. Knowing what the paper is made from forces people to reconsider the content and meaning of the text. What more could an artist ask? In 1995, I made an experimental batch of paper from recycled shredded U.S. currency. It was made as a keepsake for an annual papermakers' conference, the Friends of Dard Hunter. On the paper, we printed a modified dollar bill with Dard Hunter's face inserted and the legend, 'Handmade Paper is Like Money in the Bank: You can make Book on it.' Although it was conceived as an experiment with a large dose of whimsy, the result actually pays homage to Hunter, honoring his practical approach to papermaking. Like the Bill of Rights, it also offers an extended meaning to the perceptive and knowledgeable viewer. I came back to the idea of recycled currency a year later. But before I did, I was asked to create a collaboration in handmade paper for a Symposium at the Cooper Union School in New York City. I asked a friend, Margaret Prentice, who is both a papermaker and a printmaker, like me, to join in the collaboration and we decided to make an artists' book, titled Spirit Land. She teaches at the University of Oregon, which is in a different state and different climate from where I teach, so she made paper from Oregon plant fibers, and I made paper from Arizona plant fibers. The two-sided, two-part French door book structure allowed us to divide it into Spirit Land - Oregon and Spirit Land - Arizona. On those papers, Margaret printed color woodcuts showing the very different landscapes of each state. Then, further inside the book, I printed lists of endangered plant species of Arizona and Oregon. Even further in, I printed a poem on the Arizona side written by an Arizona writer about the environment, and, of course, a similar poem by an Oregon writer on the other side. A double colophon on the back lists the various plant fibers used in the papers and other information about the making of the book. Signed by the two artists and two writers in an edition of 50, held in a paper folder made from John Risseeuw / Content-Specific Handmade Paper in Prints and Artist Books

2nd Impact 2001

3


mixed fibers and dirt of both states, this book has touched many people and found much appreciation. We designed it specifically so that it must be handled and turned frequently, providing the viewer-reader with a tactile experience in handling the fibrous paper, making them more aware of the subject and content than a simple straightforward book with the same text and images would have done. That same year, I did a print for Hand Papermaking magazine's juried portfolio of letterpress on handmade paper with the world arms trade as my subject. As you can see, I started with an appropriate quote about arms sales, then printed a list of the top ten arms exporting nations between 1990 and 1994. The U.S. was (and is to this day), to my regret, the top exporter by far. I began a list of arms sold as well as some woodcut and engraved images. Inside the piece, the facts continue about the value of arms sold, the list of arms, and more quotes and images. Included within the page are stories of victims of armed conflict, from South Africa, Iraq, and elsewhere. Finally, at the bottom, the colophon tells you that the paper you are holding was made from the paper currency of the top ten arms exporting nations (U.S., Russia, Germany, UK, France, China, The Netherlands, Italy, Czech Republic, and Switzerland) mixed with clothing from the victims of armed conflict named above. For example, a papermaker friend in South Africa knew a woman whose sister had been murdered by the Security Police in 1985. She sent me a cotton skirt once belonging to her sister and it was pulped for this paper. A colleague at my university in the mathematics department is an Iraqi Kurd, who was chased out of northern Iraq with the other people of his family and village when the Iraqi army began shelling it. The paper contains clothing from people killed in that action sent from relatives who are still in exile in southern Turkey. Repeatedly, I have found that the impact of this piece is increased when people read about, or are told, the content of the paper. Some, in shock, have dropped it, unable to bear the weight of the connection linking arms, money, and death. It is so simple, making the paper from these materials, yet the piece becomes a conceptual whole that is much more powerful. It has a wholeness like that of the farm keepsake - a satisfying unity and rightness - making the art into an object for deeper and further consideration, rather than merely a representation of an idea. The paper is not merely a substrate holding representative marks; it becomes something greater. A friend calls this Symbolic Paper, but I think it may be more than that. John Risseeuw / Content-Specific Handmade Paper in Prints and Artist Books

2nd Impact 2001

4


Now if you hold the idea of that arms trade paper, I will return to it when I describe my current project. Before that, though, I want to discuss an artist book we published at my school's press last year. Titled Eco Songs, it is a collaboration with a Macedonian composer, Dimitrije Buzarovski. Dimitrije created a song cycle based on six poems about man's relationship to the environment. The poems are from Chief Dan George, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Stevie Smith, Alfonsina Storni, Li Po, and the Book of Job. When we decided to create an artist book based on it that would contain the CD of the music and began the project, I wrote to papermakers all around the world, members of IAPMA, and asked them to send me local plant fibers for papermaking. My staff printer, Dan Mayer, and I then separated the 42 different fibers into five groups and made the five papers for the different parts of the book. Hops from Germany, Polish hemp, water hyacinth from Bangladesh, daphne from Katmandu, bark fiber from Zimbabwe, other fibers from Australia, China, Japan, the Philippines, Italy, New Zealand, Denmark, even rhinoceros dung from South Africa and bison dung from the Canadian Arctic Circle, all were beaten into the pulps for the papers of this book. Thus the paper of the book represents the ecology of the world, which is what the text and music are about. As with Spirit Land, holding and handling and reading this book are tactile experiences that deepen the reader/viewer/listener's understanding and appreciation of the concept. Finally, my current project along these lines is titled Casting Paper Landmines. As with the arms trade piece, I will collect clothing from victims of landmines. I will also collect fibrous plants that grow in minefields and recycle the currency of the nations that make or have made landmines. For those of you who are interested, the primary list includes the U.S., China, Russia/Soviet Union, Italy, Czech Republic, South Africa, UK, Pakistan, Vietnam, and Yugoslavia, although fifteen other nations are lesser contributors. I will be accepting donations of currency for the project during and after the conference. I will make paper pulp from this material and then make paper landmines and prints about landmines. Some will be shaped but flat pieces of paper on which I can print, as I have done in other works. Others will be cast in molds and will be dimensional, also with printing. The landmines will carry information about minefield locations, dates, types, as well as stories of victims, images of people and places, perhaps maps. In September 2001, I traveled to Sarajevo, Bosnia, where I met people and collected material. In January, I will travel to Cambodia and for the same purpose. If I can find additional John Risseeuw / Content-Specific Handmade Paper in Prints and Artist Books

2nd Impact 2001

5


funding, I will go to South Africa, Mozambique, and Central America, as well as contacting Mine Action Centers in other affected countries for contributions of the materials I will need. In the end, I intend to fill art galleries with paper landmine prints and have very public 'gallery demining events,' at which people will come and purchase the landmine prints, taking them out of the gallery until it is empty. The proceeds will go to those organizations that help landmine victims. Other artists have used the idea of concept-specific paper in prints and books and are worthy of mention. One notable book was made by British artist Richard Long in 1990, titled, Papers of River Muds. Following Long's aesthetic, and his practice of making the subject of his art derive from the environment, he created in 1988 a blank book made from paper that had mud from the River Avon incorporated into the pulp. The subtle color of the paper was dependent on the amount of mud in the pulp. In 1990, he produced with Lapis Press in Los Angeles, Sam Francis' fine art press, the editioned artist book, Papers from River Muds. Long contributed mud from his home river Avon and Jerry Sohn of the Press solicited the other muds from sources around the world, having them sent as 'Artist Materials.' Papers were made from cotton fibers mixed with river muds from the following rivers: Nile, Mississippi, Rhine, Avon, Hudson, Umpqua, Indragoodby, Jordan, Condamine, Chitravathri, Amazon, Guatiguia, Huang He, Nairobi. Each page was then screenprinted with the name of the source river. The edition was 88. Eric Avery is a physician and print artist, holding degrees in both disciplines, who works in Galveston, Texas. He often says that making paper is a great therapy for him after the stresses of the medical workplace. After seeing and counseling patients with HIV and AIDS, he finds that a retreat to the studio to make paper and print on it brings a creative and intellectual balance into his life. In prints and artist books, Dr. Avery brings the issues of his workplace into his art. Recently, he began doing poster-like informative graphics printed on his own handmade paper; paper made from green cotton surgical towels, of which he has an abundance. The works certainly communicate his positions about infectious diseases through their straightforward graphics and presentation. By printing them on this specific handmade paper, and making the viewer aware of it, an additional dimension of reality is brought to the subject. The material of the object becomes part of the viewer's understanding of the content.

John Risseeuw / Content-Specific Handmade Paper in Prints and Artist Books

2nd Impact 2001

6


Robbin Ami Silverberg of Brooklyn is a papermaker and book artist who occasionally uses content-specific paper. Her artist book titled From Dreams to Ashes uses paper of mugwort fiber, a plant that was once used to stuff pillows in the belief that it brought vivid and prophetic dreams. The embedded matches contain the text of the poem and are clearly unburned, to symbolize the fact that looking at someone else's dreams may be dangerous. After Midnight contains a poem about a night garden between the leaves of laser-printed paper made from iris plants in the artist's garden. In a more conceptual work, John Cage produced in the 1980s a series of handmade papers made from the contents of his Macrobiotic diet, issuing them in a portfolio. Since the content of the papers is the only content, it forces the viewer to consider the material for meaning. The idea of content-specific material does not need to be restricted to handmade paper, however. Although it seems to me that the surface has merely been scratched, some artists have pursued the idea into the pigment media of printing. Proto-Pop artist Ed Ruscha, for instance, produced a number of 'organic' screenprints. In 1970, he produced Pepto-Caviar Hollywood, a screenprint in two runs using Pepto-Bismol (a digestive drink) and caviar in place of inks. The combination of those two materials with the image of Hollywood is both whimsical and quite provocative. For those of you who may be concerned about the archival nature of the organic prints, I saw this print on exhibition about six months ago and it looked as it does in this reproduction. That same year, Ruscha also did a portfolio of organic prints titled, News, Mews, Pews, Brews, Stews, & Dues: News. One split-fountain run of black currant pie filling and red salmon roe. Mews. One background run of bolognese sauce; one split-fountain run of black currant pie filling, cherry pie filling, and unmixed raw egg. Pews. One split fountain run of chocolate syrup, coffee, and chicory essence; one run of squid ink.

John Risseeuw / Content-Specific Handmade Paper in Prints and Artist Books

2nd Impact 2001

7


Brews. One split fountain run of axle grease and caviar. Stews. One split fountain run of crushed baked beans, caviar, fresh strawberries, cherry pie filling, mango chutney, tomato paste, crushed daffodils, crushed tulips, and leaves. Dues. Two separate runs of pickle juice. The next year, he did once more organic print, Fruit-Metrecal Hollywood, a screenprint in two runs with grape and apricot preserves (jam) in one and Metrecal (a diet drink) in another. It was printed in an edition of 85, after experimental proofs using a variety of jams, chocolate drink, chocolate syrup, and salmon had been tried. It is curious to me that although these prints may have seemed somewhat outrageous at the time, few people seem to have continued experimentation into the concept of content-specific inks or other art materials in printmaking, where it is relatively easy to do. A few years ago I saw monoprints - which I unfortunately do not have in slides - in which the artist used facial make-up for pigment in one piece, and AZT and other AIDS drugs for the pigment in another. The subject matter of the art was life with AIDS, and by using the very drugs used to treat the disease, the meaning of the work became at once more immediate and more complex. I see many opportunities for heightened meaning in print and book content. Paper might be made from recycled print material having to do with the subject matter: childhood schoolbooks might be pulped for paper to be printed with images and texts regarding childhood and learning. Pornographic magazines might be pulped for art on that subject matter. I'm sure that some similar, and better, ideas are springing into your heads right now. What would Russian artists print on handmade paper if someone found a box of Lenin's underwear? Or Stalin's or Gorbachev's? What kind of art could be made from Madame Curie's laboratory aprons? Hermann Goering's brown shirts? The irises from Albert Einstein's garden? Robert Oppenheimer's moving boxes? Mother Theresa's robes? Or Louis Armstrong's handkerchiefs? Meaningful intersections of content and material may abound for the artist with the eye for it and the ability to make it happen.

John Risseeuw / Content-Specific Handmade Paper in Prints and Artist Books

2nd Impact 2001

8


Thank you. And now I have a few questions for the audience: 1. When does content-specific paper or material function well to create new levels of meaning and understanding? When does it become trite? 2. Another consideration is informing the audience about the content. In books and broadsides, that can be done with a statement in a printed colophon. But what about prints? Are lengthy wall labels required? Are there objections to descriptive labeling in art exhibitions? Or are the deeper elements of meaning best left to critics who present the information?

John Risseeuw / Content-Specific Handmade Paper in Prints and Artist Books

2nd Impact 2001

9

Content-Specific Handmade Paper in Prints and Artist Books  

Content-Specific Handmade Paper in Prints and Artist Books

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you