An image wrestles itself into the forefront of my thoughts after hearing the word “paper,” a white, blank, eight-and-a-half by eleven sheet of looseleaf, characterized more by what is printed upon it than the actual paper itself. And while we focus on the beauty of printed words or constructed imagery, what lies beneath is often of little importance (that is, unless it breaks from the regularity of the white, blank, eight -and-a-half by eleven sheet of looseleaf).
As part of a two-day workshop for Roy Nydorf’s Drawing and Printmaking in Color class, students were given the opportunity to make paper that shatters any similarity to the adopted norm. Leading the operation was a veteran paper-maker introduced to us, simply, as Vito. For over two decades, Vito has upheld his role as an artist to bend the rules and broaden the possibilities of what paper can be. Instead of crafting perfectly measured sheets of flat, bland drawing paper, he uses recycled heaps of newspapers, pamphlets, magazines, and pretty much any other scrap material you could imagine. The result is anything but uniform. Each sheet adopts its imperfections and individuality to its advantage. Hints of words from deceased newspaper articles emerge from the pulpy surface. Niches of color scatter and stain the anything-but-perfect rectangles, giving each finished sheet its own character, similar yet entirely different from the former.
It’s informative to see how paper can function and dictate the outcome of the finished work. The paintings and drawings had an almost sculptural feel, characterized by the ripples and ridges left by process. Vito’s front porch hangs what looks to be a large diptych painting on traditional canvas, however, upon closer inspection, the material is not canvas at all. The image rests upon a piece of paper about as thick as an encyclopedia.
Though paper is typically thought of in relation to drawings and even paintings, the process does not limit itself to two-dimensional media. On the second day of the workshop, students were shown how to cast molds using sheets of our previously constructed paper. We then spent the rest of class casting pretty much anything we could find, from embossed decorative trays to synthetic mannequin heads, used by funeral homes to practice putting makeup on bodies before their open casket funerals (an outlandish claim that I choose to believe 100%)
Field trips and workshops like these are valuable reminders that happiness and fulfillment grow from the simplicity of creating. Creativity can thrive (and often do with most twentysomething year old artists I know) from stresses that build in the studio after hours of mistrial and frustration, however this week was living proof that creativity can benefit equally from a change of scenery.