Friday, September 19, 2014

Contemporary Artists Showcase Eastern Papers at the Morgan Conservatory

Yuko Kimura, Tiny Sample Book. Ca. life sized. What is paper for, if not for books. This on becomes an object of desire with its collection
of Eastern papers in a variety of sensuous textures, colors, and weaves.

Cleveland's Morgan Art of Papermaking Conservatory is a jewel in the city's civic crown. Renowned in the nation's papermaking community, the Morgan attracts the world's most illustrious and creative paper artists to its facilities, which house state-of-the art equipment and facilities for training in every traditional and experimental method of working with paper fibers.
In 2014, the Conservatory celebrates the opening of its unique Eastern Paper Studio, the nation's first. They already have the largest paper mulberry tree (kozo) grove in the country, and in 2010 installed the only American studio for the ancient art of Korean paper making (hanji). Now Morgan has the specialized, up-to-date equipment to support the ancient Eastern papermaking practices. Eastern papermaking differs from Western in that it derives from the nature of long fibers—kozo, gampi, abaca, hanji, and several others. The papers are thin, silky, alluring to hand and eye. Despite their sensuous qualities are unusually tough.Eastern Paper Studio was introduced to the public in a recent, sublime show of works by the finest of paper artists. The show displayed the wide variety in the properties of  the fibers, including works diaphanous and solid; works suggestive of painting, of ceramics, textiles, and biomorphic forms. Curated and hung for maximum variety and tantalizing juxtapositions, Mason Milani demonstrated his eye and the promise of an exceptional season. One of the show-stoppers for its size, color and variety of references is Julie McLaughlin's "Kimono as Art," above. The idea of paper garments as novelty fashion has been around for a long time. McLaughlin makes it clear that she is thinking in bigger and bolder terms. This piece must be at least seven feet tall. If it's comparable to anything, it's to Jim Dine's kimonos—but even that is a stretch. This is real, three-dimensional, and has all the qualities of rare textile with advantages that textile cannot present. This kimono was created from whole, "paper-thin" sheets of hand-made kozo papers that the artist dyed and decorated herself with paper pulp landscape.Books are demonstrated in this show not only by Kimura's tiny book, which indulges us in the beauty of materials, but in Melissa Jay Craig's "The Trouble with That Theory: Cliff Notes." Here, well-chosen materials support a cutting, satirical point. Her papers are made from Thai kozo bark lace, flax, kozo and milkweed sheets, and milkweed fiber with joomchi (A Korean method of making textured paper with water). Sagging covers and blanks that serve as positive space, support truncated pages that have...come unrooted? Been shredded? Craig's book may further suggest the disintegration of the book as an object of significance in the culture, perhaps eaten away by students' dependence on the speed of the Internet. This object is a great display of the creative possibilities Eastern papers, allowing the flexibility, strength, and variety of textures to allow the complex messages of this work.Julie Sirek too, is concerned with the idea of disappearance, which her Korean fibers, joomchi and hanji allow her to achieve. She makes a cloth-like paper that has the delicacy of a fabric worn to the point of a tissue, ready to disintegrate entirely. Sirek uses a full sized dress as symbol for the absent or disappearing woman; the dress is like an abandoned crustacean's shell. We don't have the sense that it has been outgrown, though, but that the inhabitant has been reduced—psychically or by violence. The sorrow is stated in the material, held together only by the lattice around its holes.Hanji, with which Sirek fashions a dress from spaces, in the hands of Aimee Lee serves as the basis for the Korean craft of jiseung, or paper weaving. Strips of this paper are woven into strands so present and strong that they are fashioned into functional baskets, water gourds, and sandals. Lee's hand is on her baskets from the harvest of the hanji fiber through its cooking and beating, its formation into cords, and its weaving to shape traditional forms. Each vessel is glazed with persimmon dye, giving it a shining, uniform surface that easily tricks the eye into thinking it a textured ceramic.Jill Powers is a sculptor who uses the strength of kozo bark fiber for casting. She is not a traditionalist. She intuits and responds to her own interpretation of the fiber's the feel. She has developed casting techniques that are all her own. Her concern in not only for the ultimate shape of the artwork, but also for the way that it highlights the kozo bark itself. Her works are porous, allowing light to penetrate them while exposing the nature of the long fibers. Both the material and the finished work are displayed. With a consciousness every artist in this show demonstrates, she is mindful that there would be no art without careful cultivation of the plant itself. Every paper work begins in the earth. Her sculpture of a hand cradling a bee that does not sting; her basket of flames that don't consume—these are powerful metaphors for a relationship of trust in powerful nature and willingness to use it without conquest.The use of the natural as benign background and foreground both is a technique used to beautiful effect in Velma Bolyard's hanging Rain Garden. This series of panels is a peace garden that beguiles and calms both from a distance and from close up, when its vines, leaves, and flowers come into focus. Her method is contact/eco printing on Awagami Gregory kozo paper. The material must be chosen carefully: The hangings are folded gently into panels that nevertheless fall naturally, and the paper holds the ink of the contact prints in a romantic, present/fading way. The integration of all the elements make it a particularly natural work in all senses.Chicago's Melissa Jay Craig integrates material, subject, and artifact in a series of works in cast paper and bark. These are based on microscopic views of plant roots and stems. These large, circular pieces could be folkloric rugs—gay, irregular, beguiling in their detailed simplicity: flaunting the qualities of the handmade. But her titles are scientific, referring to the biological aspects of nature that inspire the work. In botany she literally explores the intimate convergence of Art and Nature.
Each of the three from this series is not only visually distinctive, but has its own scientific reference. Mycellian Query, matted and beaten, refers to mycelia, the fibrous parts of fungus. Flat Anaphase, Amaranthine is outlined in the purplish color of amaranth. In the center, in the act of mitosis, chromosomes migrate to opposite ends of the cell. The richness of color and the central motif are easily suggest lapidary art, an antique brooch of geometrically arranged Highlands stones. Craig's Root/Basis provides an occasion for her to demonstrate yet another technique while sticking to her theme. This gem-like cutaway section of a root is cast of abaca and kozo. It's surface is formed from hundreds of distinct, raised cells. Not only its beauty, but the concept this brought home to me—of life's aggregation of the minute into the visible; of Craig's bringing so vividly to mind the life we neglect without curiosity—make this a masterwork on a variety of levels. It feels bad to review a show after it has closed. I can recommend that you purchase the informative and beautiful catalogue ($10 from the Morgan Conservatory ) and keep up with the work of these artists. Each is a major figure in the community of papermakers—in the community of sculptors and multimedia artists—and a treasure in the world of American art.
Bridget O'Malley, Pattern Recognition. Watermark in handmade kozo,
 with shadow on the wall. Detail of triptych.
Melissa Jay Craig, Mycellian Query, detail
Velma Bolyard, Rain Garden

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