“Leonardo didn’t just think on paper: he thought through paper. Paper was not the pre-liminary to other work: it was the work.”
This post is a contradiction of sorts. Coming to you, sort of ‘live’ (in the sense that I am a living being, last time I checked) from the virtual pen, paper and ink that is my computer screen to yours. I’m sure you could see my point that it is not the most appropriate medium or convincing place to begin writing a post all about the joys and uses of paper. In fact the 'blog post' is actually a kind-of evolution of paper, the ugly (or not so) ugly stepsister of the good old papyrus minus the tree felling, mill and stationers’ shelves.
Anyway I’ve done and continue to do so, consume my fair share of paper. For as long as I and many others continue to buy tickets, possess money, wrap presents, receive junk mail, draw, read newspapers, write lists, buy fish and chips, use loo roll, eat sweets, accumulate receipts we don’t need, then paper isn’t something that’s going to disappear anytime soon. And not to mention, of course when it comes to books I’m a self-confessed paper omnivore. The most versatile, light, durable, precious and yet throw-away of all materials; paper has a LOT going for it. Ian Sansom in his tactile papery book, ‘Paper: An Elegy’ quotes Derrida who remarked, “To say farewell to paper today would be rather like deciding one day to stop speaking because you had learnt to write.”
In that vein, what this post lacks in actual paper it makes up for with plenty of pulp! When I came across an exhibition called, ‘Paper’ at the Saatchi Gallery in London a few weeks back, I could hardly resist.
‘Paper’ features over 40 National and International artists all of whom use some form of paper either as a construction material, surface or medium within their work. For some, the paper becomes the work itself; it is manipulated, folded, wielded, torn, cut and pasted and for others, paper becomes the surface from which the artist communicates. What was interesting for me personally was that there was a good variety of both the expected and unexpected and I walked away feeling that paper’s integrity as a medium for drawing on had been kept intact as well as having been presented some more innovative ideas in both how ambitious and creative some of the drawings were and seeing some of the more sculptural applications, innovations and uses of paper.
Josef Albers educated at the Bauhaus in the late 1920’s wrote on paper (on paper, hee),
“paper, in handicraft and industry, is generally used lying flat; the edge is rarely utilised. For this reason we try paper standing upright, or even as a building material; we reinforce it by complicated folding; we use both sides; we emphasise the edge. Paper is usually pasted; instead of pasting it we try to tie it, to pin it, to sew it, to rivet it. In other words we fasten it in a multitude of different ways. At the same time we learn by experience its properties of flexibility and rigidity, and its potentialities in tension and compression. We try to experiment, to train ourselves in ‘constructive thinking”.
Ok, I know that’s all very Constructivist sounding in terms of art theory, but the nature of how Albers is describing the materiality of paper and its capabilities is still relevant today and I feel its influence is felt in the diversity of work in this exhibition. Below are a series of selected works from the exhibition and a few of my scribing's....
The last time I was this excited about paper as art was at the Liverpool Biennal in 2010 watching Sachiko Abe performing 'Cut papers' in the Blade Factory. It literally involved the artist, dressed in white on a raised platform cutting very fine slithers of white paper. The cut threads created a curtain down from the platform and onto the floor almost like strands of hair. It was beautiful and poignant to experience it and reaffirmed my understanding of how most simple, mundane actions if repeated enough can become not only contemplative but deeply meaningful. As an artist now I still feel there is something reassuring and grounding and a warmth in holding/using/working with paper that I have never felt using canvas, board, metal or any other surface. I enjoy its contradictions depending on how it is manipulated; of being both cutting and used to wrap/protect, light yet heavy, flat or sculpted. It occurs to me now that I have long had an infatuation with paper which explains the care and time I spent over my sketchbooks often pouring more hours into them than my studio work. Could the reason have been something to do with the intimacy and reflection space of having a book? Or was it the joy of working on paper? Same thing, perhaps.
I haven't mentioned half the artists and works in this exhibition, but hope this has given you an idea of what you can expect from 'Paper', so that next time you're rolling a Rizla, lining your cake tins, making paper aeroplanes, writing a love letter, wallpapering the house or simply wiping your bum spare a thought for the brilliance and potential of paper!
'Paper' at Saatchi ended on the 3rd of November but the paper catalogue is still available.