Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Papier-Maché Art Bowls

Another new direction for my art-making. I've been thinking hard about how to break out of the two-dimensional limitation of most visual art, especially the photographic print. I have several ideas that combine photographic prints with sculpture, with multimedia, with multiple displays of parallel work. That combine imagery with form, that break out of the two-dimensional frame into the realm of sculpture, and of multimedia.

I've always liked paper arts. I've long been interested in hand-made paper, art books, and hand-printing. I haven't pursued this interest very deeply before now, although at times I've wanted to make my own paper; and I think I may be able to explore that craft this winter. I have been setting up a crafts worktable in the basement, to be able work on several projects as time permits, from woodcarving, to paper arts, to candlemaking, and more.

Someday I would like to make an art book. I want to make the paper myself, print my written words on the hand-made paper, sew the binding, make the covers. In other words, a completely hand-made art book, containing original images and poems. Obviously, like most art-books, a limited edition. A lot work to make, and not intended to be mass-produced.

My artist friend A. had the idea to explore papier-maché recently, which I felt immediately enthusiastic about. I sought out some gluten-free recipes online for making paste—most papier-maché is, like wallpaper paste, a combination of flour paste and water—the most effective one being made from white glue, like the famous Elmer's Glue-All seen in many schoolrooms, mixed with water. (Two parts white glue to one or one-and-a-half parts water.)

That very night, lit on fire with the idea of making a paper art bowl—decorative, artistic, not for food, certainly not waterproof—I made two. I have a stash of really good art papers, most of them designed to run through a printer. I've made some laser-printed art-books with some of this paper, publishing a limited run a few years ago.

I tore this purple paper stock into strips, and made two papier-maché art bowls. I have a set of three or four blown-glass bowls made by another artist friend of mine, when she was working in the University of Wisconsin glass lab. I used two of these glass bowls as molds. I followed the instructions of one of the papier-maché recipes I had found, and lined the mold bowls with petroleum jelly. This worked well, but had the downside of leaving some traces of petroleum jelly on the bowls, which took a while to get off, after the bowls had dried.

To make a paper bowl like this, you tear paper into strips, soak it in the bonding material (the white glue with water, or paste) for a minute or two, till the paper is pliable, then form the strips into the mold. After making the paper bowl in the mold, you can sop up the extra wetness with a paper towel. The bowls need to dry for a minimum of 24 hours, typically, before they can come out of the molds without falling apart. Once out of the mold, it usually takes another day or two before they're completely dry. Once dry, they are quite firm, strong enough to hold shape, even strong enough to be containers for other materials. (Not food!)

All in all, for a first effort, I'm very satisfied. I'm still learning what I'm doing. I expect to do several more simple bowls, while I learn what I'm doing, then move on to other forms. Perhaps some plates, platters, and other forms that have relief could make interesting molds. I have seen some square Japanese plates, for example, that might make very interesting forms. Maybe even something like a wall sculpture.

Next, I made two more experimental bowls, made from strips torn up from old photo-prints of mine. I have several boxes full of laser-prints on paper, made from my photographs and digital art. Most of these I made when I was working at various graphic arts jobs which happened to have printers that they let me use. Laser prints, while quite crisp and permanent, are on standard printer paper, not photographic paper. That means I can't really sell them as photo prints. So what am I to do with them? Why, recycle them into other art.

So I made two more bowls from these laser photo prints. The interesting thing about using the photo prints this way is that I can make different images inside and outside; so you can make a themed piece of art using more than one static image.

I tried lining the molds with plastic wrap rather than petroleum jelly this time. This worked very well, as the finished bowls popped right out of the molds after drying, and the plastic wrap left nothing behind, unlike the petroleum jelly. A day more of drying, and the bowls look very good. Abstract yet representational.

One of this second group of bowls uses photos I've made of my small collection of vintage typewriters; the outside of the bowl is typewriter keys, while the inside uses photos of other parts of the typewriter.

Bowl of Type

The second bowl uses photos I've made of nudes in nature—part of an ongoing series of photographs of the nude male form in natural settings, which I began in 2000 and still continues. The photos used for this bowl were made over two or three years of camping in northern Minnesota. The different models were all friends who agreed to pose for me.

Bowl of Eros

As i said, i view these as experiments. This is brand new art for me, although I have been intrigued by paper arts for several years. I've seen lots of beautiful paper-arts pieces over the years, which can be sewn as well as glued, containing swatches of fabric, of woven paper, of feathers, and other materials. There is potential here for making something more shamanic, as well. I find myself also moving towards abstraction rather than representation; even the bowls made from paper would be cubist, or refracted, not perfectly pictured. Layers and nuanced complexities and resonant associations of image, word, meaning, context.

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

We used to do papier-mâché stuff back in primary school. As you might imagine I pretty much hated it. I was the same with clay modelling. I don’t like to get my hands messy. I’m the same with food – I much prefer to eat with utensils. My wife says I’m not in touch with my food and she’s right. I didn’t like finger-painting either come to think of it. My favourite here is the Bowl of Type though.

4:39 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth said...

Your enthusiasm for new forms never ceases to amaze me, Art. I resonate most with the bowls of type and of Eros.

4:41 AM  
Anonymous Dan Reeder said...

I think those bowls are magnificent. Very clever and nice looking. Of course "paper mache" is a term used to describe a vast array of techniques. You are an artist with a knack. Keep going with this medium. It's the most underrated and underutilized art form on the planet.

9:02 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...


I'm sure we all have memories of doing things in grade school art class we'd rather forget. The last thing this is about for me is art class, though. It's partially about using some cheap and easy techniques to make art on those days when I can't afford to do anything else, for example. Or don't have the energy to. It's about five-finger exercises for pure creativity. Maybe "papier maché" is too loaded a term, too associated with grade school; but it started as an artistic technique, not a school project thing.

Since my parents died, it's specifically about making art in ways that are new to me, that there are no leftover voices in my head criticizing what I'm doing. My parents were supportive to my art-making, but they were also critical. I learned never to ask them what they thought of my art, or my music, because I wanted their support, not their criticism.

That's one of the downsides of coming from an artistic, musical family: too much pressure to make the artistic product great, not enough emphasis on the process. Making these bowls is about process.

Most kids can remember that their parents proudly put their fingerpaintings on the fridge door. I always had too much pressure to be perfect. Mine had to be good enough to frame, not just good enough to put on the fridge door. Or don't bother.

So this is about freeing myself up to do what I want to do, period. I don't even care if everyone thinks it looks like crap. The point is the making. At some point I'll make a paper arts project that I'll be proud of. At the moment, I'm very pleased with these results, as they're doing for me exactly what they're meant to: expanding the creative process.

12:48 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

I like the type and eros bowls, too. I spent some time last night going through more laser prints of photos, etc. I have enough for a series, I think. Maybe a group of bowls that are all variations on a theme. I have several more typewriter photos that might make an interesting series.

I like the type bowl idea enough that I might really work with that, make it bigger, and may some actual wooden type in the center of it, later.

And the bowls are also just warm-ups. I plan to do more extensive stuff later. Like I said, it's a way of breaking out of two dimensions.

Don, thanks for your comments, and welcome aboard. I went over and looked at your website; some cool stuff there.

I'm already thinking of whatever other forms I can make. I like the flexibility of paper arts.

I love fiber arts, too, but having the time and patience for weaving is a little daunting right now. Maybe later. I've made a lot of woven dreamcatchers, though. So we'll see.

1:29 PM  
Blogger timothée barrus said...

Exquisite! You should make that book.

9:27 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Tim. I am indeed thinking about such a book. Someday soon, I hope, I can work on it, in stages.

9:23 PM  

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