Dieu Donne Papermill Series - words Sarah McCarthy
PAPER - n. 1. a thin sheet material made of cellulose pulp, derived mainly from wood, rags, and certain grasses ...
In October of 2005 Paul dived into the watery world of hand papermaking at the Dieu Donne Papermill in Soho, New York. He immersed himself in the depths of a creative orgy, producing a series of paper-&-pulp works that showcase his earlier sculptures & paintings by trapping the images within the delicate structure of the medium itself. The Dieu Donne Papermill has collaborated with artists for 30 years, and offers a unique opportunity to simultaneously learn new skills & apply established ones. Paul is the second South African artist ever to benefit from its tailored approach to reviving the ancient craft of papermaking. (And no wonder that the first, William Kentridge, named his paperwork series Thinking in Water – the studio is awash with it). With their mission based on the successful collaboration between artists & studio staff, DD measure their success on the ability of their staff (sometimes three to an artist) to translate the artists’ ideas & visions into reality.
Ts’ai Lun is credited with the invention of paper as we know it today, in about 105 AD. He used old rags, hemp, tree bark & fish nets. The fibrous materials (nowadays usually cotton-based) are beaten to a pulp, & added to water to create ‘slurry’, or ‘half stuff’. This is pulled through a metal sheet-mould of mesh, to evenly cover the screen with pulp. The mould is placed inside a removable wooden frame called a deckle, which creates a low rim around the paper. The pulp is shaken in the mould to distribute the mixture evenly & to interlock the fibers, giving strength to the sheet.
While water is still dripping from the slurry, the artist works in pigmented linen pulp, using sawn-off nozzles in a variety of sizes to apply the mixture. The linen pulp maintains its structural integrity within the still-wet cotton pulp, and the colours ‘become’ the paper, rather than being layered on top of it.
Paul is intrigued by the fragility & flexibility of the paper pulp. Some pulps are thicker than others, and Paul uses the variety to great effect, embracing the possibilities of piercing the wet sheet with a nozzle, or of placing thicker linen pigment over the slurry & watching it sink in. The paper itself displays irregularities as well, resulting in distortion, cockling, rippling & curling, both in the sheets and in the applied lines – all effects which delight Paul, who revels in putting the unique characteristics of thickness & bleed to specific purpose in every work.
A thin mat is then applied to the finished images (couching), and they are stacked briefly, as water pours from them. Thereafter they are placed on drying racks for a couple of days.
Once the paper had dried, Paul quickly realised the potential of applying other mediums to the works. This contrasts the line trapped within the paper as an intrinsic part of the substrate, with the external, more traditional line applied to the finished sheet. ‘It changes a whole image … one single line’, he muses. As an artist who continually challenges the limitations of 2-dimensional media, the opportunity to work not only on paper but also in paper goads Paul to experiment further. He learns by going; where he wants to go…
A week in New York stuffed with wet water smells; overloaded with traffic & hype and phones ringing and snippets of conversation & noise and music he has never heard before; seeing images & colours & rain & people walking & people walking & buildings & road works & graffiti – all these things are reflected in the Papermill series; a medium & technique that combine as the perfect foil for Paul’s tactile works; for his imagery & his use of colour & line.
‘Hand papermaking is a conversation between the human hand and the botanicals of land and water. We civilize each other.’ - Sandy Bernat