COLLECTING
Thomaï Serdari on Fine Arts & Luxury
The Luxury of Handmade Paper
April Gornik, Halong Bay. 2004. Courtesy of the artist.

April Gornik, Halong Bay. 2004. Courtesy of the artist.

Can we associate luxury with something as mundane, fragile, and inexpensive as paper? That’s a question ridden with assumptions. Paper is delicate but not necessarily perishable. It is usually mass-produced but not always. In fact, the process by which paper is produced may still be mechanical but the materials used to produce good quality paper may be as varied as those used by a jeweler. Is paper mundane?

Not according to Susan Gosin, co-founder of Dieu Donné, “a non-profit artist’s workshop dedicated to the creation, promotion, and preservation of contemporary art utilizing hand papermaking, a process that has its roots in the long tradition of American handicrafts.” Gosin, the curator of “Through a Papermaker’s Eye: Artists’ Books from the Dieu Donné Collection of Susan Gosin,” currently on view at the second floor of The Grolier Club (April 26 through June 8, 2012) brought a few of the most exquisite examples of hand papermaking together. At the Grolier, she is showcasing her thirty-five years of collecting and creating limited edition books by renown American artists such as William Kentridge, Chuck Close, Timothy Barrett, Elaine and Donna Koretsky among many others.

Papermaking, a medium that emerged from the International Arts & Crafts movement at the beginning of the twentieth century, found fertile ground among American artists (Dard Hunter, Elbert Hubbard, Stanley William Hayter, and Douglas Howell) who developed the craft further and combined it with other processes such as etching, collage, or even sculpture. While Gosin did not include any of the sculptural works one can find at her studio—after all the Grolier Club is dedicated to the study of books arts—her selection of works demonstrates the versatility of paper as a medium and its adaptability to a variety of artistic vocabularies.

Chuck Close, Self Portrait, 2000. Courtesy of the artist.

Chuck Close, Self Portrait, 2000. Courtesy of the artist.

For example, William Kentridge chose to create a cotton watermark from an original drawing that was scanned, digitized, and cut into an adhesive-backed rubber watermark. This was then adhered to a wove paper mould through which he poured paper pulp. The result, on view at the Grolier Club, is a very delicate piece, suggestive of Kentridge’s manner of drawing but ghost-like and intense at the same time. Across from it one finds a self-portrait by Chuck Close who began working with Dieu Donné’s artists, and Joe Wilfer in particular, since the 1970s. Their collaboration resulted in a stencil method that uses colored pulp to create Chuck Close’s imagery. Close has dedicated considerable time in refining this technology and has created one of his portraits using nine colors of linen pulp and seven stencils. There are many other interesting examples of innovative processes that combine papermaking and other media, as is the case for April Gornik’s Halong Bay (2004, edition of 75).

In our digital age, hand papermaking elicits strong reactions from the viewer, including desire. This is a great area for collectors who are just starting out but also for experienced collectors who would like to build their collections across media. Whichever the case, the luxury of handmade paper is a fine approach to art.

© Thomaï Serdari