This week in the studio: I finally get to see my piece Villanelle for Mitchell County installed in the Paper Narratives exhibit at the Robert C. Williams Museum of Papermaking in Atlanta. I was delighted at the invitation to participate and began working on this project in January.
This series is comprised of ten pieces that were letterpress printed on handmade paper. I made the paper (an abaca/cotton blend) at the Penland School of Crafts, while teaching there in the spring of this year. The images were letterpress printed using photopolymer plates based on my drawings, along with linoleum block prints. After printing, I used a small sewing machine to stitch lines like those of topographic maps. When that step was complete, I hand-cut the patterns into each piece that are based on the cellular structures of plants observed under a microscope. Each finished piece is stitched into a wooden frame with cotton twine.
This project was developed after working on a book at Penland that used some of the same imagery (you can read about that process here). I liked the way the cut-outs in each page could interact with the printed images on the page both before and after it, and wanted to see how far I could push the layering of the macro and micro if I constructed them as wall pieces. I liked the idea of introducing the element of stitching, and liked the idea of the cut-outs creating an extra element of shadow and pattern when hung on the wall. (Kudos to Juan at the RCW Museum, who devised a brilliant way to hang these pieces to incorporate those shadows!)
The moth, bird, butterfly, and plant images are all based on species that live in western North Carolina. Some are familiar and abundant (mountain laurel and Swallowtail), and others (like the Luna moth) have become more scarce. This piece became a sort of homage to the places in North Carolina that are my home, and to the native species that are becoming endangered. It quickly became about patterns, and so I took that opportunity to geek out over topographic maps and microscopic images of cellular structure. All of this imagery, along with the repetition of silhouettes of native species, point to patterns of growth and decline—which is the predominant theme that was bouncing around in my head as I made these pieces.As for the title, it came last. Titles are always hard for me, and are generally the last part of the puzzle for me to complete. This piece, which depends so much on repetition of imagery and pattern, felt like a kind of visual poem. I’ve written some terrible poetry, mainly in graduate school, but one form that came to mind as I was working on this project was the villanelle—a form that repeats and rearranges certain phrases and lines as you move through the poem. My pieces have no predetermined arrangement, really. They can be hung in virtually any array that’s visually pleasing and fits the space. The order in which the images appear really doesn’t matter: what matters is that these pieces are viewed as a group so that the repetition is magnified. When viewed by itself, each piece has minimal allusions to pattern, but when viewed as a group, my hope is that the larger patterns emerge and then entice the viewer to look for the more elusive patterns.
Next week: highlights from the Paper Narratives exhibition opening.
Special thanks to Suzanne Sawyer, who curated this exhibit and invited me to participate, and Teri, Virginia, and Juan, who make the Museum of Papermaking quite remarkable, indeed. The Paper Narratives exhibit is on display until November 20, 2015 and includes work form Doug Baulos, Denise Bookwalter, Lee Emma Running, and Kerri Cushman.