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Paper in Artists’ Books I: The Long & Short Views

10.18.2014. Session I, Panel 3. “The Secret of the Art: Ten Short Stories,” presented by Sandra Liddell Reese ¶ “Beyond Substrate: Handmade Paper as Environment for Letterpress Printing,” presented by Leslie Smith.

Spread from Hortus Conclusus a bilingual artist’s book by Leslie Smith.

This panel featured two book artists intent on having paper play a role in enhancing the meaning of their printed work.

Printer, binder, papermaker, and artist Sandra Liddell Reese presented the panel’s long view. From a selection of the nearly seventy books she has made in collaboration with her husband Harry Reese, Sandra spoke about the literary qualities paper adds to printed words. She has many engaging stories to tell and it was clear that even from their early days together in the mid-1970s, making and drying paper on felts in their Isla Vista home’s front yard, the Reese’s have experimented with the textual qualities paper can add to their books.

In some cases these qualities come from what was beaten into the pulp. American flags yielded purple pages for the “American Haiku” in Nine Songs by Tom Clark. Tie-dye t-shirts and other personal items from Firesign Theatre members were beaten to make the paper for Bozobook, a series of visual poems. An exotic story is behind the paper wrapper for the book A Journey to Lambay, a poem written by Sandra Reese’s great uncle. Blue linen napkins made from the blue linen curtains that once hung in a medieval fort renovated by her great grandfather on the island of Lambay, Ireland, became part of the book’s paper wrapper.

Reese also described paper treatments found in their Edition Reese books that grew out of notable collaborations with other artists. These include the airy and transparent parachute-like effect from the gampi silk tissue adhered above the prints in RE by Kiki Smith. Paper with cutout circular holes that offer glimpses of the following pages developed out of a conversation with Yoko Ono during their collaboration on the book Pennyviews.

From her perspective as a third-year MFA student in book arts, Leslie Smith presented the panel’s short view on how paper adds meaning to letterpress printed artist books. While spending considerable time early on working at her primary interest in book arts, letterpress printing, Smith spoke of a moment of discovery and disappointment in some of her completed work, even when it was printed on her favorite papers. Determining that she wanted to create more of an “environment” for her words and images—a substrate that was part of the entire concept—she looked at how other book artists achieved this. In her talk she pointed to Clair Van Vliet’s Aura for its pulp painting, Jessica Peterson’s Habitat and its use of embedded paper fragments, Jeff Morin’s glazing and sizing surface treatment in White Maiden Male, and the work of John Risseeuw in his landmine broadside series, with its use of clothing belonging to mine victims and fiber from mine fields in the pulp.

Smith is bringing this research to her own papermaking experiments for her current book and print work. For a project about creative anatomies, including the documentation of imaginary organs and the role they play in human thought and feeling, she is both embedding paper shaped as parts of organs in her handmade sheets, and pulp painting veins and arterial pathways. This gives her substrate what she calls a “bodily terrain”—a low relief surface for printing.

Both artists made a strong case for bringing multiple book art disciplines to bear on content and meaning.

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