Papery Musings

I’m slightly obsessed with PAPER – it has always been my go to material, when my over thinking brain needs some comforting haptics activity to perform.

Using it as a pulp for 3 dimensional ideas. Folding, tabbing, colating and wrapping when I worked in print and the greeting card industry. Most recently, PAPER has kept me entertained making small artists books. I’ve now made some new products using PAPER yarn; as well as running workshops where we produce hand made PAPER.

My own “making” has been a constant in the many twists and turns that life throws at us. How I describe myself has always been a more elusive strand to grab hold of.

On a recent visit to town, something of an epiphany occurred. My computer was being “assessed” by the local emergency repair team. I had a bit of time on my hands … Exhibition on in the town hall about ‘Rope Making’. As I get to the main room at the top of the stairs, that spooky hairs on the back of the neck feeling came over me … and inside the exhibition, pictures of my own relations working in the local industry.

Dew retted flax; I’d recently bought some from a PAPER suppliers, when I opened the box, having no idea what to expect … the same strange (hairs on the back of the neck) feeling had occurred.

As a boy in 1953, my Dad left a small village just outside of Bridport in West Dorset, to join the army. Fifty years later my own family moved back to that West Dorset area; strange spiders web threads began to pull at my senses.

Historic connections were drawing me in. Dad’s wider family had been involved in the rope industry for generations … The materials I use and the landscape I now worked in, were drawing me back to my families social history.

In one of my many forays into mainstream … mainstream what ? art, craft, creative engagement ??? I was asked why I used PAPER as a medium: “was it because I didn’t value my skills as an artist enough to use more valuable materials ?” …

This statement, sort of, … got me thinking – LUCKILY; I was quickly able to retort … “Actually my reasoning is probably the exact opposite of that” …

space for inspiration
space for inspiration

So much of the ‘earning’ side of the work that I’m pushed towards, focusses on the exclusivity of Art or Craft. Obviously creative workers should be paid a fair wage. In the world of today, how do we reconcile the time involved in working creatively and making with our hands, with the often ‘exclusive’ cost of it’s end results?

In other countries PAPER is well documented for its use in generating creative Social Engagement Projects. Projects that focus on “inclusive ideals”. I have struggled to find “a tribe” that best fits with my social history interest, ‘social health’ awareness and my paper ‘making’ obsessions.

Luckily for Mothers Day of this year, my family took me to BABE 2019 and ideas started to ‘gel’ together – the phrase : child in a candy shop, springs to mind …

My own work with PAPER will continue to meander through numerous connections and find it’s own path – Below is an excerpt from The ‘Book Arts’ initiative at UWE Bristol; who organise Bristol Book Arts Events. – (BABE)

“Artists’ books have emerged as an energetic contemporary artform over the last forty years. Developing from their last materialisation in the 1960’s as a way of bypassing the constraints of the gallery; as a dissemination of ideas and a radical format of bringing art to a wider public.”

There are numerous Fine Artists using PAPER in different ways; from Ian Breakwell’s, currently very pertinent, The Illusive State of Happiness – 1979. (the year I started Art College). Through David Hockney’s book ‘Paper Pools’ published in 1980 to more up to date works from Mona Hatoum at Tate Modern and Karla Black’s, hanging ‘sugar paper’ sculptures.

Both the Heritage Crafts Association (HCA) in the U.K. and the Craftsmanship Initiative, based in the U.S. (also covering many other European countries), now have very good informative websites. Jim Patterson of Two Rivers PAPER Company; has in fact been named HCA’s Maker of the year 2019, for his work producing Handmade PAPER.

More and more, my own work with PAPER has a connection with social health, and particularly social health (medicine). In 2002 I designed and ran a course, making hand made PAPER and books, with teenagers in a secure unit. I’d been told at the start, not to expect these young people to engage, to be aware that they would come and go; by the second day all four of them were fully engaged and wanting the course to carry on for longer. This was an area of work I could have really become absorbed in: Life’s events took me along another path though, and ‘integrated practical activities’ within a social health framework, are not so easily accessible now.

In 2012-2014 I was able to participate in a part time Foundation Art Course. During some research for one of my projects, I became completely mesmerised by the powerful message in Kara Walkers work in silhouette. Understanding the message in Kara Walkers work, contributed to me re-evaluating what I could do with my own creative endeavors.

Now in 2019 a new Arts Council Touring Exhibition ‘On Paper’ has landed near my home and cemented my belief that PAPER is one of the most pertinent and precious (man made) recources on the planet.

I intend for my forward journey with PAPER to increasingly include, creating, promoting and working on projects that connect the many strands of ‘social health’ issues; with practical, inclusive PAPER MADE activities.

CLARE COLBY Spring 2019 – a reworking of historic journal entries and blog posts about my work with PAPER