Dancing on Water: Color Waves at the Morgan Paper Conservatory
On view through May 26 at the Morgan Paper Conservatory, Color Waves features signature work of Antonio Vélez Celemín and his collaborations with Luciene Fávero, prints by Iris Nevins, Steve Pittelkow, among other international artists. In this rare exhibition we get a glimpse of the art of master paper marblers and their refined craft. Marbling is two-dimensional yoga; it strives to teach the marbler balance, timing, and temperament in a way no other art form can. For those unfamiliar with the process of marbling, it involves floating diluted paint on a thickened bed of water, then working with an instrument to draw, rake, or disrupt the freshly dropped paint. This procedure produces a unique, floating pattern. A sheet of paper is lain on the surface of the water and pulled free to make a monoprint. It’s instant gratification. The process is entrenching, addictive; and to an extent baffling (having dabbled in marbling myself).
To make informed decisions that transcend marbling’s historical threads (circa 1500-1600’s in Turkey), one must have mastered all the formal patterns and be prepared to grapple with the consequences of letting go. The marbled work on view in Color Waves can take a lifetime of practice and it is both a treasure and a rarity to have this collection present in Cleveland.
Work featured predates to Suminigashi (ink on water circa 12th Century, Japan) reprinted by Celemín, historical Ebru (Turkish Style marbling) by Betúl Singúlar and Contemporary Spanish and American designs. Traditionally marbling has been used to adorn the interior or exterior parts of books or important manuscripts. Today we see it as an art form in itself.
Steve Pittelkow, a virtuoso American marbler debuts several newer works. One in particular, Marbled Heads, captures a vibrant Spanish moiré that is reminiscent of a summer solstice tide underwater at dusk. Mood and craftsmanship are presented at a flawless or unparalleled level. Also on view by Pittelkow is a silkscreen print marbled with what looks like a freestyle moiré pattern. It’s a combination that references 1960s poster design reminiscent of Psychedelic or Pop Art. Another print akin to this silkscreen double-marble is Thinking Man, which depicts a tall man in a hat flanked by a reindeer and an upside-down figure pointing in the upper left corner. Numbers circling the main character’s head, lightly embedded in the light blue tone of the marble, somewhat left-over from the cyanotype under-print. Pittelkow reveals a range of work in the show that is both, traditional (in process), and pop and surrealist inspired.
Exhibited close to the work by Pittelkow is work by renowned marbler Iris Nevins; a contemporary “Sun Marble” or “Tiger Eye” pattern. One of the more complex patterns to master in the practice because of the degree of difficulty in mixing the chemicals. This pattern has been around for over a century originating in Germany in the mid 1800s. Modern day adaptations include it with a pebble or stone pattern as pictured in the Nevins print.
Accompanied this print is one of Celemín’s prints that depicts the “Sun Marble” or “Tiger Eye” pattern in Expansion I and Expansion II. Here the eyes are crying and dancing in and around a central path. To think that a painting can weep, or paper can cry is a more contemporary notion.
Celemín, who was also present for opening night, was able to expand on some of the work. When asked about one of the prints titled, Antonio’s New Pattern, he explained that it was one of his most recent signature prints. Having some familiarity with the process, history and trajectory of marbling I can honestly say this is a new style. It appears to combine segments of a serpentine pattern and a peacock pattern with a waved herringbone stripe. This print is handmade without a rake and truly one of a kind. Antonio allows space to be the answer. He delicately allows the page to breath, the design to dither and dance, expanding like liquid whips tickling the edges of the page.
These are spicy designs, fresh in energy and vigor, and unusual amongst other contemporary marbling. This design along with Pink Owl and Mirror Flowers, gather hand-drawn adornment and artifice from the creation of drawing on water.These present a contemporary shift in marbling practice. What distinguishes these signature prints from other master marbled works is that the design floats and does not immediately cling to the edge of the page. Celemín opens up the space close to the edge, engaging the viewer while emphasizing a solo floating motif that is grounded by negative space. He uses the page like a painter—one that knows just how to manipulate the water and paint. If you look at this exhibition from the lens of an artist, you will see the beauty in every swirling gesture with paint and water captured on paper. If you view the work from any other point of view, it’s guaranteed that you will still get inspired and uplifted by the sheer power and beauty of the designs. This exhibition is worthy of an extended look and mindful appreciation. On view until May 26.
Jenniffer Omaitz is an abstract painter, installation artist who also runs JC Marbling a small marbling and art book studio in Kent, Ohio.