Let Your Love Flow
This is not about that old song by the Bellamy Brothers.
The Morgan Conservatory scored in a big way last year by landing a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and if you’ve been around the papermaking studio the last few months you’ve probably seen some of the result. Claudio Orso-Giacone, one of the artists supported there in apprenticeship to Morgan artistic director Tom Balbo, has been at work most days in a paper-making and woodcut-printing binge that will lead to an exhibit later this month. The exhibit, “Panta Rhei,” takes its name from Heraclitus’ philosophy, that “everything flows.”
Panta Rhei will bring together several realms of the artist’s work, including comparatively small, traditional woodcuts, as well as larger-than-life masks and sculptural puppets made from colorful, recycled cardboard as a resident artist for Parade the Circle and Oberlin’s Big Parade. Claudio’s son Paolo Orso will create an installation involving cut paper and projected light. But the centerpiece of the exhibit will be a series of large wood block prints, made on large sheets of handmade paper, created during that NEA-supported apprenticeship.
Orso is a traditional printmaker, working in one color (black), with each work consisting of a single impression from the block. He’s still doing that, but an ambitious and colorful twist. With Balbo’s guidance and hands-on help, The artist has been making large sheets of paper. By large, I mean four-foot by eight-foot sheets, hand-pulled from a custom vat and deckle.
The color comes not from printing additional blocks and additional inks, but by “pulp painting” in the production of each sheet of paper before the deckle is pulled from the slurry of pulp. Orso prints a sample proof of each woodcut on paper from a roll, and with that print near the vat for reference, he uses a plastic bottle full of tinted pulp to squirt the color into the pulp slurry, roughly in the location where the block—once printed—needs that color. It is not a precise process. The color is squirted by “eyeballing” where it should go, and on top of that the slurry is fluid. Then he and Balbo pull the deckle from the vat so the water can drain and leave behind a wet sheet of paper, colored as necessary in the locations where the figures in in each block need it: some blue for jeans, for example.
When those sheets are dry, he prints the block on top of it, and the color fields find their place. The plates print consistently, of course, but the paper making and coloring process makes each work completely unique.
Panta Rhei is an ambitious and entrepreneurial affair. It was not a body of work completed and then pitched to a gallery before the exhibit dates were booked. Rather, given the prospect of creating with the NEA’s and the Morgan’s support, Orso booked a big venue—the Bostwick Design Art Initiative, which consists of the multiple rooms of William Busta’s former gallery on Prospect—and set the date, and got to work on the idea. The outcome was not at all certain. All who have watched this process are likely in some state of suspense, not only for the result of combining pulp painting and wood block printing, but also to see how Orso has plied his favorite themes, which have to do with politics, oppressive systems, and the people who have to navigate them.
Panta Rhei opens with a reception from 5 to 9 pm Friday, January 24 at the Bostwick Design Art Initiative space, 2731 Prospect Ave. Cleveland. Watch CAN Blog for a review.
In the mean time:
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