In a bid to return to basics and rediscover my joy of making I have been contemplating the simple form of a paper sheet. Now, a sheet of paper (or similar) alone has huge possibilities and is of course the substrate for much of human culture’s great art. At a more quotidian level, the single sheet can be a hugely democratic medium on which to convey an artistic idea; this can range from the humble postcard (perhaps the purest form of artist’s book?) through to the poster or hoarding. Or, to stretch the definition of a sheet to tearing point, what about the Nazca Lines of Peru: imagery on/in/as a surface at a landscape scale.
Anyway, my survey of the sheet overlooks these simplicities in favour of a move that for me really begins to bring the substrate forward, makes it more sculptural perhaps but also retains the portability of the sheet. It is of course the fold. It was on my BA Fine Art course at Exeter College of Art & Design in the early 1990s that I was first directly introduced to the artistic possibilities of folded paper. A mixed bag of us who had shunned the pathways of painting, sculpture, printmaking or photography) were collected together in a ‘visual research’ (I think that was the name) cluster under the care of the late Steve Berry. I don’t know how much Steve’s suggestions mattered to others but they meant a lot to me and I eagerly lapped up the knowledge imparted by a bookbinder that Steve got in to lead a demonstration and workshop (Rooks Books if I recall correctly). I also followed up Steve’s tip to visit the Cairn Gallery (then in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire) and meet Tom and Laurie Clarke. Tom and Laurie were hugely kind with their time, advice and encouragement and I was deeply impressed by the quiet certainty of what they were (and still are) doing. In turn this got me eventually into the artist’s book fair circuit where I came across other insprational artists, designers and small publishers such as Simon Cutts (workfortheeyetodo at this time now, with his partner Erica Van Horn, coracle), Colin Sackett (Uniformbooks), Ti Parks and many others.
Enough of the trip down memory lane. The here and now and just yesterday and tomorrow is that I still love the simple act of folding and what it can do structurally, conceptually, and visually to a sheet (of paper). This awakening during my degree may have seen a seed sown on ground already fertile with a pre-existing (and ongoing) love of maps and books (in their more widely published traditional format). The idea of an Ordnance Survey map as a sheet already conveying landscape expansiveness in hand-held form (through the power of scale) to then be folded down to (just about) pocket size is still, to me, a beautiful conceit. Yes, I know, Google maps on a smartphone now takes this nesting of scales and interactivity in yet further directions but it takes a certain kind of knowledge to go down that route and play with it creatively … I’ve dabbled there but I missed the physicality of the (paper) sheet.
So what I have spent a bit of time doing is starting to play with basic folded structures ably abetted by the word ‘fold’ (and avriations such as ‘enfolded’) to see what different folds do to how a folded sheet structure is encountered and how these folds might sit with text content.
I still very much enjoy the physical process of folding even if I have lost some of my previous precision. The click of bone folder against steel rule, the muffled scoring of the bone folder moving across and into the paper’s surface, the lifting of the paper and then the pressing and creasing to sharpen up the fold. All the while making sure that the paper’s grain is worked with (unless I’m being very lazy or trying to use up scrap paper to test out an initial idea).
[Of course, I also went to the etymology of the word’ fold’ hoping to descry some deep and vital meaning. Instead I find, appropriately, a painfully ancient word that has carried its own self-same meaning with it since the dawn of knowledge (well before I got up anyway) and sees the word bending back over itself across the world.]