Pushing Paper, Pulling Sheets: Barbara Landes in the StudioNovember 21, 2014
In the papermaking studio, mutely colored structures twist and climb, forming a rocky mountain-like structure. Upon first glance, you might not guess these sturdy structures were handmade paper, but at the hands of Art-in-Ed Workspace resident Barbara Landes, paper becomes a three dimensional canvas.
“What made me fall in love with [paper] in the first place was the freedom of it,” says Barbara, who is originally trained as a painter and printmaker. “When I was making prints, I was always trying to get away from the rectangle.”
Her journey with papermaking began in 2001 when she took her first class at Dieu Donné, a papermaking studio and residency program in New York City, and continued when she took two SAI classes at WSW ten years later. Using the paper as a surface for her printmaking, a new liveliness emerged in her work as she responded to its texture and color. “Then the paper just took over,” she says with a smile.
Her cast paper sculptures mimic the gesture of fabric in gravity-defying postures. Collaging handmade sheets while they’re wet, she wraps the paper around found materials—wood, branches, rocks, foam blocks—to create intriguing folds and chasms in the paper’s final shape. She often juxtaposes handmade paper with these found objects in playful and strange compositions, presenting a curious site for the viewer. And her latest work in WSW’s papermaking studio continues this spirit of experimentation.Around the studio, clothespins and foam blocks support the infrastructure of Barbara’s paper as it dries into complex forms. Opening into “mouths” as Barbara likes to call them, her new works are inspired by the rocky landscape of Colorado, where she recently visited with her husband. “I was really moved by these red rocks,” she says. “They were these huge red rocks that protrude out of the ground in all of these contorted fingers. When you walk around, they change.”
Several of Barbara’s finished free-standing paper structures have that same dimensionality, but formed by a complex patchwork of cotton and overbeaten abaca fibers, instead of rock. Cotton accounts for the bulk of their thick, rectangular patches, while the abaca provides the foundational structure, shrinking and contorting the overall shape as it dries.
Armed with her “paper palette,” Barbara also paints with pigmented fibers on flat sheets and sculpted forms, even using stencils as she would with printmaking. The resulting surface shows off a combination of natural and pigmented fibers, as well as pulp painting, in a muted, yet playful tone.
Working with WSW’s vacuum table, which presses excess water out of the paper, has drastically reduced the amount of time it takes for sheets to reach a consistency for Barbara’s manipulation. It’s enabled her to branch further out of her comfort zone to experiment with the sculptural capacities of paper in an unexpected way: embedding objects within the skin of her handmade shapes. Bobby pins, kitchen scrubbies, metal springs, sticks, and rice all create unusual textures within these new paper forms.
“When I buy expensive materials, I get afraid to use them. I can’t touch them, and I don’t have the freedom to work with them,” she explains. Less vibrant in color and smaller in form than her vertical rock formations, these embedded pieces resemble miniature landscapes with their cavernous folds.
“Paper, for me, is such a tactile experience; I like for people to touch my work,” she explains. “In terms for scale, I tend to work for my own body…I like for a person to feel that interaction.” Barbara considers these works as experimental prototypes for future sculptures that will grow in scale, and become more wavelike and monochromatic to impact the viewer’s sense of space.
“That’s why I fell in love with paper,” Barbara says. “The possibilities felt endless.”
Barbara Landes is an artist and teacher living in Madison, WI. She received an MFA from the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 2013, and an MFA in Painting from the New York Academy of Art in 1997. She draws inspiration from artists like Robert Rauschenberg, Judy Pfaff, Jessica Stockholder, Nicola Lopez, and El Anatsui, who have also taken painting and printmaking off the wall. View more of Barbara’s work at www.barbaralandes.com.