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It might be a really difficult task to find an artist totally strange to the very idea of eternity and his/her place in it. Because of that, an artist normally feels very serious about him/herself, his/her own art and normally choses those techniques and materials that could be regarded as either everlasting, or pretty long existing at least: fresco, mosaic, easel painting.

All these techniques are accustomed to provide for a solemn, a serious, or even a momentous artistic declaration.

However, it had been long since another material, paper, was used for the goals of teaching, learning, murmuring, roaring, searching for a proper word or intonation, for any draft or rough work, in short. The material, which is evanescent, rather cheap and just merely touching the idea of eternity.  

The paper by definition is a so-called “low” material: finally it is her that we use for some sanitary needs, although such an expert in this question as Rabelais would recommend us a newly-born goose.

It is paper that preserved for us the first student experiences of Durer, Lautrec and Picasso, it is thanks to her that we can be witnessing the way of Leonardo or Michelangelo artistic thinking, or peeping the immediate reactions of Tintoretto, Goya and Turner. It is to paper that Schiele, Rubens and Tiepolo confided their most intimate sentiments.

In other words, while walls, wood and canvas were considered to be appropriate for serving the most exquisite delicacies in the noble dinner-rooms of fine arts, paper had always played a part of a kitchen-room for the art cooking.

However, the relations between artists and paper were not only limited by learning or training in drafts and sketches. As soon as the first book appeared in the world the artists started to nurse it as well. The art of book had passed a long way from the décor and miniatures to commixes and those editions where words are only illustrating the visual content. The invention of publishing led to appearance of such new techniques as xylography, eau forte, lithography etc. It provided for the phenomena of “mass production” art on paper, democratic and accessible to everyone, with the price hundreds of times less than the art on wood or canvas. As a result, today any Master’s drawing, not depending on its real artistic value, will be evaluated many times less than the same Master’s painting or sculpture (Schiele, Mur). That causes such curious options as a possibility of purchasing some perfect Japanese engraving of the eighteenth, beginning of the nineteenth centuries (neither Utamaro, nor Hiroshige) for some reasonable 100-500 Euros. That also causes a certain disdain that some lovers of fine arts feel about prints implying them not to be pieces of the author’s unique art. Go prove then to such a snobbish lover that any engraving stamp differs from the other and that one Rembrandt’s reprint contains more unique traits than all creative works of some other painter. However, there’s no smoke without fire, and we should honestly remark that in many cases silk screen printing is produced not by the author, but by the publishers, and such technique as polymeric helioengraving is actually replica. However, all the stamps are signed and numbered by the artists, the practice which is merely awkward, to put it diplomatically.

We should also remark that paper is an experienced and love-thirsty girl. Her social circle is not limited by such gentlemen as fusain, pencil and chalk. Crayons, water-color, drawing ink, tempera, even oil are trying to outdo each other in wooing her, and not unsuccessfully.

Such popularity is not surprising at all, for you should really try hard to go find a lady with the traits so peculiar and attractive that all the others comparing to her seem to look if not merely boring than definitely not surprising in any aspect. What is, tell me please, the real difference of one wall from another? No real difference, I declare to you. And wood?.. Well, possibly canvasses with different primary painting can be not identic, but they are so predictable. However, paper is not… Where else one can find a lady so sudden, so incredible, so, dare I say it, live? Paper can be produced from plants, junk, cellulose and garbage. Her body is miraculously various and satisfies any taste: plump and corpulent, thick and athletic, firm, thin as a stick. Her texture the more so: bump and grainy in different ways, ribby, flat as silk, tender as velvet, slippery like conger, fluffy like peach, glittering like eyes of a fifteen-year old minx, matte like the English lady’s skin… And one cannot count the number of tinges and semi-colors in the palette between two absolute extremes, white and black. Touching her, caressing her in different ways (don’t catch me up) in a good shop (e.g. Moulin a Papier Vallis Clausa located on the first paper factory of France in Fontaine de Vaucluse, or some others on the boulevard de Voltaire and boulevard de Pasteur in Paris) one can feel the same as if peeping to the harem of the Turkish sultan or finding oneself in a good enoteca (I would recommend Roman Cul de Sac on Piazza di Pascuino and Enoteca al Parliamento on Via dei Prefetti). It is a combination of pure delight caused by the incredible variety of characters and features and sorrow caused by the fact that one cannot try and learn everything.

While creating a piece of art it is paper (being feminine by reason), not material (being masculine by reason, as well), who plays the decisive part, the same as different women bearing and bringing up children from one man. I am aware of the fact how doubtful this metaphor might sound to someone, but let it be as a figure of speech. One and the same stroke of water-color, same as the touch of a pencil may look very differently on the various types of paper. And when paper is bored by the company of materials she can be satisfied with herself only, giving birth to such masterpieces as collages by Matisse. Paper is able to absorb most different things, from the wings of butterflies and the leaves of plants to wire and filings.

In the 20th century the range of use of paper widened remarkably, which was mainly the consequence of the publishing development. Today one would not be amazed to see eau forte of three meters size, not to mention silk screen printing. From the chamber space of a room paper walked into the squares and streets. She is able not only to whisper verses, but to chant slogans and spiel pathetically – to prove that one should just direct one’s eyes to all those posters and ads everywhere. Paper serves the vulgar pops – nobody can eventually prevent the victorious savage to use the priceless ceramics of the Tan dynasty epoch for lining the walls of his lavatory. Paper is able to be everything. She can be a decorative spot in the interior, a poster ad on the street, an installation in the museum. However, there are other materials, from textile and ceramics to mosaic and frescos that can be competitive to paper in playing all these parts.

But we still have a certain sphere where paper has no competitor, and it is a chamber format. Nowhere and never may an artist be so sincere as in the very moment when, without any hidden agenda, without taking care of eternity, he touches a sheet of paper with his pencil. “A drawing is the ultimate value of art”, these words by Ingres are relevant today even more than in any previous epoch. The portrait of Signorelli, the bushes of Claude, the wrist of Tiepolo, the nudes of Rodin, the leave of Matisse, the bottle of Morandi, the ballerina of Lebedev are the most non-pretentious, frank, true and spontaneous among the artistic declarations. Any drawing is the most intimate among all possible contacts between an artist and his audience.

So, if you truly love arts, but do not match Abramovich or some Rothschild, you should not worry. Let them purchase the enormous canvases and luxurious marble. You can buy a much cheaper sheet of paper with some picture created with pencil, water-color or etching needle. And you’ll be happy indeed, upon my word!


With kind regards,

Sasha OKUN                                                                                  

                                                                                                                                               Translation: Andrey MASHINYAN

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