“All art is but dirtying the paper delicately.” – John Ruskin
Heather James Fine Art presents an exhibition on an overlooked area of art and art history: works on paper. This term encompasses a wide range of works – fully executed paintings, finished drawings, sketches, studies. What unites them is that they use the same support, paper, which provides its own advantages and disadvantages to canvases or wood. Despite this large category, works on paper are sometimes dismissed. This exhibition seeks to help rectify this line of thought and showcase the diversity and possibilities artists have found on the humble paper.
The prevailing belief with works on paper is that they are often just sketches or studies. This rejection glosses over that these sketches provide a key understanding to an artist’s process, whether the physical means of translating an idea into reality for a specific work or the development of an artist over the course of their career. This show covers both lines of inquiry. The Cezanne study clues us into the formation of figures and the artist’s contemplation of composition. The final painting is in the famed Yale University Art Gallery. On the flipside, the Rosenquist study gives clues into the development of the artist. The accessible nature of paper allows artists to create works quickly. The drawing by Warhol taps into his background in commercial art and advertising, a background that would see him redefine art through the lens of commerce and popular media.
Artists have also utilized the unique nature of paper. Collage is a great example of using paper to create complex works of art. Other artists have utilized the disposable nature of paper such as newspaper or even menus to create works that transcend the medium’s ephemeral qualities. The combination of an item like newspaper with quick and colorful brushwork supports the transience of the materials while transforming into an art that will speak to generations to come.Inquire
Paul Cezanne, Étude pour “La Partie de pêche”, 1872-75
But the majority of pieces in the exhibition are complete, final works – not studies or preparatory sketches or even something dashed out quickly. These works are carefully planned and executed and utilize a wide range of materials from pencil to charcoal to watercolor to acrylic. For example, much of Winslow Homer’s fame lay in his facility with watercolor, which relies on the absorbent nature of paper. Homer even quipped, “You will see, in the future I will live by my watercolors.” On the flipside, watercolor, specifically gouache, was both an outlet and a return to his roots for Alexander Calder.
Works on paper have always played an important role for artists and in art history. For artists, works on paper shape their practice as important steps to paintings and as final pieces in of themselves. For collectors, works on paper can be the catalyst to collecting, an entry point to establishing a collection, and even the sole focus of collecting. For museums, exhibitions have become vital entry points to understanding and revealing new insights into artists, even those as intensely studied as Picasso, Cézanne, Calder, or Warhol. Beyond these shows, new museum institutions are being built and developed every year that are solely dedicated to works on paper, the specific needs of the medium and their history. Works on paper are an important and vital part of art and culture.