Handmade Paper as a Means of Artistic Expression

ANNE VILSBØLL is one of the world’s foremost paper artists.

Hugh O’Brian

Although she may not be well known in the large-scale paper manufacturing industry, she is truly famous among hand papermakers, paper artists and art collectors throughout the world. She has for over three decades used paper as a means of artistic expression, creating unique works of art using paper and pulp as the media. She has worked with hand papermakers all over the world and was a founding member of the International Association of Hand Papermakers and Paper Artists (IAPMA) in 1986, for which she functioned as an editor and later as president 1986 – 2000.

To those of us in the papermaking industry, much of our time and attention is consumed with squeezing more and better paper out of giant, multi-million dollar, high-speed paper machines. Sometimes, it can be refreshing to take a step back a look at this unique material that we work with from a more artistic and historic angle. Anne Vilsbøll has spent a lifetime doing just that.

Historically, paper as a handmade material was first developed in China around 2000 years ago, and eventually made its way via the Silk Road to Europe a thousand years later. It then jumped over to North America around the 1600s. Although Anne’s history is much more recent, she has worked with hand papermaking on six continents over the past 30 years.

Putting painting and sculpting together “My interest can be summarized in using handmade paper as an artistic means of expression. When in my 20s, I was interested in studying at the Danish Academy of arts although my parents strongly discouraged me from pursuing it, as they envisioned me earning my living! In spite of this, I was very keen on becoming an artist and entering an art school, where I could choose my own direction. In Denmark at the time one had to choose direction either as a painter or as a sculptor etc., but, being somewhat rebellious, I did not want to be put in a box: I wanted to combine everything. I studied French at the Universities in Copenhagen and in Aix-en-Provence, visual communication at Jonstrup Seminarium and Danmarks Laererhoejskole and became a professor, before I finally did what I felt I had to do!”

“I had always been curious about unique surfaces to work on. I was searching for something that I could manipulate and influence, observe how color interacted, and how paints were absorbed. An uncle of mine, who lived in New York, suggested that it was perhaps better to study in the United States where I could combine various disciplines. I also was very interested in art history and eventually it later became clear to me that papermaking was a perfect combination where I could learn about and apply both painting and sculpture, while also adding the very interesting historical aspect of handmade paper through the centuries.” In this way, Anne later discovered that paper itself could be an art form.

In the early 1980s, she arrived in New York and was introduced to artist-printmaker Frank Eckmair, professor at Buffalo State College, where he had established Buffalo Prints and Paper. “Frank had assisted many other colleges in establishing their own handmade paper mills, widely lecturing and demonstrating the techniques. He opened up the world of handmade paper for me and introduced me to all the key people in the US who at that time were taking part in the renaissance of the nearly lost art of hand papermaking. I went from Buffalo to California and from California to New Mexico and everywhere I absorbed what I could on handmade paper.”

Rolex, Maersk and others. . . Through her global career, Anne has created numerous unique works of art for thousands of clients including giants like the Swiss company Rolex, and the Danish company Maersk, as well as numerous private collectors, working with galleries. She is perhaps most famous for her world-class paintings, in which she makes her own handmade paper and then uses pigments and binders absorbed by the paper, according to the capacity of different fibers and their beating time.

In the beginning of her career, Anne travelled the world to visit paper mills – first in Europe, then Japan and China, Burma, Thailand, Nepal, India, South Africa and South America. She wrote numerous articles on her experiences, as well as 3 books for Borgen Publisher. She created “ The Tiny Paper Factory” to be used in schools, gave workshops, lectures, taught at a number of Art Academies and Design Schools in Scandinavia, wanting to share her knowledge. She organized the gigantic projects Paper Path and Paper Road, sponsored by Post Denmark, when Copenhagen was the Cultural Capital in 1996, and later she has been the curator of numerous paper exhibitions. Always willing to share, Anne became baptized the Guru of handmade paper in Scandinavia. Successfully pursuing her passion first and foremost through her many examinations, doing her own work as an artist, Anne today moves between her three homes in Denmark, France and India.

Rhino dung for paper. As she has traveled the world she has experimented with all kinds of various raw materials and fibers to build the aqueous web which when dry becomes the papermaking surface. She tells us that she has even used rhino and elephant dung (collected with plastic gloves!) for papermaking and when we visited her in her beautiful atelier in St. Jeannet, France, just above Nice and looking out over the Riviera, she was carrying out an experiment to use lichen (a mixture of fungi and algae that grows on rocks) embedded in a paper mat made of banana peel fibers. Talk about pushing the boundaries of papermaking!

She has also worked with pulp in various unique ways. “I had a pulp sprayer and I experimented with spraying entire walls with pulp.” She has done everything possible with pulp, using it as a media and also playing on the transparency properties of pulp sheets and paper. Explaining that she believes that in the Western part of the world there is a tradition for prints and two-dimensional work with paper, while in the East the paper is strong and thin and therefore used for three-dimensional work, she has spent a lot of time and energy trying to fuse those two different ways of using paper.

All people love making paper Anne says she has always loved what she is doing, and wanted to share it with a lot of people. “I think all people love making a sheet of paper because - as they say - ‘Wow that was so easy!’ But when you say ‘I want the paper to do this and that,’ then the difficulties arrive.”

She has recently authored a fantastic book called Anne Vilsbøll - The Language of Paper, Edition Heede & Moestrup, published in 2011 and highly recommended for anyone who is interested in the fascinating artistic dimensions that paper has to offer.

In the paper industry in which many of us work, it is easy to feel that we are just simply producing an industrial commodity. I personally have been involved in papermaking as a pulp and paper engineer and journalist for more than 35 years and I have often said that I see papermaking as both an art and science. Clearly Anne Vilsbøll has taken the combined art and science of papermaking to an entirely new level. *

•Anyone interested in learning more about Anne Vilsbøll and her works may find a visit to the following websites to be well worth the effort:

Google search on www.google.com“Anne Vilsboll images”


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History of_paper

To get the book Anne Vilsbøll - The Language of Paper, contact annevilsboll@gmail.com and Anne will make sure it arrives through her distributor.

Login or Register to publish a comment