By John Dunkelgrün.
Modern Art on an ancient medium
Paper was developed in many places all over the globe. It’s basic material can vary but it is always some form of cellulose. Reeds, rice, linen, wood chips are all good source materials. It is easy to see why it is so obiquitous. Once the process is developed, paper is a much easier carrier of messages or images than leather, clay or stone. Mexico has its very own indiginous paper, papel amate. It is a centuries old method of making paper from tree bark (usualy of fig, ficus or mulberry trees). It is made by boiling strips of the bark and – on a smooth flat stone – pounding the wet strips into a pulp. When the pulp dries it has a parchment-like appearance. The side that was in contact with the stone is smooth enough to write or paint on. The indiginous people used it for messages but also for ceremonial religious uses, which is why the Spanish invaders outlawed it. Luckily the technique survived and today there is a lot of artisanal production of mainly decorative papel amate objects.
Sergio Lopez Orozco (Mexico City 1946) was fascinated by paper all his life. He travelled to the cities in Mexico that are most famous for their amate production and studied artisanal paper making with experts in Japan, Egypt, Hawai and Germany. He was the first to recognise that while the pulped bark mass was still wet, it could be molded, scratched, and shaped. He could also insert other materials such as twigs, yarn or textiles. He started to make abstact constructions with his amate and used authentic dyes to colour them. In this way he created works which, while modern in appearance, are quintessentially Mexican. It isn’t immediately clear whether that is because of the base material, the colours used or the images he created. My personal guess is, that it is the coming together of all of those. Today there are many artists using papel amate for modern art work, most of them taught by Lopez Orozco.
Lopez Orozco has had a very successful career, not only as an artist, but also as a writer on papel amate and its history, on Mexican artists and much more. He has taught extensively in Mexico and abroad.