Sunday, September 5, 2010

Vibrating Nature: The Art of John Babcock

John Babcock, Mandjet, Vessel for Ra
2010, 84"x 108" pigmented cotton, abaca and kozo fiber paper
If you happen to be in or near Santa Cruz, CA, a new paper exhibition called It's in the Pulp: The Art of Papermaking is up at the Museum of Art and History and will be showing until November 14th.

Artists whose work is included are John Babcock; Charles
Hilger; Jody Alexander; Gloria Alford; Susana Arias; Bonnie Britton; Madeline de Joly; Laddie John Dill; Alan Firestone; Evelyn Hirsch; Louise Nevelson; Bob Nugent; Inez Storer; Katherine Lipke; Karen Laubhan; Charles Strong; Cristie Thomas; Donna Thomas; Peter Thomas; William Tucker; Garner Tullis; David Whipple; Joseph Zirker.

The renaissance of handmade paper as an art form had some vital roots in Santa Cruz County: In 1972, Garner Tullis opened the International Institute of Experimental Printmaking inspiring experimentation and offering collaborative opportunities for artists to work in the medium of hand made paper bringing artists like "Charles Hilger, John Babcock and Joseph Zirker to the area. Working closely together as well as independently, these artists sought to push the medium to its limits, and firmly established paper as an artistic medium."1
Note: I inherited a Chuck Hilger vacuum casting system and have an article I wrote about early experiments with it in 1986 up on our site. Read it.
I got a wonderful studio visit from John earlier this spring too: an off-the-highway en-route-home visit as he returned from a pulp painting symposium held at the Southwest School of Art and Craft in San Antonio...a focused meeting of the leading pulp painters in the field: great, creative minds together!

Of the six works John Babcock has in the show, two are new this year. "Streamer" is a sculpture piece 40 inches in diameter, comprised of 28 sheets of paper 32 feet long, hanging in the stairway of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. "Mandjet, Vessel for Ra", inspired by Egyptian mythology, is a large work featured in the main gallery and is shown above.

John Babcock
Rhythm Drift
above, with detail
2008, 21" X 46"
pigmented cotton and abaca fiber paper

I've always adored John's work: when I got to visit him in his Santa Cruz County studio in 1997, I was so struck by the subtleties of surface and color in these huge pulp paintings. What you can't fully see in the photos is the matte vs. shiny areas produced by qualities of his fiber choices (i.e. cotton, abaca, kozo, gampi) that he employs so richly in his work. Babcock's use of color is both breathtaking and inspirational. My life focus and research in Japan has enamored me of color gradation and I find myself just magnetized to Babcock's work.

No wonder! When I just now looked for a statement by him, I was thrilled (but not surprised!) to discover that we resonate with similar inspiration: earth pigments, earth forms, Japanese aesthetics... Indeed in his bio, I found this:

"John’s art reflects a unique exploration of color relationships to evoke an emotional response. About his work he states, 'I gravitate to earth forms for inspiration, because perhaps, much of the colors that I use are earth-derived pigments. I have drawn upon images that come to me when I contemplate the pulsating or vibrating nature of waves, windblown sand, or Japanese rock gardens. I seek to capture the essence of these experiences and document them through the peculiarities of colored paper.' "2


1, accessed 9/4/10
2, accessed 9/4/10