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More on Paperclay
by Graham Hay

Because of the rapid drying of dry-to-dry joins, and the strength of unfired paperclay, walls cannot only be built upwards but also horizontally and downwards. After building a dry rod frame, I build inwards, outwards, downwards or upwards from it by rods, planes or spheres. The base frame can be a single vertical sheet, a cone, a cube of planes or rods, or any other form. For joining two curved dry surfaces, I use plastic paperclay dipped in paperclay slip to increase the contact surfaces and strength of the join. I anticipate unusual forms as others also gain control over these multi-directional building techniques. Wool thread or string can be soaked in paperclay slip, allowed to dry completely before re-soaking it again. Three or more soaking/drying cycles create a good sized rod. This is a quick way to build strong straight or curved rods, rather than rolling them out. They can be cut by scissors to the desired length for building. Alternatively, while plastic, these string clay rods can be draped over a form to dry in curving lines. More recently, I have rolled out or cut slabs into tapered rods of plastic paperclay which are bent into curves and spirals before drying. These can be then 'spot-welded' with slip from a squeeze bottle to form supports or decoration for delicate objects.

Graham Hay with Paperclay Sculpture Having used paperclay for more than four years, increasingly I find myself considering sources of paper and its role in our lives. Despite the promise of an electronic society, the computer has increased the volume of paper we handle daily: our weekend newspaper now boasts more than 432 pages of news and advertisements. Similarly, the annual distribution and recycling of yellow and white phone books creates a mountain of paper. Without paper, our whole administration and knowledge systems would collapse. More specifically, for artists, paper is essential. Apart from increasing the strength of a clay body, paper underpins most artistic practices; we use it to record ideas, design and record our ceramic work, as well as do our accounts and correspond with customers, galleries and shops. Similarly, the documentation and organisation of exhibitions involves a huge amount of paper for invitations, grant applications, press releases, catalogues and posters. In two dimensional art practices, such as printing and painting, contemporary art simply would not exist without paper. How many of us have a small home library of books and journals such as Ceramics: Art and Perception? We line our homes and offices with masses of paper as if we are creating paper nests or cocoons. Even when recycling paper into my paperclay, I could not keep up with the paper tide, so when a local paperclay became available for conventional clay prices I began to create paper sculptures. After stacking the paper I drilled, cut, carved, sanded and bound it. Following this experience, I began to see paperclay as a solid material that we can shape and refine into different forms before finally assembling the dried pieces into a completed work.

I also considered our local use of clay as a building material. Because of wood-eating white ants, most of our old buildings and modern houses are made from ceramic bricks. So along with the necessary paperwork these brick buildings shape how architecture is organised and presented. Consequently I began to make tiny paperclay bricks which, when dry, I joined together into organic forms. For me, these were more about creating internal spaces than external forms, that is, the public and private spaces in which we and art exist. Ceramic art has a number of clearly defined schools of aesthetics arising from cultural influences and from the physical properties and limitations of the material. Paperclay enables the artist to use traditional ceramic building techniques as well as skills borrowed from elsewhere. Consequently the work can mimic many of the forms created in these materials. However, we already have a tradition through ceramists: Henry Pimm (1980s), Richard Notkin and Adrian Saxe, who create ceramic objects which imitate wood or metal objects. The fundamental difference here is process rather than imitation, for paperclay enables us to easily create this type of work with some expertise. If paperclay removes the clay skills necessary to create these illusions, does this necessarily alter the significance of these artworks and traditional ceramic skill hierarchies?

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