Art in Art in Print is a new irregular, ongoing series of projects in which artists create art within the journal—not a piece of art that exists somewhere else and is reproduced in the journal, but a project designed specifically for the material, technological and social context of Art in Print.
We are pleased to present Richard Tuttle’s Defining the Book: Scherenschnitt as the first of these projects.
As a venue for critical discussion of art and images, Art in Print necessarily and routinely “reproduces” works of art at the wrong scale, with the wrong materials and in the wrong context. Art history—and most other learning—would be curtailed to the level of the Dark Ages without such reproductions. But as a venue for critical discussion of—specifically—printed art, Art in Print is particularly conscious of the losses, distortions and misapprehensions that accumulate in the gap between the actual art object and its reproduction, whether that “original” in question is the Apollo Belvedere or Marcantonio’s engraving of the Apollo Belvedere
We felt we owed it to the readers of Art in Print to bring into its pages actual works of art—ink-on-paper beings that carry all the content the artist intended. Art designed expressly for this page.
There is no artist better fitted to launch this endeavor than Richard Tuttle. For 50 years, Tuttle has been nudging us to consider the tangled interdependencies that govern perception and understanding. The recent retrospective of his prints at Bowdoin College and its accompanying catalogue1 illuminate how he has brought his curiosity and attentiveness to bear on the physical characteristics and habitual allusiveness of the print. Often this has meant surfaces of tremendous delicacy or grit whose presence lies outside our common experience and lures us into slow and careful looking. In Scherenschnitt Tuttle uses a different strategy to capture eyes, mind and hand.
I am interested in the “imaginary or real?” as a source for art, because, like “love,” it skirts destructively close. For some reason, that produces the best art, like Virgil’s Eclogues and the ton of visual art inspired thus.
Richard Tuttle’s art wanders the edge of the ordinary while eliciting the reflective, unhurried consideration that is the essence of connoisseurship. In one eloquent etching project with Crown Point Press, Deep In the Snow (2005), he restructured the portfolio form in a way that forces the viewer’s hand and eye: a large etching mounted to the wall supports a green wire container holding 12 small, loose prints. Each is a different size, shape, color and character—one, shaped like an eccentric French curve, spills out like ivy from a window box—but to be seen fully, each must be removed from the basket. Thus handled and rearranged, the printed image becomes an object—a thing with a back as well as a front, weight as well as dimension, texture as well as color.
Unlike our ancestors, who merrily trimmed their Dürers to size before pasting them into albums, we have been taught to keep a safe distance from the art we love. We fret about dirt, light exposure, finger oils. We have got out of the habit of touching.
Scherenschnitt is conceived as an extension of Deep In the Snow. Made of commonplace materials that lack the charisma of etching, it lays down an alternate path into the unhurried gaze of Arcadia. The title translates as “scissors-cut” and refers to a tradition of intricate papercutting that stretches from Swiss folk art to the remarkable botanical silhouettes of Phillip Otto Runge (1777-1810). It is a print that you, the owner of this journal, are asked to cut out—it is your job to transform the image into an object, to decide, with the conviction demanded by scissors, which parts of the page matter. “Connoisseurship is about making distinctions,” Tuttle observes. “We often fail when it comes to the simplest things we have become used to, like the extraordinary.”
Several early collectors of John James Audubon’s double-elephant Birds of America took scissors to it: John Gould, the eminent ornithologist, snipped out body parts for comparative zoological study; the Marchioness of Hertford cut out whole birds to fill the Chinese wallpaper branches in her drawing room. Scherenschnitt, Tuttle says, should “walk the line Arcadia sets out. Astonishingly, that line suits printmaking. Destruction is also a gift from god.”
If you happen to own Deep In the Snow, the artist suggests, you might put this cutout in the basket with the others, but it is expected that each person will make different decisions. For Tuttle, that “collection of difference is the definition of the book”—an unknown number of pages, scattered across the world, bound by intention.
- Christina von Rotenhan, ed. Richard Tuttle Prints, exh. cat. (Brunswick: Bowdoin College and Zurich: JRP, 2014); “Richard Tuttle: A Print Retrospective,” Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick ME, 28 Jun–19 Oct 2014.