Approaching paper as a ‘surrogate self’ for its corporeal qualities and similarity to skin (reacting to its environment and aging in unexpected ways) Báez created a series of large-scale works that refer to landscape, the body, and charged notions of female beauty. Interested in the histories of paper throughout different cultures, the artist began with the reference point of the figures in Persian miniatures and scrollery. She created her own figures based on women in YouTube videos of ‘twerking’ or ‘wilding’ fights, behavior that falls outside normal feminine ideals. These figures appear in her studio practice as well as the Dieu Donné work.
Báez created the figures through a subtractive process, drawing form by removing excess pulp on the screen, which was then couched, pressed, and collaged to the base sheet while still wet. Another innovative twist is Báez’s process of marbling pigmented pulp to create a sheet of marbled paper, where paper marbling is typically applied to the surface of the paper. Formation aid was used in a non-traditional way to slow the draining process and allow the arist to apply additional marbling and pulp painting to the top of the sheet in the deckle box while it continued to drain.
Working on several pieces simultaneously and intuitively by combining various papermaking processes and techniques, such as marbling, collaging, and pulp painting, the artist’s work evolved over the course of the residency, moving from using stencils to painting and shaping the pulp freehand, and from small to large scale. The artist said of Amy Jacobs, her studio collaborator, “Amy was an amazing collaborator-slash-magician. She made the transition from working in my studio to Dieu Donné seamless. She knows the process so well and is open to play, which allowed me to invent as I went along and just trust the materials, rather than try to impose something else on them.”
For the pieces in the exhibition I followed an intuitive process, allowing the materials to inform the work made. I enjoy exploring new, unexpected ways of using materials, which is why I was drawn to pulp painting, marbling and collaging freshly pulled sheets. All of these techniques are usually associated with surface, but in this body of work each gesture is structurally embedded in the form. The warp and pull of different kinds of paper was also a point of interest, since they allow for a more object like, corporeal experience of paper.
– Firelei Báez, 2013
Firelei Báez was born in the Dominican Republic and now resides and works in New York. Firelei received her BFA from The Cooper Union; went to the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculptures; and earned her MFA at Hunter College.