The Dieu Donné Workspace Program is a technically rewarding, challenging and intimate experience facilitated by a passionate staff that always considers the artist’s work first. I knew from the beginning that being selected came with a level of responsibility not only to my own work and ideas, but also to a community recognized for more than three decades of expertise in realizing an artist’s vision. Steve Orlando, my collaborator, made me feel at ease right away and showed me how certain aspects of my work could translate into handmade paper work.
The first few days on the wet floor helped me understand the papermaking process, while simultaneously considering my own aesthetic and how it could be applied. I’ve always thought of paper as a sort of landscape, and my first breakthrough dealt directly with the use of a plastic molded map of Pennsylvania’s mountainous topography. I used the dimensional map to create a number of cast relief pulp pieces; it was like making pies, using the same ingredients in a different order each time. At one point I used a syringe to inject straight pigment directly into the wet pulp. The resulting pieces became “Terraformation Triptych, 2008” (see below).
In my Brooklyn studio, I had just begun experimenting with the use of non-art materials, such as aluminized Mylar thermal blankets used in the space program. Steve and I talked at length about the blankets’ inorganic properties that would make it very difficult to incorporate into paper. Through a small feat of engineering, we sandwiched the thermal blankets between layered sheets of cotton and abaca paper by way of cutout “windows.” Although the process was painstaking, Steve and I patiently made several pieces that not only worked technically, but also inspired me to continue exploring this and other non-art materials.
I can’t stress enough the endless possibilities that working at Dieu Donné has opened up to me. At the end of each day I found myself looking at pieces that are the start of many more landscapes to discover.
–Vargas-Suarez Universal, 2008
Born in Mexico City, Vargas-Suarez Universal studied Astronomy and Art History at the University of Texas at Austin and attended Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s Mini-Med School Program. He now lives and works in New York.