Enviropak Rules

Another box of samples arrived last week, again courtesy of Enviropak. Thank you! You guys make the best molded pulp products.

I am very grateful for your continued support on this project.

Some weeks ago I created an American flag piece and sent it to them as a thank you for their first box of samples (Molded Glory, seen below). It turns out that the piece was created on a brand new Enviropak product called Enviroguard, which is basically a sheet of pulp with multiple small half-domes molded into the sheet. Kind of like semi-rigid bubble wrap. At first I thought that it was another purpose-built piece of protective packaging – I guessed that it was designed to hold small widgets of some kind. But no! It’s a stand alone multi-purpose sheet designed to protect anything. Brilliant! Click on their website’s “newsletter” link to learn more.

I wonder if it could be used as the protective layer inside the helmet I proposed in the previous post…

Regardless, the new box of samples held a lot of great items, including a small roll of Enviroguard. I’ve been painting and shooting furiously. Should be finished up shortly as the pre-press work is really piling up now.

That’s it – just wanted to give a shout-out to Bill Noble and team. Thanks, Enviropak!


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I recently spoke by phone to Randy at the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute. The reason? I wanted to know if molded pulp had potential as disposable head safety gear.

If you think about it, one of molded pulp’s key benefits is impact protection. Practically all of the pieces I’ve been working with have been highly engineered to protect contents from impact. And not just any contents – each molded piece has been specifically designed to fit and protect a specific piece of equipment.

So why not design molded pulp as protection for a human head?

Here are some of the potential obstacles that molded pulp must overcome, as detailed by Randy:

• Appearance. Consumers do not want bulky headgear. Anything beyond 1.5 inches gives people a “mushroom head” appearance. Best case for appearance is 1 inch thickness; at 2 inches and beyond, people will not wear the mushroom.

• Weather resistance. A bicycle helmet must be able to get wet and still protect. I believe that he said that a 24 hour immersion test was the standard that must be met.

• Quality control. The helmet must be produced to a very exact standard, not just for one piece, but for many many pieces in a huge factory run.

• G-force abatement. The helmet must meet specific g-force abatement tests, which drop helmets (with a headform inside) from a height of up to 2 meters onto an anvil.

• The strap. The strap must stay attached to the helmet under impact conditions.

• Low friction. The outer surface of the helmet bust be very smooth to minimize friction between the helmet and the road/curb/whatever. Randy said that a bowling ball had the ideal surface for a helmet.

Wow, that’s a long list of design specifications to be met, and there are still others. Yet I still feel that molded pulp has potential here to meet a need for a disposable, single-use helmet.

The helmet design I envision has two pieces: 1) a smooth, reusable outer plastic piece to provide weather resistance, strap attachment and low friction on an impact surface, and ; 2) an inner molded pulp liner to provide the g-force reduction.

It is an interesting design challenge. I wonder if a molded pulp manufacturer would be interested in taking up the challenge? I’m sure that the BHSI would be eager to lend a hand, and so would I.

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The Noble Gesture

I received this photo last night. It’s a mightily awesome photo. It shows the artist Knox Martin high atop a cherry picker and painting a new signature on his mural, Venus.

Web cam capture of Knox Martin at work

Web cam capture of Knox Martin at work, circa early 2008.

Many Manhattan commuters know Venus well. She has existed at the intersection of 19th Street and the West Side Highway since 1970 as a gigantic anti-billboard. Painted on the south side of Bayview Women’s Correctional Facility, it is a gift to the public of pure art . Here’s some background from ChelseaNow:

By 1970, Martin was teaching at Yale University, his work exhibited at the Whitney and the Guggenheim. Invited by the City Walls Project to contribute a mural, he found a site while driving into the city from the west side — practically “ran right into” the narrow, 80-foot-tall prison. He visited the facility, he said, and heard women shouting from behind bars.

“I thought, Why not have it be about the energy of these women?” Martin recalled.

In the years since 1971 — when the unveiling of “Venus” was heralded by TV coverage that included “Geraldo Rivera hanging from a rig” and a half-page in the New York Times’ Arts and Leisure section — the mural has been reproduced on postcards and copied in countless art classes. But its neighborhood began to bloom, Martin said, in ways less about art than commerce.

In the ’70s, artists like Martin’s Yale art students were peeling off to the meatpacking district and Soho, he said, taking over abandoned warehouses “for cheap.” Most of Chelsea was growing increasingly expensive through the 1970s and 1980s, until by 1984 the average studio rented for more than $900. By 2000, that same studio was $1,700, and the terra nova was then West Chelsea, where artists took over stables and decaying brownstones. But soon enough, shops began to join galleries there, too — and to replace some of the artists who had started it all.

“Galleries, restaurants and boutiques,” grumbled Martin, gesturing. “That’s how a neighborhood dies.

So why is Knox re-signing this work?

Note the construction taking place below and to the right of Venus. That’s the beginning of a huge new architectural vundermess called 100 Eleventh Avenue. As of this writing, the concrete structure is completed and is now in the stage of getting glassed. Besides dwarfing the jail, it almost totally obscures the view of Venus. She’s still there, just hidden behind this new building. The only part of the work that is still easily visible from the highway is its outer edge. So when you drive by now, what you see is a faint edge of color, and a gigantic KNOX.

It’s as if the work has been stored away in a gigantic skyscraper filing cabinet, with only the edge of the file folder clearly marked for easy reference. Thirty years from now, when 100 Eleventh Avenue has to be demolished because of structural defects, Venus will be patiently brought out to be admired and enjoyed again.

There is much to be admired of this gesture. Physically speaking, it’s a remarkable feat. Have a look at the extension of that cherry picker – that thing is way up there, swaying in the wind, its bucket full of artist and paint, and creative spirit. But no problem for Knox. Not only is he unafraid of the physical danger, he his likewise unafraid of taking the decisive action to correct his artwork in the face of a changing environment. That is an attribute of a true Master. Unafraid to act when action is necessary. The need arises, the Master does.

Symbolically speaking, the gesture likewise speaks volumes. Here is an Artist who has not just witnessed, but participated in the major art movements of the 20th Century. And he is not finished! He continues to work, to teach, and to mentor those who can see. He is not about to simply allow this work to vanish, his name to vanish. His act is one of defiance. I am here. The Art is here! You can hide it behind a trendy facade of an already out-of-fashion building, but you cannot destroy the spirit of the work, or of the artist.

Take a last look at the photo, That cherry picker, fully extended into the sky — it’s as if Knox is giving us all the finger. It’s a great big “fuck you” to anyone who tries to stifle his Art. There is Knox, atop his fully erect platform, gleefully spewing white paint across Venus, declaring to all who can see, “This is my Art.”


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More Serial

It’s been a busy week, both in the photo studio and the painting studio, as I work through the current crop of molded pulp pieces. I can only imagine that in the next few weeks I will have exhausted my raw materials and worked through the relevant color combinations. Then I shall look up, as if waking from a dream, and ask “what just happened” because I will have very little memory of the doing the actual work. The only evidence will be a handful of molded pulp pieces – now significantly layered with paint – and the pictures.


It’s always been my experience that forgetfulness comes after the creative furies have had their way with me. From The Native Sun to junkmail, it’s create, then wonder at process of creation.

I have to say that this current project is very stimulating. I like that the previous conversation from Colors of Transformation, between foreground and background, has been amplified by an additional conversation as each piece is rotated through the same series of primary colors.

The painting, too, has much to recommend. Of course, I have the painting skills of Mr. Bean. Sad, really. But the layering of the paints and the rhythmic brushing becomes an oddly meditative action. The preparation. The choosing of the brushes and the paints. The examination of the pieces. The process itself. The cleaning up afterwards. It’s like a Tea Ceremony. I can see how painters can really get sucked up into this process. And I’m just painting small pieces. It must be amazing to tackle big things!

The painting is such a contrast to the total physicality I experience in the photo studio. Usually I’m rushing because it’s my lunch break. I’m shooting vertically, against  the same matboard as C of T. A hodgepodge of bottles, cans and containers have been drafted into holding up the pieces on top of the board in what is typically a very unstable arrangement. So there’s a constant movement as the pieces are positioned, repositioned and changed, and backgrounds and lights are likewise changed and adjusted.

Painting = peaceful. Photographing = exhausting. It’s reassuring to be able to constellate the opposites in the totality of the process. I can feel the balance of the work.

Now I just need to finish the project and find a place to exhibit. And sell them!

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It turns out that my dream of molded pulp consumer products has already been done.

The “golden age” of molded pulp was apparently between 1880 and 1950 in the town of Thetford in Norfolk, England. The Patent Pulpware Manufacturing Company made a variety of everyday household items.

During its heyday in the 1930s, The Patent Pulpware Manufacturing Company’s four acre site on Mill Lane, Thetford, was producing more than 150 different items, ranging from kitchen basins, flower troughs, miner’s helmets, aircraft fuel tanks, powder puff bowls and pin boxes.

So what happened? One word: plastics.The company switched to manufacturing plastics in the 1960s, changing its name to Thetford Moulded Plastics. It makes sense as a business decision at the time. The molding and finishing process was extremely labor intensive. Also, it turns out that the process wasn’t completely non-toxic. After molding, the products were finished by hand with paint and varnish, which created health issues for the workers.

But the process was nonetheless groundbreaking. Raw materials such as rags, paper and wood pulp from around England were brought to Thetford to be transformed into molded products. The final items were “Cheap, waterproof, durable, and light,” and so a perfect answer to many consumer needs.

It seems to me that now is time for this kind of product to make a comeback. Time for the second golden age of molded pulp.

Photo courtesy of www.norfolkmills.co.uk

Thetford pulpware bowl. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Neville and his site http://www.norfolkmills.co.uk

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Yesterday I attended a wonderful lecture by art history professor Judeth Rodenbeck on the artist Allen Kaprow. Her points that I especially remember:

• Young artists (like Kaprow) in the early 1960s found themselves trapped in the modernist shadows of Pollock, de Kooning, Newman, etc. They needed something new to create, and viola performance art was born.

• The science fiction writer Samual R. Delany attended Kaprow’s first Happening, “18 Happenings in 6 Parts,” and declared it (paraphrasing here) the beginning of post-modernism.


• Like so much contemporary art, it all really started with Marcel Duchamp and his “Fountain”.

I was also reminded that Duchamp had anonymously submitted “Fountain” to an open show curated by Society of Independent Artists, which, it had been proclaimed, would exhibit all work submitted. Yet the “Fountain” was not exhibited. Why? Perhaps it was thought too vulgar for the audience, too different, too conceptual. After all, like Knox Martin says, people cannot see the unfamiliar. But those curators, they really blew it. It has since been called by some as the most influential artwork of the 20th century.

I think the Dada publication The Blind Man sums it up nicely:

Whether Mr Mutt made the fountain with his own hands or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view – created a new thought for that object.

Of course, I’d guess that Knox would also decry the lack of aesthetics and the overabundance of imagination inherent in the piece, but that’s a topic for another post.

The curatorial decision not to exhibit something on the basis of it being too vulgar or not understandable by their audience was obviously a mistake back then. Would such a mistake be repeated today? It probably happens all the time!

Enough of that – now I’m going back to a little performance piece I call, “Repetition of a Publisher Struggling In (A) Depression.”

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I’ve been re-reading “The Grail Legend” by Emma Jung and Marie-Louise Von Franz. It’s a wonderful study of the many grail stories that sprung up during the middle ages. The Grail itself is a cup – a vessel. It has mysterious powers due to the fact that it once held the blood of Christ, which is a carrier of the Holy Spirit.

We humans are also vessels of blood. And also vessels of … something else. It’s an odd thing that when I attempt to look at people objectively, what I see are – by analogy – vessels, capable of being filled up with something. We can certainly be filled with emotions: love hate, fear, passion, etc. But we can also be filed with something even less tangible, a creative energy that we cannot see, but the fruits of which are all around us. Every component of the human-made world around us is a result of this creative energy. Look around you. Everything has been produced as a result of this energy.

My chair, for example. In of itself, a prototypical chair is a remarkable manifestation of this creative energy. But the chair that is holding me up right now is a virtual symphony of chairness, a primate in the evolution of chairs, as complex a chair as has ever been manufactured. Each component has been carefully designed and produced to fit into the totality of this chair. It is a supreme achievement. And that’s just the chair. The room I’m in is filled with equally remarkable human-made stuff.

How does this stuff happen?

It is the result of the creative energy. Humans have it and, for better or worse, we use it to build the human-made world. This creative energy is inside us. Yes, some more than others, and some times more than other times. It is a mysterious power, yet it’s existence shapes us and our environment.

I am not talking about the instincts, which is what we might call the innate life force that urges us to live and reproduce, although that force is certainly powerful, mysterious and pervasive. No, the creative energy I’m speaking of is the one that is distinctly human. It makes chairs, and cars, and computer software, and designer watches, and music, and lipstick.

And art.

The question of where this creative energy comes from is a question that has many answers, many human-made answers. Mythology and religion and fairy tales all have stories of creation, and we can approach understanding by studying these myths. But I don’t think we can know, not in a scientific way of thinking, the source of this creative energy.

So we humans are filled – or more aptly, have the capacity to be filled with a mysterious creative force. Filled up like a cup. Like a vessel.

Like a package.

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