A Selection of Sun Drawings by Rosaire Appel
No.3 Reading Room & Photo Book Work’s physical site in Beacon closed due to the Covid-19 outbreak on February 29th. In retrospect I’m very relieved that I did so, although at the time I was thinking, perhaps I’m being too cautious, as I was offering visitors hand sanitizer so they could handle books without concern. As it turns out, there was no way to sustain this. As it turns out, being in such intimate proximity with others, looking over a shoulder at book pages, or sitting beside one another sharing space in this way was quite dangerous and we didn’t yet know how bad it was to become. And now, here in mid-May, here in NY, we are still waiting for the time when it’s safe to resume.
I set up No.3 Reading Room as a site where readers can experience handling limited-edition, handmade and innovative book projects by artists and small, independent presses that are not widely found in traditional bookstores or galleries. The exhibits integrate books, works on paper, photography and poetry in installations that encourages visitors to spend time holding, reading and exploring these selections. So, now in the time of social distancing and sheltering at home, the physical has given way to the virtual. That makes it impossible to experience many of the works on display and in the archives in the way they are intended. Yet there is also a great deal of material that I can share that works well online.
As a case in point, in the recent exhibit Reach, A Selection of Drawings and Artist’s Books by Rosaire Appel, several unique books from her Sound Pages series were available to be handled. The forms and materials activated work that was designed not just for the eye, but for hands, ears and nose. Pages are not simply a surface or conveyor of information, but are a significant part of the content, offering a sensational, interactive experience to the reader. To show an image of a page or a spread online is to sever the piece from it’s context in such a way that it denies the viewer any real sense of it, and it denies the work its complexity. Some things must be experienced in person. Rosaire’s books are made to be handled. The exhibit title Reach implies this and she rewards the viewer’s effort to be present in a most satisfying way. I so enjoyed watching visitors slowly turning the pages, remarking about how satisfying the sound, how soft the feel, how full it felt in their hand. And I miss this very much. Sharing space and objects in this intimate way is a deeply meaningful experience. And I am sad that I had to cut short what was to be a two-month long exhibit with a presentation by Rosaire in late March at the closing of her show.
However, Rosaire is a prolific, adventurous artist who uses all manner of tools to capture the world as she experiences it. I’ve seen her near daily sun / sill images online the last few months and invited Rosaire to present them here in place of her physical works. These are meant for the screen and are delightful to look at in a dark time. They are no less substantial than her physical work. They exist thanks to the sun, to binary code, to the magic of the virtual and to Rosaire’s tremendous vision and sense of play. They are perfect for this moment. Below is her statement about this body of work that I am so honored to share in celebration of a truly inspiring and generous artist. Many thanks Rosaire, for bringing in the light. -PMR
Sun / Sill
In mid-January the sun comes in the window of my study at a particular angle in the morning, briefly. This happens every year. There’s a ledge directly in front of the window and anything put there immediately exhales its shadow. By May the sun’s hour of arrival has shifted, and its light has acquired a glare that lasts all summer. Thus this light situation is temporary – which makes me work quickly and without a lot of calculation. Work? It is more like play: there is no goal. Put something in the sun and see how it is transformed. It’s a game that started over 10 years ago. In those early sessions I used small objects (miniature bottles, hardware, plant-life, pins). Then at some point I came across some Lee filters from my photographic days – these are 1”x 3” strips of colored acetate, every color you can imagine. The color shadows were truly delicious – and the simple strips, creased once or twice to stand upright, pushed the compositions toward architecture.
This year I discovered a cache of my ‘negatives’ from the 1990s. These are 3×4” laser prints and drawings on acetate. In the darkroom, I would slip them into the enlarger and project light through them onto light-sensitive paper. Much of this series involved line-screens and moire patterns, but I also drew on the acetate. I experimented with this for several years. Few of the results survived but several notebooks of ‘negatives’ did, and this year I began re-using them.
I think of this sun-inspired activity as practicing, the way a musician practices, but visually. Some of the things I come up with influence other projects, sometimes in ways that I don’t recognize until years later.
As the sun moves out of range each year I feel I’ve had enough and sort of resolve that the project has ended. But so far, every year when that shaft of sun inches into the room some object catches my attention and the interrogation begins anew. -Rosaire Appel, 2020