The Deckle Edge
suite of lithographs, The Great Human Race . These artworks were the manifestation of his dogmatic belief in the excellent potential of humanity. Poska sought to extend and break boundaries of his medium, landing on what he called Papestries or paper tapestries, the artwork featured in this exhibition. These are the result of crafting and composing globs of paper pulp laced with pure powdered pigment onto a flat surface. The size of these works can be quite impressive, with many consisting of multiple panels with intentionally rough and unrefined edges. When viewers look at the gaps between panels they will see a very literal interpretation of two forces meeting and parting. Poska said this gap between panels is the most important thing. The rest is superfluous because I really don’t know if they’re coming apart or going together. Paper pulp can have many different consistencies, from soup to apple sauce to a sticky dough-like texture. Poska worked with pulp formed from moist ground 100% cotton rag fibers, preparing up to 70 five-gallon buckets with varying colors. He laid handfuls onto sheets of plastic, sometimes adding pieces of previously dried pulp from other projects. He would start with pale hues and work his way out toward darker ones, continuing until the proper size and mass was achieved. After drying, Poska would flip the panel over and reveal a flattened yet technicolor abstract composition. He would then assess and sometimes alter the surface by peeling away or overpainting. A sizable work could take up to six months to complete. Because hewas a pioneer in this field, every newadvancement he made was considered noteworthy, though some achievements truly stand out. The Milwaukee Art Center inaugurated its new Bradley wing in 1976 with a Roland Poska solo exhibition. He later completed a 276-foot-wide commission for the mezzanine
of the Henry S. Reuss Federal Plaza in Milwaukee. Titled From Blue to Blue , it is an abstract presentation of the passing of seasons and an astonishing achievement in the medium he spent his life exploring. More solo exhibitions followed, at the Rockford Art Museum, the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, the Scottsdale Center for the Arts and the Neville Public Museum, among others. Poska’s advancements in papermaking are profound, and without him the medium would have remained purely technical. Poska reduced paper to its material essence of cotton fiber and pigment before infusing it with the concepts of abstraction, defined as the expression of universal ideas through non-recognizable forms. For this reason, the resulting works, meditations on nature, its cycles and its powers, are indisputably unique. The most dramatic example in this exhibition is Continuum of Seasons , a work consisting of six cotton fiber and pigment panels and measuring about 7 feet high by almost 30 feet wide. It is magnificent in both size and complexity and can barely be visually consumed at once. The panels are unified by a gray river-like line that snakes through them horizontally, outlined in an earth tone and bisected repeatedly by bright red vertical lines. There are moments of smooth ombré color transitioning from dark to light, and other moments where paper pulp has been patched on after drying, resulting in a collage effect. Colors meet and are intersected by bright blue and stark black vertical stripes and, far to the left, red circles dance in a white field. In the 25th Anniversary show for his Fishy Whale Press, he said his goal has been to define and condense an image that becomes an extension of the process of nature. Another painting that captures Poska’s technical skill and conceptual message is the diptych Sunprayer VI . Its composition
Roland Poska was a student of the place where opposing forces meet and part. He meditated on the power of natural phenomena like the soft changing of seasons and explosive collisions of tectonic plates. He was also concerned with the balance between the peaceful and violent natures of humanity, as well as our ability to push each other away and bring each other closer. All of these boundaries are rough and ill-defined. These concepts informed and defined his oeuvre, which takes the form of lithographs and collage-like cotton fiber and pigment “paintings” and sculptures. In all of these works, colors and edges meet at rough junctions. He called this meeting the Deckle Edge. From the start Poska was interested in papermaking and was therefore very familiar with the deckle, a wooden frame that contains poured paper pulp while it dries. When the deckle is removed, the rough, craggy edges signature to handmade paper reveal themselves. Poska was interested in what happens when two deckled edges are put together and relates those deckle edges to any opposing forces in nature. There will be friction; the two edges do not and cannot match, and when forced together some are jammed and others will barely touch. This fascinated him. M y philosophy is that everything in nature is the result of forces meeting or parting. The thing I was interested in was not the objects in the landscape, not the result of the forces, but the forces themselves. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in fine art from Rockford College, he earned a Masters in Fine Art from Cranbrook Academy of Art. This is where he was introduced to papermaking and printmaking, the mediums that would change his life. Upon graduating in 1963, he founded the Fishy Whale Press in his hometown of Rockford, Illinois. He was a publisher for other artists and in 1967 began his own master
is centered by a sunset swath of yellow transitioning to pink, framed on all edges by bands and patches of various colors. It presents as stage curtains being pulled back to reveal the most glorious sunset. In a 1988 artist statement, he explained, I am very pleased with the Sun Prayer paintings for they are the essence of color, form and texture expanding and compressing in fluctuating environmental fields. I have searched down to the basics and the image that I have put together I feel begins to capture that feeling of nature that I sense throughout. The Sentinels are a group of sculptures that Poska created toward the end of his career. He had previously toyed with sculpture but the concepts were not fully realized until his wife asked him to create table bases of paper pulp in the mid- 1990s. This spurred him to fully explore freestanding sculpture and he began what would become the Sentinel series. The sculptures in this exhibition reach 80 to 90 inches tall and are made from cotton fiber and pigment creations that are molded and shaped before fully drying. Poska spent somany years of his life advocating for the “Perfect Day” in which there would be no violence, racism or prejudice and when everyone would simply get along. While he was supported in these beliefs, it is not a coincidence that some of his last works would be giant totems whose name meant to “stand and keep watch.” They are Poska’s legacy, and his insurance that someone would watch over his audiences and see that we keep moving toward a better, more peaceful future.
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