Patty Grazini Hero

Q&A with artist Patty Grazini

If you’ve been by the Museum recently, you will absolutely have spotted Patty Grazini’s eye-catching paper sculpture, Elizabeth Lyska, Giantess, in the BIMA@5 exhibition. For Spring 2019, Patty’s work will be featured in her first solo art museum exhibition entitled Forms of Devotion.

We wanted to give you a special preview into this exciting exhibition with a short question and answer session with the artist herself!

What would you want a museum visitor to know about your work?

In many ways, I’d like for my work to speak for itself. Ideally, a visitor would be able to look at the artwork and be transported to another time and place. When I’m making my artwork, I spend a lot of time imagining and creating backstories about each piece. For certain series, I do a lot of researching about the different time period that I’m trying to evoke in the artwork. Not all of this will be apparent to the visitor, but I’d like for them to be able to see beyond the details in each piece and have a deeper experience with the artwork.


What do you find interesting, inspiring, or special about working with paper?

I like working with aged papers that have a history of their own. Paper, in general, is something disposable to most people. I like thinking about how to reuse paper in completely different contexts, using each different paper as a reference point back to the artwork. My most recent series using old uncirculated money was especially fun to use in this way.


What kind of research do you do when creating a piece?

The series that I did the most research for was probably the criminals and misfits. I researched the New York Times online archives, concentrating on the period between 1875 and 1915 looking for possible subjects. I found many more people that I wanted to profile, but tried to select a range of crimes, always leaning toward the portrayal of the more unusual person or crime. Whenever my work focuses on a particular time and place, I try to learn as much a possible. I listen to podcasts, watch videos and read a lot, basically anything that will put me in the mood of a particular time period.  The more I research, the better I am able to evoke the mood of that time and place. For every hundred things I learn about each subject, maybe one single detail makes it into the artwork itself—but that’s part of the fun of it for me.


Tell us about the particular techniques you use. How did you learn them and when did start using them?

I’m self-taught as a paper artist, but I have a background in making clothing and wearable art. Some of the construction techniques in sewing and garment construction have helped me think about how to apply these to paper. Recently, I’ve been experimenting with natural dyes and really want to explore that more. I think it gives the paper more versatility and naturalness. Another challenge I’ve also confronted is finding ways to make paper look like other materials—like fabric, bark, fur, and all sorts of things. I love this challenge in particular: there’s something a little magical in the act of transforming paper into something completely different. Over the years, I’ve developed more involved ways of achieving this effect. A lot of what I do is intuitive, and comes from years of practice: trying different things, and seeing what works. Often people ask me how I do what I do—it’s something I’ve always had trouble answering, because my techniques have slowly evolved, and it’s been a long process of figuring things out one step at a time.


How has your artistic process changed over time?

My work has become more detailed over the years. I spend a lot of time thinking about different methods: like making different types of folds, embossments, and ways of assembling the artworks. The differences are subtle, but to me, keeping the work fresh and interesting, involves making these small adjustments, and always pushing myself to try new things and improve my methods.


What memorable responses have you had to your work?

I have had people tell me that they have returned more than once to a show because they were unable to see all the details the first time. People often respond with astonishment and ask if everything is really made out of paper. I like thinking I might have fooled someone into asking me that.


In your daily life, what do you find inspiring?

Traveling, and imaginary time traveling. I like going to museums of all types— I especially love viewing museums within historic homes, where the artworks are displayed among other objects and relics from the time period. These places that combine history and biography are really inspiring to me.


What are you most looking forward to from your upcoming show at BIMA?

It’ll be exciting to see all of my work from different periods all together in one group.


Be sure to mark your calendars for Patty Grazini’s upcoming exhibition Forms of Devotion open March 9 through June 9, 2019.


Photo by M. Sawyer Photography