Last spring Nina Binin won a prize at a Creative Arts Workshop benefit: She could curate a solo show of an artist of her choice.
Binin chose her mom. The reasons include not only pride and love, but deep admiration and even a dash of filial envy.
The result, Figures & Paper, a first-ever New Haven show for long-time Stamford-based paper artist and collagist Shirley Binin, is on display at CAW’s second-floor gallery from Sept. 18 through Oct. 30.
An accompanying exhibition, also a winner, is Geographies, a wide-ranging display of 26 artisan books on the general theme of New England organized by the New England Guild of Book Workers (NEGBW).
An opening reception with speakers takes place Friday night, Sept. 25, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Two tours with Paulette Rosen, CAW’s book arts department head (pictured), roll out Friday, Oct. 2 at noon and Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 5:00 p.m.
What links the two exhibitions is a fascination with that most fundamental of artists’ materials—paper—and the amazing things artists can do to the stuff, from pulping it and using it, dyed as paint, as Binin does, to creating an artist book such as Graham Patten’s “Call Me Trimtab.” Which, to use Rosen’s words, “closes perfectly but when it opens. It’s like raising sails.”
The Bronx-born Shirley Binin, who is now 87, studied painting and lithography at the venerable Art Students League in New York. Then, while raising a family, she earned a masters degree in art education. She taught art in the Stamford public schools for 30 years.
She always, but always was working on her art. “We’d come home from school and my mother would be in the basement working,” the younger Binin, also an artist, recalled on a pre-opening tour of the exhibition.
“I’d bang and bang on the radiator to tell her the phone was ringing. She wasn’t the kind of mother who had cookies waiting for you. It was challenging for her to balance being a young mother and a working artist,” Nina Binin recollected.
A major turning point came when after years of studying silk screening and oil painting at the summer artist workshops in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, Binin “stumbled” into a paper-making workshop.
Her pleasure in making her own paper pulp, dyeing it, and using the material, squeezed from ketchup-type bottles, became the focus of her work for the past decade.
You can see how she applies the pulpish dye to a layer of pulpy paper. Over that, as in “Figure,” she lays on thread or other material for definition and other effects.
Her bright colors, often in the background, seem to be in a kind of syncopation with the bright and imperious faces of her subjects, who are nearly all women.
It was not surprising to hear that among her major influences, as revealed by her daughter, are Henri Matisse and the flowing, swaying rhythms of slow jazz. Shirley Binin’s brother, Mace Danziger, was a jazz drummer in L.A., and the family, Nina Binin reported, was regularly going to concerts.
While many of the pieces are for sale, some, like “Lucy in Red” (pictured) and “The Sisters,” which hang in Binin family homes, are not. They resonate too much, Nina Biden said, for her ever to relinquish them.
The show contains some early lithographs and a few abstracts, but whether figurative or abstract, the work shows a “building of texture that’s so amazing, tactile, expressive, and colorful,” said her admiring daughter.
The Last and Best Stop
It was just good luck, said Rosen, that the two paper-loving shows are appearing together. Several years ago, she gave the okay for the New England chapter of the Book Workers Guild to have CAW as the last stop on its six-state tour, covering all the New England states, of Geographies.
The previous five venues have been all colleges, where the presentation has been, well, more academic. Rosen said this is the first time the delicate works are shown in a gallery setting, showing them off more as “jewel-like objects. That’s unique for a book exhibit,” she said.
These objects are well worth the time it takes to peer. They slow you down. Your appreciation of, for example, the wildlife of New England, changes when you realize that the tiny little books in Todd Pattison’s “My Maine” (pictured) are covered in snakeskin, birch bark, lichen, dried ferns, and a hornet’s nest.
“Actual materials, not treated,” said Rosen.
You might not want to use the tiny maps of Philadelphia, Boston, and New York to find your way around those cities, but the way Bexx Caswell has turned them into a “bookworm” in “Mind Map” may remind you of what being lost in a metro traffic maze might be—like going around and around on Route 128, with no way out.
Rosen, who has taught the book arts at CAW for 20 years, pronounced the exhibition wonderful. This is partly because of the range of types of objects on display, from the experimental, like Patten’s “Trimtab,” to more traditional fine bindings.
“That’s what I love. Something for everyone,” she said.
Another hidden gem she was eager to show off was CAW’s bindery, which houses classes in basic and advanced book arts. The department’s founder, Polly Lada-Mocarski, was so in love with the book arts that she designed vitrines, with a 360-degree view so all aspects can be appreciated.
Those are the vitrines in which Geographies awaits. During the Oct. 14 tour, which Rosen will lead, the books will make a rare appearance, coming out of their vitrines for even closer study and admiration.