John S. Miller/ Paper Birds

Paper woodpecker

I’ve made paper structures since my early childhood starting because I wanted toys I couldn’t have. I did have the creative tools however: imagination, a willingness to try and the temperament and focus to keep at it after things didn’t go well. I also had physical tools and supplies: paper, scissors, adhesives. I could draw and color so even an awkward volumetric form could be improved with surface razzle-dazzle. I learned to think in terms of tubes and cones and pivoting planes using gores cut into flat paper surfaces.

As a young adult I returned to this method when I had few supplies and little money but had been inspired by Maruyama Okyo’s Geese over a Beech at the Freer Sackler museum in Washington D.C. I wanted to make something in response to that piece. My first paper goose was awkward but had promise and I worked at the form for a number of years in fits and starts.

In 1980 I received a Madison, Wisconsin CitiArts Grant to construct a mobile and painting of geese in flight. This work hung for a period of time in the lobby of the Mechanical Engineering building on the campus of The University of Wisconsin in Madison. The piece included a mobile of 10 paper geese all connected to move together, turn together and open and close in “V” flight formation with the configuration dependent on air currents.

In addition to the mobile, I created a painting based on the paper patterns I had derived referencing the connection between abstract images and the things we think we see. I hoped that making such a connection could help people appreciate the sort of thinking that can inspire the creation of nonrepresentational imagery or at least imagery that represents more than what we normally see. I dealt with dismissive “critics” of abstract and modern art on a regular basis inside my own family and was motivated to encourage them to approach abstract art with thoughtful respect. My pieces bridged abstraction and representation through an expression of the visible with the invisible: the creative thinking process. People could see a route from the abstract to the representative and recognize bird forms in both.

My understanding of the materials is more advanced now and I'm pleased that my ideas regarding paper sculpture still have creative life for me. I've been fascinated with the idea of graphics for their potential as objects for decades and the patterns are graphic shapes that also can have life within sculptural form. My paper Pileated Woodpecker entitled Cock of the Woods was part of the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum 2015 Birds in Art exhibit and included in the 2016 Wisconsin Artists Biennial in the MOWA, Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend, WI. I was so pleased to have received this endorsement of interest in my paper work that I returned to the technique with more energy and have been working to advance my ideas ever since.

For a slideshow of my birds and associated abstract prints click here.

1980 Art Grant

Goose Mobile