On View at ACC: Eric Gjerde

On View at ACC: Eric Gjerde

Eric Gjerde, Voronoi Study #1

Voronoi Study #1, 2012, handmade cotton and abaca paper; Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Our latest work on view in the American Craft Council Library is by ACC staff member Eric Gjerde, who is an accomplished paper artist. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife Ioana Stoian, who is a papermaker, and he "explores shape and structure using complex folding techniques he developed through years of experimentation." He is the author of Origami Tessellations: Awe-Inspiring Geometric Designs, and we asked him a few questions to learn more about his craft. 

What do you make? What do you want to make?
I create complicated abstract paper structures, primarily using origami tessellation folding techniques, which I have been exploring over the last decade. My wife is a papermaker, and we work together on a lot of installation projects – integrating custom handmade paper together with my folding designs. Over the last few years, this has been morphing more and more into three-dimensional paper constructs. One of my dream objectives is to create some of my designs on a truly massive scale and with some degree of permanence. I think we’ll get there someday, when the right opportunity and space comes along.

Who and what inspires you?
I draw a lot of inspiration from shapes and patterns I see every day – both in nature and in the man-made world. After working with tessellations for so many years, I see them intrinsically in anything that repeats – they always catch my eye, and I am drawn to them. This often manifests itself later on in a piece, sometimes rather unknowingly. I was heavily influenced by the work of the Dadaists and Surrealists, as a teenager; I grew up in a military family, and I spent one particularly isolated summer after a cross-country relocation cooped up in my room with a stack of great art books on that period in history. I had not known such a thing existed, artistically, and it made a great impression on me. In the last few years, I find myself turning to paper art pioneers like Josef Albers, Jean-Claude Correia, and Ron Resch for motivation to push past self-imposed boundaries.

How did you first become engaged with craft?
My parents were very supportive of creative endeavors in my childhood, and I have always been drawn to paper as a medium. One of our amusing family stories involves my declaration – at the age of 5 – that I wanted to be a “paperologist” when I grew up. Later in my adult life, I was looking to do something with my hands to re-engage with my creative side that had been suppressed during a corporate career. Looking back at my childhood, I remembered how much I had enjoyed origami, and I gave it another try. After a few fitful starts, I found a creative niche, which was intellectually and artistically satisfying, and I’ve been pursuing that ever since.

Describe your dream studio…
Well thankfully, much of my creative work doesn’t require huge facilities to make. We have a great studio in the Casket Arts Building in northeast Minneapolis, and it’s the best workspace that I’ve ever had. We sourced a large collection of flat files from an architecture firm, so we have room to store all of our paper, flat and tidy. We have two large work tables that can move around, and it really meets almost all our needs. I love having all my work hanging around me, from the walls and the ceiling, with work sketches and half-formed ideas scattered about. One of the primary reasons we relocated to Minneapolis was the accessibility of great studio spaces and support for the arts, and I’ve been very pleased with what we’ve found here – I don’t need to dream about it, I think we’ve got it already!

What does craft mean to you?
My personal definition of craft is rather traditional – the concept of making something by hand using hard-won skill and technique. This is applicable to “craft art” forms, like ceramics, but also more traditional uses of the term, such as carpentry, blacksmithing, stonemasonry, etc. I think there is a strong collective desire in our modern society to reconnect with our roots and our human history of making things by hand. I’m of the opinion that this will only grow with time, as modern manufacturing becomes increasingly disconnected from this handmade tradition. The resurgence of craft in recent years – particularly in the more historical sense, not just in craft art mediums – seems to support this interpretation. I believe we all feel the pull of our handmade legacy. For me, working with my hands to create physical, tangible objects is immensely satisfying, and I’m very appreciative to have found this outlet for my creative energy. I can’t even imagine what my life would be like without craft at the heart of it.

What’s your favorite/most-read art or craft book in your personal collection?
I have a rather large collection of books on Islamic art and geometry, which I have gathered over the years from various places. Still, out of all of these, the one that holds a special place in my heart is Owen Jones’ The Grammar of Ornament, released in 1853. I have four copies of this book, ranging from a tiny portable copy to a huge coffee table edition. It is an illustrated collection of international architectural ornament and is particularly of interest for its beautiful geometric patterns and tessellations.

On View is a brief Q&A with artists whose work is currently on view at the American Craft Council.