Irving Harper: Works in Paper
by Irving Harper (artist) and Michael Maharam (editor)
2013, 176 pages, 8.3 x 10.3 x 1.1 inches
Anyone familiar with the American version of the hit comedy The Office might remember a scene in which Michael Scott attends an art show where Pam exhibits her paintings. Struck by a painting she made of the office building, Michael buys it and muses, “It is a message. It is an inspiration. It is a source of beauty. And without paper, it could not have happened.” The quote could just as easily be said of famed designer Irving Harper, an alchemist who transforms paper into works of wonder. One look at Irving Harper: Works In Paper will be sufficient to astonish those who are not yet acquainted with the genius of design, and to further amaze those who are already fans of his.
Irving Harper was famous primarily as a furniture designer who championed the modernist style, becoming famous for the “Marshmallow Sofa” which comprises 18 plush discs arranged on a wire frame, and the “Ball Clock,” which resembles an asterix with multi-colored balls punctuating the tip of each line. Harper was not a sculptor by profession, but he created paper sculptures at home as a pastime to relieve himself of the stress of his regular job. This book features the astonishing results of someone who was ultimately more artist than hobbyist. Within these pages, a series of masks with graceful, Kabuki-like features can be found alongside vivid and striking depictions of wildlife including a wizened owl with expressive eyes, a snarling wolf hovering over its prey and a stoic elephant made with spare grace. A lavish cathedral skillfully depicts a stained glass window with a seraph in an arched doorway, while a sparse rendition of a scowling soldier on horseback offers a remarkable contrast. A series of abstract sculptures reminiscent of some of Robert Rauschenberg’s bold experiments also capture the reader’s attention.
The book offers a brief introduction to Irving Harper and discusses his design career in some detail, but the majority of the pagers are devoted to stunning full-color and black-and-white images of his paper sculptures. One photograph stands out: Harper, surrounded by his magnificent creations in his living room, idly scans a newspaper from his easy chair. The image remains in the mind even after closing the book as a quiet and powerful document of a humble genius who gave shape to his imagination with the simplest of resources. It is, as Michael Scott suggested, a source of beauty. And it couldn’t have happened without paper.
– Lee Hollman