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Interview with artist Sigrid Calon

Interview with artist Sigrid Calon

Bright, geometrical shapes floating within embroidery grids; while – layer upon layer – hypnotising patterns evolve. Patterns which are always both: utmost abstraction and surprisingly concrete. After studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Tilburg and some years of working within the fashion industry, Dutch visual artist Sigrid Calon turned her back on the daily life of custom sized work, deadlines and compromises in 2005. As an autonomous artist she finally found the time to entirely follow her curious mind, experimenting with materials and printing techniques while exploring the DNA of her own visual language. A milestone of this journey was her fateful encounter with the Risograph. Legend has it that from the very first moment, she couldn’t get her hands off this machine. Now, her colourful and electrifying Riso press artwork can be marvelled at in her latest Riso print publication SC_1/1_1/2_1/4_1/8


Your second artist book contains 120 Risograph prints, all composed, designed and printed by yourself. With its geometrical and chromatic forms it follows in the footsteps of your first stencil print book ‘To the extend of / \ | & -’ which went – one cannot say it otherwise – through the roof in 2013. How did you discover this printing method in the first place?!

Strangely enough, I discovered the beautiful technique of stencil printing in Southern Italy in 2007. Together with about ten other Dutch creatives I was invited to an event called SuperDutch. Next to an exhibition and lectures they also arranged a stencil printing demonstration for us. I immediately fell in love and got attracted to this very tactile expression of printed matter. It spreads so much more warmth compared to standard printing techniques. It reminded me of my years in the academy when I was working with textiles. So I had made up my mind: If I ever wanted to do anything with printing, it had to be with Risograph techniques.

At the Charles Nyples Lab (Maastricht, Netherlands) you were one of the first working in the renewed publishing lab with their brand new Riso A3 Duplicator. How did you find out about the Lab and got all started?!

In 2008 I was offered a residency at DAGLICHT, a graphic workshop in Eindhoven. This full-on introduction into the realm of paper and graphic techniques was something totally new for me. It was completely different to the materials and methods I was used to operating with during my study years – but not less nice and appealing. There I could use the embroidery stitches that I had worked with since 2005 in a more graphical way. It didn’t take long until I could see the beauty and potential lying within this visual language. The more I was experimenting the more ideas came to my mind. Usually I worked a lot on the etching press and made plain- and relief prints with single colours and multiple colours in layers on top of each other. I spent a lot of time there making one test after another. But to be honest, in my opinion, all this led to nothing! First, a lot of the prints failed, and as well I didn’t really know what to do with them afterwards. I had no gallery space to exhibit them and only too few connections in the art circuit. It took me 4 more years to finally realise that I had to radically change my technique in order to visualise and show all these ideas spinning around in my head. That is how I came up with the idea of making a book. It just seemed the perfect way to bundle my prints. The concept was simple: One print per spread, so that they stand on their own and get all the attention they deserve. And yet, they are together because, after all, they still are a sort of family. As I told Margriet Thissen who was working as an artist-supporter at DAGLICHT at the time that I was leaving the workshop because I wanted to make a book with a Riso machine instead, she suggested me to come to work at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht. With the arrival of a new director the entire publishing lab had gone through profound transformations, and as well as that they were going to purchase a brand new RISO A3 duplicator! This all sounded so promising! The fact that I could work on such a machine myself, experimenting and making my own prints with it, got me super excited! And so it happened. In 2014, I took the change and risk and bought my own two-color MZ.



Both of your books contain exactly 120 prints. What is the number 120 all about?!

The number of 120 is a consequence of the concept of this specific design. The Riso machine works with separate colour drums. Each drum has its own colour. So on the one hand working with the standard colours available puts certain limits to the way you are working. On the other hand, this kind of ‘disability’ really does challenge you – not necessarily for the worse. A printing company usually uses 4 basic colours (CMYK, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (= Black). Quite a lot of different colours can be made with that. But the Riso colours are different. They are very vibrant, strong and pure. By playing with that you get so mnay more possibilities out of it. Both of my books are playing with the concept of mixing and combining these colours. In the first book I decided to work with 8 basic colours. I made a colour index with all unique colour combinations, based on one, two, three and four colours. The 28 possibilities from combining two of eight colours was the starting point. Then I had 56 combinations with three colours and finally another 28 combinations with 4 colours. Together this makes a total of 120…

The Risograph was originally invented and refined by Japanese textile designers before the stencil making technique found its way to Europe in the 19th century. Does your own background within the world of textiles and fabrics play a significant role that you are drawn especially to this technique?!

Oh, really? I didn’t know that! But yes, no doubt there is an overlap. Textile is all about tactility, materiality, but also specific techniques and crafts. To balance all of these qualities I was convinced that the book had to be made with a Riso machine. And still after all these years the results of the colours and the technique still surprises me – which makes me not only incredibly happy but keeps me going!

In the meanwhile your art can not only be seen on uncoated and bulky paper but as distinct interior elements creating unique spatial experiences – such as for instance the collaboration you did with the fashion brand Uniqlo on the 5th Ave. in New York, or the giant murals at the outdoor exhibition of Museum De Lakenhal in Leiden (the Netherlands) in the year of Mondriaan. What do you think draws people over and over to this special way of viewing the world? What do you want to communicate with your style?!

For me one of the most appealing things about art is that it is allowed to be and work autonomously. It always holds an opportunity to get away from everyday life with all its problems and concerns. I love to create new worlds with simple elements that can either amaze, comfort or inspire people. Everyone can have her or his own associations with it. I think that working on these very powerful, fresh and strong images with all this passion and love, radiates something positive – which perhaps people do feel and experience.


And yet, nearly a decade after your first Risograph book you came back to where you started. How could you improve your own art work after your first endeavour?!

The release of my first book has given me a lot; new friendships, possibilities and collaborations. Although the book is an autonomous work, I always have seen it as a research project. An exploration into a new visual realm expressing the world through my own eyes. In recent years I have been able to investigate whether I can use this visual language in other ways, on different scales, on different materials, in different media. That was a very interesting end joyful journey. But because I am who I am – constantly curious and eager to experiment – I just didn’t want to linger in the visual language resulting from the embroidery stitches anymore. Therefore I needed to make another book. It had been in my head for quite a while, but I simply couldn’t find the time to realise it. On the one hand I was curious if I could work with other shapes but actually I just wanted to go back to the base; paying homage to the square and the circle. Simple, well known shapes from childhood and kindergarten which keep on fascinating me over and over again. I was also really looking forward working with new colours. For example, I exchanged orange for fluorescent orange, brown for gold and I bought my own custom-made blue and green instead of the standard RISO ones. They are more fresh all together. Working with colours gives me a lot of energy and is just something that can make me very happy.

Dutch Design is famously known for its minimalistic, experimental, colourful style – combined with a certain degree of quirkiness and humour. What role does the work of Piet Mondriaan and De Stijl play in your own artistic work?!

As an artist you try to get to your true self. I want to make work that actually represents me – abstract self-portraits in a way. It is a (lifelong) quest, but much of the essence still comes from your youth or where you come from. Both my grandparents were farmers and I sometimes see myself as a combination of my grandmothers. One was simple and modest, the other worldly and curious. The DNA of Piet Mondriaan and De Stijl plays an important part in our culture and has become a part of my own in my youth – without even realising it. Only later you make or see this kind of connection. So it certainly did influence me.

In 1959, when the Xerox photocopy technology hit the market, the Risograph (the Japanese word riso means ‘ideal’) fell into oblivion for quite a while. Since the 1980s the stencil duplicating technique has experienced a great renaissance not only among artists and designers but in the on-going Riso Mania within the self-publishing scene. Why is it important for you to publish a book instead of printing on canvases or walls?!

Making a book kind of came across my path accidentally, but it opened my eyes. First of all, I thought it could be a perfect way to show my work to a lot of people. Second, it felt good to do that in an affordable way. The machine is called a duplicator, because it is the technique that allows you to make more than one copy at a time. Unfortunately a lot of people come to the conclusion that because working with Riso is very cheap, the artworks must be cheap, too. My new book is €150, so in eyes of most people quite an expensive book. But when you see it as an art-object, in my eyes it’s not so expensive at all with 120 prints in it…Besides all that, I also think a book is a very intimate way of experience an artwork; you can hold it, you can really ‘zoom in’ on details, you can determine how long and how often you can look at a page. You can put it down and pick it up again. So for me, a perfect medium for an artwork. And as I said before, besides being an object, the act of making a book is a very exciting experiment for me. An investigation in form and colour, perhaps almost like a sort of catalog of new options and possibilities, or a kind of sketchbook. When necessary or wanted I can translate works from the book in other materials, sizes or techniques like a mural, a textile or an installation.

For your art, intuition plays a huge role. At the same time you are obsessively exploring the embroidery grid as a starting point, talking of the DNA of visual language. Intuition within the grid? How does this go together?!

That’s right, I need that combination. Actually, I always need some kind of framework or limitation at the beginning. Maybe it’s because it gives me some kind of logic, something to hold onto. Nevertheless having this framework is not arbitrary to what I do afterwards. If I feel that everything is possible or allowed, then I no longer know what to do. It’s just too much! It blocks me and I actually come to nothing. But besides those rules, context or limitations I want to have the freedom to let my feelings speak, I also like to be surprised, I think your intuition is very important for who you are and what you do. Over the years you learn to trust your intuition. So for me it is an ideal combination to work with and within.

Hooked? Find this wonderful book here.


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