Well, maybe more than 99. Maybe more like 200 or even 300; I’ve lost count. For decades, I’ve been creating “serious” art on paper plates. I only use clean plates, no pizza stains, no ketchup or remains of chocolate cake. I like the sound of “99 paper plates on the wall.” Reminds me of a camp bus group-sing “99 bottles of beer on the wall,” but it’s pretty hard to draw on beer bottles.
I have a notoriously short interest span; my husband of fifty years used to shake his head in mock wonder “How did I last so long with you?” he would wail. It’s not pathology; it’s just my creative intolerance for repetition. Some people can spend their entire life at the same job and find comfort in its predictability. I’m just the opposite; once something is routine; I will climb sheer walls to get away.
Hence paper plates. Cheap, available, with a slightly rough texture that takes pencil or crayon well. If it’s no good, toss it. Meant to be thrown out anyhow. I began by drawing at meetings, endless boring meetings - at the University when I taught art history, at government agencies when I was a preservation consultant, and as a member of a half dozen community organizations. Hundreds and hundreds of meetings over the past 40 years have produced lots of art on paper plates. I drew to entertain myself, keep from screaming out loud. After a while, I got pretty good at sketching my fellow sufferers, able to catch a likeness with a few strokes. There was always a “learning curve;” the first few plates were usually clumsy, ready to be tossed out, but by the third or fourth, I would loosen up and there would always be a few worth keeping. Then boredom would set in, the quality would deteriorate and I’d stop. I was always amazed at how unaware my colleagues were that someone was even looking at them, let alone using them as a free model.
Over the past year or so, I have stopped going to meetings, dropped out of civic life, so my “Paper Plate Portraits period” is over. That doesn’t mean I have abandoned the medium! I’ve just taken it to a higher level. I now refer to using paper plates as my version of Arte Povera, a post World War II art movement that glorified the use of “humble” materials. And what could be more humble than a paper plate? But instead of sketching someone sitting across the table, I cut semi abstract figures out of black or grey paper and carefully compose them on the plate. I also cut letters out of newspapers and glue them down without meaning, just because I like the way their shapes fit into the composition. At first, I used only plain white supermarket plates, 200 for $3.99, treating the fluted rims like the borders of ancient Greek kylixes, their shallow-bowled drinking cups. Now, I’ve graduated to the Party Store where I buy more elaborate versions in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes.
Several people have told me that I should find a dinnerware manufacturer who will turn them into a commercial product, although for the life of me, I can’t imagine anyone bizarre enough to want to eat off them. But who knows? There’s a market for everything and no accounting for public taste (bad pun).