Exercise 1.5: Action

Richard Serra created Verb List between 1967 – 68.  Essentially it was two pieces of paper on which he’d written, in the ‘Palmer method of penmanship’, infinitive verbs. It includes contexts as well, so there are 84 ‘to …..’ verbs and 24 ‘of ….’ contexts. He created the catalogue to provide inspiration for his sculpture – it was pinned on the wall of his studio. In an interview with Art 21, Serra later commented: “What artists do is they invent strategies that allow themselves to see in a way they haven’t seen before to extend their vision.”  At the time of its inception he did not consider it a work of art (it is now exhibited in MOMA) but as “a way of figuring out his own direction as a young artist.”


Serra’s aim was to “arrive at a form that refers back to its own making.”  He described it as “a way of making from the inside out,” and “a way of proceeding with material in relation to body movement, in relation to making, that divorces you from any notion of metaphor, any notion of easy imagery.” So, the verbs and context provided an instruction – to pull would be to literally pull a piece of metal into a new shape without thinking about meaning. The importance is in the object as a realisation of the making movement.

Ironically, metaphor does emerge from the list. Many of the verbs are literal, concrete action verbs: to cut, to tear, to roll…. (although they can, of course, also be read as tropes). Others are more abstract: to modulate, to match… The contexts are intriguing: of friction, of nature, of mapping…

The task was to interpret the verbs/contexts by manipulating paper to create a series of samples. After a lot of thought and some angst, I decided to use up scraps, leftovers and so on, which were a variety of types of paper.

I chose a simple, straightforward, textile-friendly one to start with – to weave.

S1 is a simple woven panel of tissue paper. Tissue paper is surprisingly difficult to weave so I secured the ends of the weft with glue. For S2 I cut into the first sheet of tracing paper (with a photocopied photographic image of fields and trees) and wove into it strips cut from another which depicted a close up of plants in a ditch. The broken, fragmented images intersect blockishly, giving a sense of the landscape in sections and in detail. In S3 I utilised a tracing paper photocopy of a photograph of a print (pleasingly removed from the original collagraph). I wove into it with purple paper raffia, the first strong colour I laid my hand on which I felt would contrast effectively with the black and white of the photocopy. I quite like the pixillated image – it isn’t like that in my sketchbook.

To scatter: In keeping with my intention to use up leftover scraps I cut up a print made from a piece of vinyl wallpaper (S4). I cut discs from the print, then cut more from the wallpaper sheet. For S5 I tore up a leftover photocopied page and ‘scattered’, or rather, carefully organised the fragments to give the impression of some of them being scattered. I tried to graduate the colour from dark at the bottom left to lighter at the top. I love the frayed edges that show the original paper pulp – only visible on the close-up detail photo.

S6 and 7 show to gather. In S6 I cut up another photocopy on tracing paper, in this case of blackberries and other hedgerow plants. I curled/rolled them around a pencil and gathered them into a pile. Fragments of the plants can still be glimpsed. Because the pile wasn’t attached I’ve used photographs in my sketchbook. S7 is a gathering of sections from a tree print (MMT).

For S8 and 9 I used another tracing paper photocopy (love those) and re-used the S6 curls. In S8 I randomly laid out the slivered images of dandelions and blackberries so that they were interspersed. The shadows add another dimension to the samples. Of equilibrium – attaining a state of physical balance, or a calm state of mind. Both of these pieces feel calm, in shape, composition, colour and subject.

Entropy is a terms from chemistry, something to do with thermodynamics. The more everyday meaning is ‘a lack of order or predictability, a gradual descent into disorder. S10 is cut from a leftover scrap of paper painted with watercolour. In fact, I cut a spiral – the lack of predictability comes from the way I glued it into my sketchbook; it’s an uncomfortable shape but the curves undulate. So it’s a mixture of chaos and order, in a way. S11 is a simple fragmentation of a photograph – it was taken on the walk undertaken for 1.2, so we’ve come full circle.

So, here is my visual dictionary of textured paper.


4 thoughts on “Exercise 1.5: Action

  1. Great samples, I particularly loved the purple weave and the equilibrium and curly samples. It’s so funny, just one hour ago I wrote a mental note to consider entrophy as a response to a comment on my blog – And here you go offering me a vision of it. Thanks. 🙂 The house ‘of entropy’ has a scary connotations for me.


      1. It looks to me like you’ve explored some really interesting lines of thought – perhaps more important than the ‘outcomes’ anyway at this stage.


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