• Sofia Maria Paz

Collaborations With Physics & Cosmology


In the winter break of 2015, I was speechless when John Risseeuw, the emeritus award winning ASU book arts/letterpress professor, emailed me asking to come on board his ongoing portfolio project as his research assistant. I didn't hesitate for a second to jump on the opportunity! When I first started ASU, I was quite disappointed hearing he had just retired and wouldn't be teaching classes anymore. So being able to work with John side-by-side was a dream come true! He is a master in the printmaking field; an incredible book artist, a letterpress extraudinaire , a paper-making guru, and most importantly an extremely kind and generous man. However, little did I know what amazing of an adventure he was inviting me to accompany him on.

John's grant funded project consists of inviting senior professors from varied disciplines at ASU to come to the School of Art's book arts press with a student of their choosing. Together we use the resources at Pyracantha Press to create a one-page visual statement of their discipline and research interests. The print is meant to succinctly set in text, images, diagrams, and other visual aids, the core of their current research concepts articulated in such a way that an informed reading/viewer will understand.

My first day on the job involved meeting with John's current collaborator; the esteemed theoretical physicist and cosmologist, Dr. Lawrence Krauss, and his student Jayden Newstead from ASU's School of Earth & Space Exploration ...

... Oh, my.

Even through his rose-colored round glasses, I instantly recognized Dr. Krauss from National Geographic re-runs! For those who are wondering, Dr. Krauss is as great a person as he is a scientist. During our first meeting, he made sure to sit right next to me, so that I felt included and important... Needless to say, it worked :)

11 months and 50 edition prints later, it still baffles me how John put together such a seamless design, that visually relates Dr. Krauss's research. By combining Einstein's field equation, a spiral galaxy from a 1935 textbook, the higgs boson, Feynman diagram, and "Pillars of Creation," photographed using the hubble telescope, this print depicts the evolution and continuing discoveries we are making about the origins of our universe. We even incorporated shredded photocopied pieces of Einstein's essays into the paper pulp, because John is just that brilliant!

Aside from singing Phantom of the Opera while beating my first batch of handmade paper, one of the best parts of this experience was getting Dr. Krauss and Jayden to crank out print with us! Jayden is a natural on the Vendercook! I even put him to work on cleaning the letterpress because...well...I wasn't in the mood. He did such a great job, I seriously considered holding him for ransom, so he could help us out with future projects.

From start to finish, this whole experience has been so wonderfully surreal. Each day was an adventure in printmaking techniques, Beatles music, collaborative approaches, and creative fun art practice. Even during the signing, I think it is safe to say we all felt like kids in the playground passing around their new shiny toys! Even my big sister, Victoria Mariel Paz, was giddy in the corder while photographing us. One could tell the grinning Krauss was happily debating who to give prints to from his portion of the edition.

During this collaboration, John Risseeuw taught me all his tricks of the trade in paper-making, type-setting, and screen-printing. While doing so, he would patiently listen to all my graduate student concerns and banter. I have learned so much from John, in more ways than one.

Now it is time for John and I to move forward with other collaborations. The first on the agenda is with the Professor of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, Aditi Chattopadhyay, Director of Adaptive Intelligent Materials & Systems, with her students Bonsung Koo and Chris Sorini. We had to put their project on hold this summer since each of them were consistently traveling to conferences and visiting NASA. Oh dear, what's in store for us this time John?!


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© Sofia Maria Paz. All Rights Reserved.