Papir­masse makes art ac­ces­si­ble, and af­ford­able, to ev­ery­one

For $5 a month, com­pany mails art to sub­scribers

Montreal Gazette - - Montreal Diary - FA­TIMA ARKIN SPE­CIAL TO THE GAZETTE To learn more, visit Papir­masse’s web­site at papir­masse.com

Kirsten McCrea spent four years in art school, but it took a stint as a wait­ress for her to find a way to share her pas­sion with oth­ers.

In 2008, McCrea, fresh out of Con­cor­dia Univer­sity, started wait­ress­ing at Culina, a Ukrainian restau­rant in Ed­mon­ton. She spent hours clear­ing ta­bles while mar­vel­ling at the beau­ti­ful art­work sur­round­ing her. But the prints crafted by lo­cal artists, at $2,000 a piece, were out of her reach.

“I couldn’t af­ford to eat at the restau­rant I worked at, let alone spend thou­sands of dol­lars on an art print,” she said.

Then McCrea started think­ing: she could use off­set print­ing to re­pro­duce art at a cheaper rate. Her in­ten­tion wasn’t to pump out bland de­part­ment-store knock-offs, but to sell orig­i­nal, con­tem­po­rary works at an af­ford­able price.

Shortly af­ter, McCrea moved back to Mon­treal and Papir­masse was born.

Part so­cial ex­per­i­ment, part busi­ness, Papir­masse is a sub­scrip­tion­based art ser­vice that of­fers unique prints with writ­ing on the back. McCrea se­lects the con­tent from hun­dreds of sub­mis­sions so­licited through email list­servs and the com­pany’s web­site.

She gives pref­er­ence to emerg­ing artists who, if cho­sen, re­ceive roughly $100 per submission. In turn, copies of their work are sold to Cana­dian sub­scribers for $5 per month, with a one-year com­mit­ment. Prints can also be pur­chased in­di­vid­u­ally at the end of the year for about $10 a piece. Oth­er­wise, clients can ex­pect to re­ceive one sur­prise print ev­ery 30 days. It can be any­thing from graf­fiti-in­spired por­traits to land­scapes. On the other side might be a poem about a cat or a short story that ex­plores themes of de­sire and be­long­ing.

“We try to keep our sub­scribers on their toes,” McCrea said.

Some­times the art and the writ­ing don’t even share a com­mon theme. That de­ci­sion is largely based on which pieces best suit the size and shape of the print, whether it be an ac­cor­dion folded book­let or a small pam­phlet.

Since Papir­masse mailed its first ship­ment in 2009, it’s sold al­most 10,000 prints in roughly 20 coun­tries on six con­ti­nents.

Most of the work fea­tured is that of Cana­dian artists like Melissa Del Pinto, a 33-year-old Mon­trealer best known for her strik­ing paint­ings of birds. Her most re­cent piece for the com­pany features a ch­est­nut-sided war­bler stand­ing still. The still­ness of the bird, said Del Pinto, is meant to in­spire those whose lives are “gogo-go” to stop and fo­cus.

“It’s beau­ti­ful,” said Laura MacDon­ald, while star­ing at the print, which is hang­ing at the foot of her bed. “I look at it ev­ery morn­ing.”

MacDon­ald has been sub­scrib­ing to Papir­masse since last May. As a free­lance art cu­ra­tor and events or­ga­nizer, she has a great ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the arts. But, since 2008, fi­nances have been tight and buy­ing art­work on a reg­u­lar ba­sis had be­come a lux­ury she couldn’t af­ford. That is, un­til she heard of Papir­masse. “It’s a great idea,” she said. Over the past few months, MacDon­ald has col­lected ev­ery­thing from the quirky col­lages of Mon­treal-based artist Carl David Ruttan to the “weird” line draw­ings of Ed­mon­to­nian Josh Holinaty. And sure, ev­ery now and then she re­ceives a piece that she’s not com­pletely in love with. But, that’s okay.

“Even­tu­ally some­one will come along and like it and I’ll give it away,” she said.

What­ever she ends up do­ing with the prints, MacDon­ald said that she’s al­ways ex­cited to open her mail slot and, once a month, find some­thing that’s not from the government or the bank.

“I get a kick out of (re­ceiv­ing Papir­masse),” she said. “I’ll be like: ‘oh my god, what is it this time?’ ”

PHIL CAR­PEN­TER/ THE GAZETTE

Artist Melissa Del Pinto cleans her brush as she paints a car­di­nal in her home stu­dio. She is one of sev­eral artists who sub­mit work to Papir­masse, a Mon­treal-based com­pany that’s try­ing to make art ac­ces­si­ble to all.

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