Papirmasse makes art accessible, and affordable, to everyone
For $5 a month, company mails art to subscribers
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?’ ”