This text was commissioned for an exhibition of a new suite of prints by Derek Sullivan, which he completed during a residency at Open Studio in Toronto in 2012. The series is called Surplus Portfolio, and is comprised of seven woodblock prints of running pairs—that is, one of the blocks from the previous print is carried over to the next one, so that the last print ends with a block from the first—as if the viewer was moving through subsequent page spreads of an abstract book. The colors of each of the prints correspond to Kurt Schwitters’ Merz Mappe (Merz Portfolio), 1923, six lithographs he made by collaging inky proofs and misprints from a commercial press to a lithograph stone, which he then printed to paper. (Schwitters worked for a time at the Molling printing house in Hanover, so these materials were in ready supply.) Schwitters packaged the prints in a pink and red portfolio, which Derek had the opportunity to view at the National Gallery’s library in Ottawa nearly a century later.
Derek said he was open to a more experimental text, and preferably one that speculated on the images rather than being too didactic or revealing. Actually, the back story I mentioned above is only hinted at in Surplus Portfolio. For me the work connects to Schwitters far more than Derek has acknowledged–or perhaps I’m projecting? In my text, I allude to Schwitters’ biography and corpus of work along a time line suggested by the numbered sequence of the prints.
The first half (numbers 1 through 7) is set in the past, and drops hints about Schwitters’ other projects (though many of them could be equally about Derek). I was particularly interested in Schwitters’ incomplete (and now destroyed) architectural installation Merzbau in Hanover, and so this half is more about the implied spatial arrangements on each print.
The second half of the sequence is more or less in the present. The spaces describe here shift from architecture to the structure and production of books, which is a core element of Derek’s practice. There are some deliberate redundancies and repetitions in the text to account for this retracing or looping through the two ‘halves’ of the piece.
Annotations for the Surplus Portfolio previously appeared in a brochure published by Open Studio, and subsequently in a small, limited-run artist book designed by Derek. This is its third form, typeset as an e-book using Pollen, a programming language developed by typographer and programmer Matthew Butterick based on Racket. Derek’s woodcuts have been re-presented here as drawings generated from Racket code, more specifically the HtDP and Pict libraries.
Jen Hutton, 2012/2019.