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For a visual artist who creates his own paper, soccer World Cups can make life quite difficult – the paper maker relies upon textile factories’ 100 percent cotton white rags as the raw material for paper production; here in Brazil soccer World Cup seasons yield a mass-production of 100 percent cotton YELLOW rags for its 119 million ardent soccer fans, almost completely obliterating the traditional white for a few months time.

31-year old Otavio Roth could very well be the pioneer paper-maker of Brazil, and The Survey of Hand Paper Mills features him as the only paper-maker listed in all South America.

Roth realizes he is paving the road, beginning the tradition, of visual art in Brazil yet he is bitter because he sees a lack of support in establishing it as a major art form in this country. he contrasted the obligatory visual art courses emphasized in American art schools and the non-existent visual art courses here.

“Brazil has a very low awareness and appreciation of visual art, whereas. American art recognizes its importance as a major art element”, he said.

That is why he is dependent on selling his paper abroad – to paper markets like England, Norway, and the United States. Even Japan, in which 600 hand-made paper workshops exist, recognized Roth before his own country.

He was recently invited to Tokyo to do an exhibit on his series of prints based on the 31 Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (for which he has acclaimed international success over the past five years). The project lasted two weeks – Roth illustrating on his paper, and a well-known Japanese calligrapher handwriting the text.

Roth perceived the idea of creating printed illustrations based on the 31 Articles when he was working as a graphic artist in Norway for two years. It was there that he initiated his interest of working with hand-made paper, and he began with the Human Rights’ theme which was marking its 30th-year anniversary.

Eventually, Kurt Waldheim, then secretary-general to The United Nations, offered Roth to make the same exposition at the UN. It was so successful that the UN bought the rights to Roth’s originals and, now exhibit them every year to introduce Human Right’s Day, Dec. 10 – his exhibits are shown in all three UN headquarters: NYC, Geneva and Vienna. This past year, Dec. 12-16, marked the 35th anniversary of Human Right’s Day, where in Rio at the Camera Municipal, his paintings were exhibited.

Roth first became interested in hand-made paper eight years ago when he was studying block printing in England. He was dissatisfied with the disposable papers and resolved to manufacture his own sheets, because he always envisioned paper as an element of image composition rather than its primary function as a plain and simple base for art.

“Paper-making is a basic 5-minute process, anyone can do it, but to most people it becomes a technical process; for me, every piece is a creation”, he said.

The usual procedure of paper manufacture is to produce a sheet, which acts as the base, and then transform that sheet into art; Roth creates images through the paper, during the procedure of production, by using tints and dyes.

The history and development of paper fascinate Roth. In his most recent exposition, which was featured in NYC and São Paulo, he utilized the three raw materials – bamboo-rope-rags- which were used 2,000 years ago to make the first sheet of paper by the Chinese.

“I used the same original raw materials and just re-arranged the elements to produce something so new…the same technique, only the creativity has changed”.

His knack for creativity has propelled him towards saving all his returned bank checks, phone-gas-light bills, and even Cr$1 and Cr$10 paper notes. His newest idea is to recycle these disposable papers and create a huge collage of some sort in which the basic significance of the papers’ form is retained.

Roth noticed a high conscious level of ecology when he was in Japan. They have three separate garbage systems: one for food only, another just for metal, and a third for paper. “The Japanese are very resourceful…they recycle everything; here we are so wasteful”.

He said, for example, the Cr$1 and Cr$10 paper notes are being discontinued because of their worthless value, yet the fibers are worth a lot in quality.

It’s important to make art, Roth said, “It’s what an artist actually does, not what he talks about, that can influence the public”. For example, The World Federation of United Nations Associations chose Roth to conceive an illustration for their commemorative edition of stamps about the Preservation of Nature. The organization ordered 1,000 of his paintings, designed on his hand-made paper in flower petals to enhance the theme, and internationally distributed them in Nov. 1982.

“Once the international art circle knows your work, you receive and endless amount of invitations to enter your exhibits”, he said.

(…) Roth has made expositions at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio, the Museum of Modern Art in São Paulo, the Panorama of Brazilian Art, to name a few. He founded the Handmade Paper Workshop, the first of its kind in this country. he received an honor by the Paulista Association of Art Critics as the best painter of the year in 1979, for his project of paintings made from hand-made paper at the Institute of Architects of Brazil.

He offered a 6-week-course about the manufacture of hand-made paper at the Center for the Book Arts in Manhattan and exhibited independently his work at The Automation House in NY: while making the cover of the magazine “Print News” published in San Francisco by the World Print Council.

Roth also developed a project on hand-made paper for the Institute Technological Research at USP: and prepared a book titled, “What is paper?”.

He has opened up a whole new avenue for visual art in Brazil – and as tradition forms, so will appreciation.


Jill A. Kline, “Brazil’s Pioneer Paper Maker”, Brazil Herald, (Thursday, March 1st 1984)

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