What is Wipee?

Wipee, (pronounced why-pay), is a common material made of left over textiles and used mostly as painter’s rags. When I first bought it, I had no idea what it was called or what it was used for, though I guessed from the look of it it was some kind of rag-like material. I just bought it because it looked cool. I spend way too much time in Home Depot, when I am in the states, and other hardware stores (called fereterrias) in Guatemala. I just roam around looking for inspiration or the next new material. Call it research, call it rambling, call it flat out wasting time (though wouldn’t). I don’t care. It’s something I love doing and I get great ideas from it.

Wipee First Encounter

One day, while on one of these excursions in Guatemala City, I was in the zone in a giant big box store called Cemaco. The Brand Fam was shopping, but I had other intensions. For some reason I decided to start making art out of anything in the store that I could find.

Random snake-bowl thing.
Random Carl Andre thing.
More random-ness.

Ok, I didn’t say it was good art by any means. But often it is a state of mind that I am trying to get into, not necessarily the thing that is produced while entering into that state of mind. I am waiting for that one good idea that will come from all the crap (see above). It’s an openess to anything. It drives people around me crazy, especially when they are trying to get things done, and I am off trying to get in the zone (i.e. seemingly counterproductive behavior). Let’s face it, we are usually running around trying to “get things done” and our creative right brain is on the ropes while the left brain kicks it’s ass.

So I’m running around making things and people are staring and the store attendants are getting nervous because they know that pretty soon they are going to have to say something to me because someone is soon going to get hurt by these random creations left laying around the store. Hey, it’s not my crap, it’s yours. Nobody said you have to only do this or that with it. I’m doing the other. Free promotion, finding unlimited uses with your cheap crap! (aka artistic medium).

After a while I decided to tone it down a little and just look around at the stuff like everyone else. Soon I came across a large container in the center aisle of the tools and hardware section that held a bunch of brightly colored rags packaged individually in plastic. I knew this was what I was looking for. Each ball of rags contained a different set of colors and I was absolutely fascinated by this stuff. I didn’t even know what it was called, I just knew it was something good.

I wheeled a shopping cart over to the container and began to fill the cart, package by package, admiring the colors and letting my mind go free, allowing me to have an insight into how I would use it. I couldn’t believe the colors. Then Rache and the kids came over and saw what I was doing and Rache said “You’re going to take all of it?!” I said I was, and that was that.

Back in the studio

That night I had dreams of colorful balls of textiles dancing around my studio and finally settling in to their new home. And the next morning I awoke and rushed off to the studio to see what I could do with my new found medium.

On the floor I laid a white square of canvas that had been sitting around my studio and dropped a ball of wipee onto it and stared at it a while, like a painter that contemplates the canvas before touching it.


Like an Abstract Painting.

Well, one can only stare at a ball of rags for so long before it starts to take on a life of its own. I started to work with it by spreading it out to see if there were different colors inside. As the material gets spread out form starts to reveal itself, like an abstract expressionist painting. From underneath, new colors emerge, new patterns.

“Painting” with wipee

When I used to paint, there was often a moment, the product of too much thinking, when I reached a crossroads and had to decide when to stop the painting. Abstract painting caused me all kinds of mental duress, mostly because of this moment. Sometimes I would disappear into the piece, and the work would finish itself.
You can see in my paintings a struggle, a deep searching to find the essence of the piece. Nowadays I am better at letting it come instead of trying to force the essence into fruition. And you can also see that in the more recent paintings.

I wanted to eliminate this struggle so I created a set of rules, which I have been doing a lot lately, that defined, in the beginning pieces that the final work would be 24″ x 24″ square and be completed within 20-30 minutes. After that it was done and I would be ready to move on to the next one.

These rules kind of created themselves when I first started making the pieces, and I just rolled with it. But I made sure I would stick to these rules because, knowing me, I would start to stray and spend more time making the work and trying to fix what was already done, thereby overworking the piece. Overworking a painting is the bane of the abstract painter’s existence.

“Painting” with wipee

You can see in the above video how fast I am working. I love it. There is very little thinking and lots of movement towards a finished piece. And when I am finished the work still has a fresh and spontaneous quality which is where I am trying to focus my energy in differetn series of work I am creating right now. The velocity with which I am working also speaks to my meditation practice and the fact that I am staying in the moment, focusing on the feel of the wipee, focusing on my hand movements, staying calm with my breath, things that are similar to what I so when I meditate.

This meditation is very central to my work. Often I will come up with ideas for work that allow me to meditate and create work at the same time, thereby extending my practice into all aspects of my life. I think a lot of artists would say that they are doing the same.

The Manta Cruda series, Cut, Emptiness has a similar process but with a slower and more deliberate repetetive motion involved in creating the work. But the meditation is still there.

The First Wipee Pieces

Below is a gallery of the first wipee pieces I created. I hope you can see the freshness and spontaneity in them. With regards to color, I love the fact that the color is already defined for me in the product. Less thinking = more spontaneity. If the colors sucked I probably would have never been drawn to the material. But I love working with a “palette” that is pre-mixed and pre-defined. It’s amazing the colors are as good as they are. It’s not like the textile manufacturers packaged the wipee according to agreeable color palettes. It just worked out that way, at least in my opinion. Also, the color palette within each ball of wipee is often something I would never have picked out on my own, so it is also a color study in new palettes.

The Pita Plastica pieces are similar with regards to color. I really love the color of the material and the fact that it comes on only a few colors plus black and white. This work therefore has a seemingly limited color palette for me to work with, but I can come up with endless variations based on just those few colors. And the reason I said “seemingly limited color palette” above is that there are always subtle variations of, lets say, the color orange, depending on the maufacturer and if the pita plastica has been sitting on direct sunlight for a long time and the color is faded.

Gallery of early wipee paintings

Finding EcoFriendly Material

The one problem i had with the first wipee material I found was that I didn’t know where it came from. Likely it was not from a manufacturer using eco friendly materials and was likely not a product of upcycling.

As a lot of the materials I use are eco-friendly, I really wanted to find a substitute for what I was using. I knew I would never get the great colors that I had found in the first painters rags, and I knew I would still use this original material to some degree (like the Pita Plastica) but i also really wanted to find some earth friendly stuff to “carbon offset” what I was using at the time.

Enter the New Denim Project, an amazing family textile business that manufactures textiles from used denim left over from the fashion industry that makes jeans, a huge business here in Guatemala.

Wipee piece using New Denim Project materials

I first went to The New Denim Project to get their eco-friendly canvas that they manufactured. And it was a serendipitous occasion that they also had huge bags of wipee stacked up in their factory of various colors, mostly upcycled from jeans and tshirts. But I also discovered that they they had wipee made from colorful left over towels.

So now I’m good to go with earth friendly wipee. Check that off the list. I’ll still use the original wipee that I buy in fereterrias becausee the colors are just too good. But at least I can use mostly earth friendly stuff from The New Denim Project to carbon offset the non-earth friendly stuff.

Maybe soon I’ll be able to use only upcycled wipee.

Below is a gallery of wipee in detail so you can better see what the material looks like.

Thanks for reading!

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