John Risseeuw was born in Wisconsin in 1945, he received his Masters of Fine Arts in 1973 from University of Wisconsin-Madison. Risseeuw has been making artists books since 1967. One of his first jobs as an educator was teaching at a junior high school in 1968, teaching 7th, 8th, and 9th grade student’s art and printmaking techniques. He taught at University of South Dakota as well as University of Wisconsin-Madison. He taught at Arizona State University for 35 years from 1980 to 2015. He primarily taught classes that revolved around book making, paper making, letterpress, and photo processes for printmaking. He came to Arizona State University to establish a bookmaking program and a book arts press.
He is the creator of Cabbagehead Press based in Tempe, Arizona; he was also a director for ASU’s Pyracantha Press. His work has been in over 300 exhibitions and has his work in permanent collections across the world. Images of his work have been used as reference in many books related to printmaking and papermaking.
Risseeuw makes a lot of art related to social injustices, products of war, as well as environmental issues. Influences include artists that created work about social issues and war such as Pablo Picasso, Francisco Goya, John Heartfield, and more.
One of his first socially charged prints, created during his graduate program, was printed on six inch diameter cookies with edible screen printing ink. He printing images that represented war and environmental issues. He then went on to make more edible art about President Nixon during his presidency, creating ginger bread men that have President Nixon’s face screen printed on it. He showcased them to be sold for one dollar a piece, with a sign that said “Eat This Guy”.
One significant book Risseeuw has made is titled “Total Fucking Idiots: Thirteen Portraits”, created in 2002. This book is an edition of 2, it has handmade paper, Xerox chine colle intaglio, letterpress, and colored pencil. The book has images of political figures that he considers idiots with their faces crossed out. One of the books is in the special collections at Yale, and the other is in the collection of the Library of Congress. Risseeuw claimed that the hardest part about creating these books was narrowing his list of idiots down to thirteen. I am sure many can relate.
Another book Risseeuw made is titled “Roadkill”; it is a book that involves screen print, letterpress, and lithography. It was an edition of 50, made in 2001. The book is about the harmful effects of SUV’s and other vehicles that use a lot of gasoline or diesel fuels. This book was a commentary on the unreliability of gas or diesel fuels and the harm it does to the environment.
One of the reasons John makes these politically and socially charged pieces is because he wants to inspire other artists as well as non-artists to be aware of the injustices and corruption around them. I chose to write my research paper about John Risseeuw because I too feel the need to make art about the political, social, and systemic injustices that blatantly affect people and our society every day. I think John’s art speaks volumes about how flawed our society is.