When I walked into Janice Charach Gallery to see PaperWorks in late October, I experienced a moment of profound confusion. Perhaps because I knew that Meighen Jackson, the curator of the exhibit, had been experimenting in her own art practice with the 3-dimensional potential of paper, torn or cut or folded, I expected to see work that reflected a sculptural approach to the material.
I found though, that PaperWorks is not so much a show about paper, but a show of work on paper by 7 accomplished artists with a diverse array of goals and methods. For them, paper is a given, a starting point, an almost transparent means to an end. They have used it as such, working in a range of styles and toward a variety of ends, producing work that spans a broad spectrum of emotional expression and observation.
The humorous drawings of Constance Bruner employ the visual syntax of comics and animation, and occupy the expressive end of this collection. She playfully engages in a formal dialog between the paper and the marks she makes upon it, calling her drawings evidence of “a process of navigation between control and impulse, emotion and rational thought.” The series of moves and countermoves that she makes within the bounds of the paper produces lively images that swoop and wiggle on the page. Sue Carman-Vian is likewise an artist bent on expression but in a shadowy, ominous mood that delivers an implied critique of feminine roles and constraints. Her five large charcoal drawings, inhabited exclusively by female figures, possess a sinister, storybook quality. The women are not in danger, precisely, but they seem immobilized. Women at their Heights, places women literally on a pedestal where they are idolized but lack agency. In another drawing, Diner Party Dress, the lone figure is implicitly offered as a commodity, to be admired and then consumed.
In a more formal –and three-dimensional–vein, Jiangmei Wu describes herself as fascinated by the tactile qualities of folding. Her two elaborately folded pieces, Boreas and Eurus, are lit from within, and suggest symmetrical forms from nature, crystals or single-celled organisms. Her paper folding is simple in concept, but elaborate in effect. She describes her deceptively simple but sophisticated method, ” I use balancing, connecting, hinging, suspending, pulling and popping in my works. I often fold intuitively, oscillating between states of disequilibrium and equilibrium.” Elizabeth Youngblood shares with Jingmei Wu a preoccupation with the formal and process-related properties of her material. In her drawing Red 1, She arrives at her finished image by means of repeating a single gesture. Some of her other work in this collection depends upon the process of pouring aluminum paint onto paper, yielding an image that is both intentional and fortuitous, dependent upon chance but clearly intentional.
John Hegarty and Armin Mersmann occupy the observational end of the spectrum in PaperWorks, and are engaged in intense looking and recording of what they see, though to vastly different ends. Hegarty has had a distinguished career as an artist and teacher, and his keen interest in his fellow human beings informs his ongoing art practice.“Usually what I draw, or paint, are friends,” he says. His life-size drawings of Pat Duff, a friend of long standing whose face and figure he often draws, are deeply humane and closely observed. Armin Mersmann’s obsessively detailed landscape drawings speak to the artist’s preoccupation with visual perception as an avenue to deep understanding. “Drawing gives me the opportunity to truly see,” he explains. He aims to record the truth beneath the surface appearance of things and to convey that sense of the sublime to the viewer.
Lynne Avadenka a printmaker, avid archivist of all things printed and student of the printed word as related to the Jewish experience, rounds out this distinguished roster of master draftsmen/craftsmen with 8 mixed media collages entitled Bomberg Variations. The historic version of the talmud referenced in these cut paper collages established the holy book’s page design into modern times and it’s easy to see why. Even without text, the formal dignity of the design conveys an undeniable sense of the ineffable and transcendent.
It appears from the evidence presented in PaperWorks that rumors of the demise of paper as an artistic medium, to paraphrase Mark Twain, “have been greatly exaggerated.” The artists take advantage of paper’s ubiquity and flexibility as a material, finding it a means ideally suited to their diverse ends.
PaperWorks, curated by Meighen Jackson and featuring the works of Armin Mersmann, Constance Bruner, Elizabeth Youngblood, Jiangmei Wu, John Hegarty, Lynne Avadenka and Sue Carman Vian, will be on view on the main level of Janice Charach Gallery until December 5. For more information go here