by Kara Q. Smith
I have a shelf full of paper-based ephemera from exhibitions: price lists, post cards, business cards, curatorial statements, artists' take-aways. My graph-paper notebook is filled with notes from exhibitions, quotes by artists, titles and dates of pieces, and eventually, when the last page is full, I will add it to that shelf where I keep these treasures, swearing I might need them someday though I have yet to pull one thing from the depths. That’s just it; things on paper are usually supplemental. For most artists, paper has a very empirical role: it is used for sketches in sketchbooks, or for drawing directly on its surface. Such works on paper remind me of installing shows where, when the work is on paper, the artist doesn’t mind if you put the tacks right through. There is just something about the fragility of the medium that makes it hard to take center stage. Its hard-to-archive status, its everydayness, its risk of crumpling or ripping, cause it to quite literally get lost in the shuffle of contemporary art mediums.
But then, the tactility and accessibility of paper have been elevated time again, reaching new standards on gallery walls and in art history textbooks, from the early appropriation of print media by Braque and Picasso to the poignant silhouettes of Kara Walker. Continuing this trajectory, the artists in Building Context, an exhibition whose curatorial focus centers on the medium of paper, employ numerous utilizations of this recyclable material and the results highlight the tensile potential of the medium.
Perhaps it is the scale of the works in this exhibition that really brings the show together. Framed and often not larger than your average poster, viewers are invited to look closely at the well-executed detail of each piece. Leigh Wells’ series of untitled collage and mixed-media on paper renderings contain subtle layers of textile-like patterns that artfully utilize the negative space of their manila environment to create alluring compositions that seem to hold life under the draped casualness of their form. Layering, at the crux of transforming paper for each artist in the show, is also essential to creating the ethereal quality Joey Piziali’s pieces through his deliberate mixture of paint and torn paper on panel. Pizali’s torn edges soften his composition, causing the panels to almost appear out of focus and creating an atmospheric effect.
Using the quotidian functions of cutting and pasting, the work in Building Context encourages the viewer to focus on the materials used and offers restraint and creativity in the inspired transformation of a basic resource, that is seemingly in endless supply for our everyday needs.
—Kara Q. Smith
Joey Piziali, Untitled (pink burst), paper collage, 11in x 14in. Leigh Wells, Untitled, 2011, collage and mixed media on paper, 12.75 x 9.5″. Images courtesy the artists and Guerrero Gallery.