A bright red sculpture of a nude woman surrounded by hundreds of silver scissors sits just inside the entrance to Bentley Gallery. Created by Dani Godreau, the kneeling figure that’s part of her Mea Culpa installation appears to be creating a circle of scissors that rises from concrete floor to gallery wall, paying homage to both women’s labor and traditional craft.
It’s a theme carried through the gallery, where works by 22 women artists pushing the boundaries of material and meaning are part of the “In, On & Of Paper” exhibition that continues through March 9. It’s thoughtfully curated by Rembrandt Quiballo, an artist whose own body of work includes digital manipulations of women’s images that question social norms.
Paper has the odd distinction of being both ubiquitous and antiquated. It’s prevalent from bathroom to boardroom, yet rapidly being replaced in some spheres by digital technologies. Since its invention in China, it's been around for about 2,000 years. It’s so common now that it’s taken for granted. Yet these artists, all based in Arizona, beckon viewers to see paper with fresh eyes.
Several of these artists work with unconventional materials, such as fire, children’s stickers, and tamale paper.
At first glance, Beth Ames Swartz’s Arizona Fault Line #1 looks like a giant, painted scrap of crushed metal. In reality, she created the piece using layered paper and mixed media including acrylic paint and gold leaf. Created in 1981, using fire and earth as well, it’s the exhibit’s most profound reminder that things aren’t always what they seem.
Like Swartz, Annie Lopez has played a central role for several decades in developing the downtown Phoenix arts scene, where the cultural landscape has yet to gain the sort of national recognition you’d expect for the country’s fifth-largest metropolis. Exhibitions like “In, On & Of Paper” can help change that, by punctuating the breadth and depth of artwork taking shape here.
Annie Lopez works with sheets of tamale paper, making cyanotype photographs, then stitching them together into dress forms. Her 2016 piece titled Favorite Things features images culled from childhood memories, from eating at a local pancake house to attending Phoenix Suns’ games. Here, viewers are reminded of paper’s role in saving and transmitting not only personal memories, but collective cultural and societal memories as well.
Malena Barnhart works primarily with children’s stickers, recognizing their role in reinforcing gender stereotypes. Her Sticky Chain, a 2013 mixed-media work with thousands of stickers arranged to look like links in a chain, makes clear the ways cultural objects, including children’s toys, affect identity, expectations, and power structures. You might say it’s a telling bit of pulp fiction.
The exhibition also highlights intriguing variations in several artists’ best-known bodies of work.
Denise Yaghmourian, an artist represented by Bentley Gallery, often creates exquisite, meticulously-crafted fabric boxes. Recently she centered an exhibit around objects dipped in black paint. However, this show includes Dozens, an installation of different color doll-like faces, created in 2019 using paper clay and paint.
Another artist, Monica Aissa Martinez, creates drawings that incorporate anatomical elements of humans, animals, and other organisms. This exhibit includes a different take on that approach. It’s a 2016 drawing incorporating a map of the city, which the artist titled Mapping A Living Organism: A Human Cell as the City of Phoenix.
Ashley Macias, another artist whose work plays with human anatomy, is well-known for large-scale murals infused with surrealism that dot the downtown Phoenix landscape. Here, viewers see her work on a vastly different scale, through four ink and watercolor pieces called Anatomical Reflections.
In some cases, artists explore issues at the heart of contemporary American life.
A maize-colored tunnel with hundreds of seed-shaped cutouts sits near the center of the gallery, surrounded by cut pieces strewn across the floor. Inspired by memories of her grandmother’s curtains, artist Sam Fresquez used paper to create Nesting, an installation that explores concepts of home beyond physical spaces. Kristin Bauer’s white Colossus banner hangs nearby, its laser-cut text including an ominous phrase that captures the present moment in American society: Sink or swim.
“In, On & Of Paper” also includes works by Merryn Omotayo Alaka, Cece Cole, Ashley Czajkowski, Kenosha Drucker, Estrella Payton Esquilin, Danielle Hacche, Heidi Hogden, Lena Klett, Kathryn Maxwell, Jessica Palomo, Katharine Leigh Simpson, Lizzy Taber, and Claire A. Warden.
Using approaches ranging from fashion to photography, these artists are punctuating the power of paper to shape and convey ideas – and reminding us all that sometimes it’s good to run with scissors.
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