By Alexander Castro / Special to The Daily News
Posted Jul 22, 2019 at 9:30 AM
The eight-artist collective Pulparazzi consider painting and papermaking inseparable in summer show.
JAMESTOWN — The virtues of construction paper tend to go unappreciated after grade school, once cutout masks and hokey holiday crafts are behind you. But for some artists, the practice of crafting with paper, rather than simply on it, remains elemental. The collective Pulparazzi, in fact, is made up of artists for whom painting and papermaking are nearly inseparable.
The national eight-artist group exhibits together through Aug. 17 at Jamestown Arts Center, with a closing reception slated for Aug. 14. Curated by Jamestown’s own Joan Hall, “Pulparazzi: Painting with Paper” is this year’s accompaniment to JAC’s annual Summer Soirée. It unfolds into an exposé of paper’s ability to hold lines, space, and gestures grander and more acrobatic than you might expect.
“Some of us have known each other since the ’80s and all of us have developed our own techniques using handmade paper,” Hall said. It’s been her speciality since 1976, and she believes it “the most versatile medium one can use. It can be cast three dimensionally, formed into sheets, [or] painted if beaten really fine using squeeze bottles.”
Hall is known for her large-scale works, but here she went smaller. “Too Green” is a classic Hall piece: a wispy tangle of aquatic plants and phantom debris, dressed this time in a pestilent green. Watches are visible in this salvaged slew—a reminder, maybe, of ecological time running out.
Hall left plenty of room for her cohorts. John Babcock’s contributions are sizable, and seem to reflect his sunny home of Soquel, California via geometric moments of relief. His large paper squares and stacked triangles have a slightly dated feel. Their particular language of abstraction looks as if they could hail from ’80s New Wave or even the Op Art of the ’60s.
But as I overheard an Ogunquit drag queen say recently: “The ’80s are the new ’40s.” And so Babcock’s papers take on nostalgic appeal, in addition to their tranquility.
Next to Babcock is a grid of nine pieces by Lynn Sures, one of Pulparazzi’s founders along with Beck Whitehead. Using heavily textured papers, Sures’ work resembles an archaeological dig, the imagery layered under faux dirt and stone. Her paper paintings contain skull fragments, parts of spines and ancient creatures. They border on the spooky, but Sures’ coloration keeps them more grounded than gruesome.
Shannon Brock offers a smoother variant of pulp painting — that is, painting directly with a wet, pigmented, paper slurry. Her charming paintings almost function as colorful maps. Glimpse the winding pale brown of a walking trail as it cuts through grass, or notice concentric squares glow with red, blue, yellow and pink amid sea foam bubbles.
One piece might cause local viewers to do a double take: Michelle Samour’s installation is highly reminiscent of Hall’s work, consisting of assorted marine forms pinned to a wall. The nautical theme feels a little predictable in Jamestown, and previewing Samour’s acrylic-and-plexiglass work online, this contribution feels a little underwhelming. But it still succeeds as an installation, with its small-but-vast blue stretching across the wall, looking as if a Wunderkammer spilled open.
Nearby, the gallery’s cove is again a useful hideaway for work requiring a little air, space or contemplation. Here it’s occupied by a “Hymn” from Anne Q. McKeown. It’s one of three contributions from the Secaucus, New Jersey, artist that she says “rely on different strengths of paper to hold three dimensional space.”
This particular experiment stretched abaca (banana paper) over an armature of wire and cotton fiber. Hand-crocheted strips of the New York Times comprise the final layer—an exoskeleton of earthy, at times gloomy, colors. The invisible layers, McKeown writes, suggest sneaky cancers hidden from sight. It’s a powerful (and dark) offering, surpassing not only the technique but also subject matter you might expect of paper.
McKeown enjoys “find[ing] ways that paper might leave the flat plane” to seek new job opportunities, in both robust and delicate roles. At JAC, McKeown spoils the audience with not only sculptures like “Hymn,” but also a set of four sublime pigment drawings from 2008, made on paper she crafted in Shikoku, Japan.
Absorbing the works in “Pulparazzi,” seeing what paper can do, you might be tempted to make some paper of your own. You’ll need a mould and deckle, as well as a spare blender. A small investment, sure — but you might just rediscover the virtues (and the pleasure) of construction with paper.
Curated by Joan Hall
Through Aug. 17
Jamestown Arts Center, 18 Valley St., Jamestown
Gallery Hours: Wednesday–Saturday: 10 a.m.–2 p.m., or by appointment
Closing Reception: Wednesday, Aug. 14, 6-8 p.m.
Alexander Castro covers the arts scene in and around Rhode Island. Follow him on Twitter at @OhNoCastro.