When I heard that Collin Parson, curator and gallery director at the Arvada Center, was going to put together a show about paper, I assumed it would focus on handmade cast paper. I was thinking of paper as a medium as well as a material; paper pulp has the same relationship to handmade cast-paper works as clay does to ceramics. But as I went through Paper.Works, I quickly realized that that was not what this exhibit was about. True, Parson did pick some choice examples of paper as a medium, but he cast a much wider net, choosing pieces that simply employ paper, even commercially produced sheets. While this expansive definition of paper could have qualified nearly every drawing, print or photograph on earth for inclusion in the show, Parson pulled himself back from that particular brink. And despite including a range of works by nearly twenty artists, executed with almost as many methods and exemplifying a multiplicity of styles, Paper.Works improbably makes some kind of sense.
Key to pulling unity out of this diversity was Parson’s decision to ask certain artists to create site-specific works in high-profile spots especially for this show. The first of these, on the curved wall in the otherwise awkward entry gallery, is “Two Months and Twenty Snails, Roughly.” As partly suggested by the title, artist Lauri Lynnxe Murphy placed twenty snails on a large sheet of black paper; they left trails of slime as they moved across it, and Murphy cut those out and mounted them on the wall. The result looks like a decorative grill, its linear elements taking on an automatist composition — but since it was snails, and not Murphy, that created the scribbled lines, it’s more like automatism by proxy.
In the adjacent atrium space is the magnificent multi-panel, three-dimensional abstract bas-relief “Monsoon Warning,” by Ray Tomasso, the dean of Colorado paper makers. This is the sort of work I’d expected to find in this show. Tomasso, with the aid of assistant Phil Than, made molds by creating abstract assemblages using found material like construction debris. After a multi-step process, the molds were covered in paper pulp made from ground-up blue jeans. When the pulp was dry, the various forms that emerged through the casting were painted different colors. The composition includes wide red slashes and color fields in a gorgeous blue-green and a subtle, recessive mustard, among other tones. The result is a hybrid of an abstract sculpture and an abstract painting, and it’s a classic example of Tomasso’s signature style.
Opposite the Tomasso is a major triptych by Peter Yumi comprising two exaggeratedly vertical panels bookending a large horizontal panel, all of them covered in black-and-white imagery, much of it found and enlarged. Beyond the Tomasso, in the back space, is a nice selection of wall-mounted sculptures in cast and tinted paper by Myron Melnick, another legendary paper artist; this is also the kind of work ordinarily associated with art done with paper. Although these pieces were made some years ago, they still look fresh and contemporary.
In the spaces along the west side of the Lower Galleries are several standout contributions, including Robert Brinker’s elaborately pierced cutouts from enlargements of glossy, commercially printed papers; the piercings depict such ancient Chinese symbols as the dragon form. Nearby are patterned compositions by Mike McClung (the “Michael” in Michael Warren Contemporary), created when the artist burned holes into the paper to create the imagery. More patterns are seen in the folded paper bas-reliefs by Matthew Shlian and the similarly conceived Jenene Nagy pieces. A suite of white-on-white embossed-paper panels by Sophia Dixon Dillo are stunning in their quiet beauty. And although newcomer Mike Neff is not creating patterns, his taste for geometry is evident in his impressive cut-paper designs based on the letters of the alphabet.
These pattern-making artists are the perfect setup for the solo upstairs, Stan Meyer: Poetic Presence. Meyer is an acknowledged master of contemporary art in Colorado, with a career stretching back to the 1970s, but this is not a retrospective; nearly everything in the show was made in the last year or so. And that’s downright amazing, considering that there are a baker’s dozen in this display.
Meyer’s pieces are created from roofing felt that he tints and paints, then cuts into strips, ultimately weaving those strips into monumental wall hangings with simple symmetrical compositions that have a totemic, heraldic or ceremonial character. He points to Celtic art, the art of the Maori, and architectural screens and details as his inspiration. These sources can be seen in works such as “Double Vortex,” in which the overall form, with fan shapes at the top and bottom and a modified figure eight running through the center, has an elegant straightforwardness offset by the complexity of the weaving method. Much more intricate are pieces such as “Sinuous” and especially “Propelled,” a large, horizontally oriented piece in which the elements occupy different planes. In addition to such primitive sources, Meyer’s work may be associated with the pattern movement of the ’60s through the ’80s, a particularly vibrant scene around here; although his work is woven rather than painted, it could be argued that his pieces are part of that tradition. When I ran into Meyer at the Arvada exhibit, he reminded me that his very first show in Denver was at the long-defunct St. Charles on the Wazee Gallery, which was run by Bev Rosen, a key player in that same scene and an artist who also worked with hard edges.
Meyer’s pieces are invariably magisterial, not just because of the bold and iconic shapes he weaves, but for the iridescent glow they throw off, giving them an extremely luxurious, almost regal quality, more like tapestries than wall sculptures. Although for much of his career Meyer determined the composition of each piece instinctively, lately he’s begun using digital programs to plan his weavings — but I couldn’t tell which were which, since everything looked pure Meyer.
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The last of a trio of thematically associated shows at the Arvada Center is Paper on Paper, in the Theater Gallery. This small group exhibit features examples of chin-collé — a process in which small bits of paper become adhered to a full sheet through the actions of the printing press — from Denver’s Open Press, and includes prints by Open Press master printer Mark Lunning as well as Jane Braley, Ken Elliot, Lynn Heitler and Amy Metier.
While paper may seem a flimsy theme around which to organize art, it adds up to three solid shows. And it’s worth a trip to Arvada just to see the Tomasso and all those Meyer pieces.
Stan Meyer through August 6; Paper.Works and Paper on Paper through August 20, Arvada Center,
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, 720-898-7200, arvadacenter.org.