Works on paper are a standard feature of the art world, even if works made out of paper are not. Back in the late '60s and early '70s, however, a generation of artists began using paper as their medium — and Colorado artist Ray Tomasso was at the forefront. It's been a few years since Tomasso was the subject of a solo show around here, and that makes Ray Tomasso/New Works in Paper something special.
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The handsome exhibit is ensconced in the Byers-Evans House Gallery (1310 Bannock Street, 303-620-4933, www.coloradohistory.org), a modest space in the former carriage house of the historic mansion. The gallery has been exhibiting art for the past couple of years, with a special focus on established talents from the area. Byers-Evans museum director Kevin Gramer says that since it opened, the gallery has increased attendance at the building by 25 to 30 percent, so it's been a roaring success.
Tomasso's work is done in a quasi-constructivist style, with some of the pieces making vague references to the Western landscape. But there's also a non-objective character to the compositions, with unrelated forms juxtaposed to one another, as in "A Few Loose Strings to Tie Up Was All That Was Left" (pictured). Tomasso likens these shapes to the objects in a drawer that have no association to one another aside from being in the same place at the same time.
His invented process is elaborate. "I taught myself to make paper," says Tomasso, "and I thought, 'How hard could it be to do a 2,000-year-old technique?' Which was a major mistake, because 2,000-year-old techniques are actually very hard to master." He begins by creating a collage of found objects to be used as a mold. He then takes a sheet of wet, handmade paper formed from rag fibers and lays it in the mold. This is followed by two subsequent sheets. The mold is then dismantled — the elements can be used again — and the resulting piece is painted and sealed with mediums or lacquers. The finished bas-reliefs have a substantiality and presence that belie the fact that they are very lightweight.
The impressive show runs through May 29.