Piecing things together

Palo Alto Art Center presents a summer-long homage to collage

Who among us has never made a collage? From grade-school projects to creating elaborate photo albums, almost everyone has had the experience of adhering something onto paper. From the French "coller"(translated "to glue"), the collage process is easy and accessible, with immediate results.

The new exhibition at the Palo Alto Art Center may challenge perceptions about this ubiquitous medium. "Paper Cuts: Large Scale Collage" is part of the Center's "Summer of Collage," which includes the gallery exhibition and a series of workshops and events designed to inspire the visitor to both view and create.

Curator Selene Foster explained that the idea for the show was a collaborative process, with staff members suggesting artists (many from the Bay Area) who might want to participate. Most of the artists are painters who may have included collage in their past work but not in the size seen here.

"I challenged them to create art in a much larger scale than they were used to," Foster said. She selected specific pieces with an eye towards those in which materials were used in unusual ways. "I would say most of the artists are using collage in a really inventive and unique way. It's hard to say what is traditional anymore."

In addition to finding ways to use the medium in an aesthetic manner, it is clear that many of the artists in the exhibition also wanted to get across a message. One of the first pieces the visitor encounters appears, at first glance, to be a charming flower arrangement made of cut paper, entitled "Chemical Bouquet II." Look closer, however, and there are hypodermic needles scattered among the blooms. According to the wall label, artist Kirsten Stolle is interested in "challenging the wisdom of blending corporate interests with public health."

Continuing on into the gallery, one encounters EfrenAve's colorful and geometric assemblage, "Complement." Created by adhering hundreds of fruit stickers (mango and bananas, to be specific) in amazing patterns, the piece makes a statement about the migrant workers who toil in the fields of Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico and the United States.

Hope Kroll also works in two dimensions, creating hand-cut paper collages out of antique books. Her "Bone Eaters" and "Flesh Eaters" are macabre jumbles of anatomical illustrations juxtaposed against pages of weathered sheet music.

Some of the artists found ways to work in three dimensions. Anne Weber's free-standing "Personages (Black and White Together)" is a sculptural form created from found cardboard. A polyurethane coating creates a shiny surface and also allows the viewer to read the text that was originally printed on the cardboard. Working with a mundane material, Weber explained that "My abstract sculptures read as metaphors for life experiences, such as the balancing acts that define our lives."

Ray Beldner applied collage elements (images from art books and magazines) to plywood in order to create "Modern and Contemporary #2". This sculptural piece questions the ideas of "high" and "low" art with contrasting images of everyday objects and fine art.

The largest and most dramatic of the three-dimensional pieces is Mary Anne Kluth's "Master Study, Grand Canyon Trail," located in the adjacent Glass Gallery. By carefully stacking painted wood panels, the artist has created a large-scale diorama of this majestic landscape. Painted in the familiar earthy hues of the desert Southwest, one might think this is a tribute to the popular national park or a comment on environmentalism. In actuality, Kluth said she is drawn to "fake" landscapes, such as theme parks. According to the artist, these artificially composed landscapes "spare the audience the inconvenience and vulnerability of confronting the sublime."

Quilts certainly fall into a category of collage, as they often involve the combination of found or cast-off materials to create a new whole. Travis Somerville's acrylic collage vintage quilt, entitled "Go Team," is a colorful mélange of images portraying confederate monuments sewn onto an original quilt top made by his wife's great aunt. It is a powerful statement about a current event using traditional materials. Ben Venom was inspired by the homespun techniques of the Gee's Bend quilters when creating "No More Mr. Nice Guy!." While the Gee's Bend ladies were concerned with using available materials to create their simple, geometric patterns, Venom looks to punk rock, heavy metal, mysticism and the occult for his inspiration. The resulting images are whimsical (Playboy bunny logo), familiar (dice) and ominous (skull and crossbones).

Visitors can go "In the Nook," a space off the main lobby, in order to create collages of their own. The day of my visit, a mother and her two children were enjoying placing the pieces of various shapes and sizes on the large white board. Foster explained that her hope for the exhibition, and for the related events, is that "people will take the opportunity to see art, be inspired, and hopefully remember to indulge your own inner maker."

Freelance writer Sheryl Nonnenberg can be emailed at nonnenberg@aol.com.

What: "Paper Cuts: Large Scale Collage"

Where: Palo Alto Art Center, 1313 Newell Road.

When: Through Aug. 16; Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Thursday open until 9 p.m.); Sunday from 1 p.m.-5 p.m.

Cost: Free.

Info: For more information about the "Summer of Collage events," which include artist lectures and hands-on workshops for both adults and children, go to PAAC.

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