Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Big Ideas in The Big Paper Show

For First Friday in April at the Murphy Art Building, Mike Graves and Justin Cooper exhibit a series of giant paper works called “The Big Paper Show”.

The acquisition of the paper and its size prove to be an exciting venture for Cooper and Graves. Eleven mural-sized, paper artworks cover the walls of the space while eight smaller paintings give a short place to momentarily pause and reflect.

The materials and size of the works are enough to draw an audience into the space. The paper works were done on scene paper, background paper for photographic shots.

While positioned on the wall, the artists used ladders to reach the highest points on the paper. The paintings endured much turning and layering as the work developed. Graves reveals that some of the pieces were layered with up to five under paintings.

Simple but expressive, the artworks in this series are mainly black and white. Looking closer, some paintings contain bits of colored washes and splatters. Other pieces exude tones of blue or exclusively show lone reds or greens or yellows.

Two large boxing paintings can be seen in the secondary main space. For these particular works, Graves and Cooper collaborated with photographer Jeff Jeffries using one of his boxing images and a projector to enlarge the photo. Then the artists painted the figures, giving a life-size energy to the wall space. Each piece is a reflection of the other. Both works side by side engross the viewer in the action.

For the artists, the large paper artworks in this exhibit were intended to be studies that are important to the collective’s development. Graves explained that some would go on to be future, detailed paintings. One work titled “Big Fight”, that appears as a giant wall piece, has already been repainted in a smaller version.

“Big Fight” explores characters of good and evil. In this comic book action scene, Sherlock Holmes and The Joker are simultaneously keying into the same locked door. A valkyrie swoops in from the left, top side of the paper while a fallen maiden dramatically collapses in the right, bottom corner. Much action occurs while the Judge or Referee, looking suspiciously like Genghis Khan, sits nearby. Words in the painting ask, “Who Has Whom in Battle?”

The ideas of “Big Fight” are not singular in their context. Graves explains that during this time, he and Cooper were looking at a booklet that described ways of how to put on Victorian coats. Graves and Cooper further the contextual meaning of the artwork by integrating the ideas of rules as a set system that is ready to be broken.

They suggest that rules or manners and the “proper” ways of doing things are subject to scrutiny and reform. “Big Fight” reflects upon ‘Who makes the rules and who breaks the rules? Who follows the rules and who chooses to break them? When do they decide to break them and how do they decide to do this?’

A feeling of breaking the rules follows throughout the exhibit. Next to boxers and superheroes, pin-up girls are the third type of subject matter that appears in these large paper works.

“Bad Umbrella Pin Up” shows a girl extending her leg sensually amidst a Chinese landscape during a rainstorm. The landscaped mountains are painted as ink-like language characters. The girl doesn’t seem to mind being drenched. The title suggests that the malfunction of her umbrella has either ruined or enhanced her presentation.

In a second piece, “Torrential Pin Up” again, the model is soaked in a rainstorm. Using watered-down acrylic, Cooper and Graves have layered blue paint cascading from the upper, left side downward in a diagonal direction. Graves points to curiosity, shock, and humor as reasons for portraying pin-ups.

Graves says that he could choose to paint something controlled or realistic but intentionally uses an expressive manner. He explains how the expressiveness of the paintings gives way to the overall impression and understanding of the art. “It doesn’t matter what subject is painted” necessarily, but that it is painted freely and passionately. Exploring the rawness of splattering, dripping, and mark-making provide an intense satisfaction for the artists.

For the BRIDGE Collective, the beauty of creating the artwork is that the artists get to contribute their unique talents. For this series, Graves set up the papers to be painted. Both artists discussed ideas and planned out their subjects. Cooper painted the dark, linear outlines for the figures. Then both artists expressively added to each work by censoring with white paint and repainting. Overall it is a push and pull process where each artist temporarily breathes a new identity into the work until completion.

The BRIDGE Collective chooses to push the boundaries of art through their exploration of fresh subject matter and re-contextualizing of social ideas in a multi-faceted manner. Graves states that the large pieces seek to create “tension” thoroughly achieved by the sheer size of the works. The massive spill-strokes and the subjects of moral dilemma encourage the viewer to further contemplate these artworks.

The exhibit will be up through April 20th.

Photo submitted by Shannon Wilson

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