Despite the growing hegemony of screen culture, paper still reigns supreme. In this exhibition of its many forms and ends, Erin Cramer’s open containers of its variable ingredients—kozo, abaca, flax, wheat straw, cotton—makes for the most memorable display. Cramer models the material into the shapes of familiar animals, and the results are as cute as teddy bears and no more profound. Just as playful, though more adult, are the figurative drawings and cardboard constructions by Joe Fournier, an editorial cartoonist for the Chicago Tribune. He draws voluptuous female figures with dynamic linearity, but they mostly appear like facile parodies of Picasso of the fifties and sixties. Many pieces in this material-focused show seem to emphasize the artist’s facility with media: Phil Ponce’s ability to cut a decorative screen out of Tyvek; Monika Wulfers’ ability to fold a manga book into a cone; Andrea Peterson’s ability to incorporate natural materials into the paper that also depicts them.
The overabundance of printed paper can be repurposed for quick sketching by professional as well as outsider artists. Kevin Fair is a waiter at Miller’s Pub who has been marking up receipts with his fantasies for more than a decade. Rebecca Wolfram is a narrative painter who sketches daily from newspaper photographs. Stretching across walls and even the floor, their hundreds of drawings introduce us to two vibrant, creative people, though I doubt that many viewers will pause to study each and every page—the visual quality just isn’t there.
Visual quality does, however, compel the eye toward the ink-on-paper works by Katherine Nemanich. Her conglomerations of torn white paper and heavy black ink share the disciplined abandon of the most eccentric Asian calligraphy. The artist’s website notes that she listens to music while working. Obviously, she’s been inspired by the tumultuous kind—like late Beethoven quartets—even in the ink-free piece entitled “Silence.”
Just as it presents the expressive versatility of paper media, this show also exhibits the cultural diversity of Chicago. Reflecting a Middle Eastern flair for eschatology, Azadeh Hussaini has repurposed various kinds of paper products to depict the entire world, its destruction and consequent maelstrom of darkness. Her work is simultaneously horrible and attractive. By contrast, Yoonshin Park has rolled and inked handmade paper into a thick fabric that continues the East Asian artistic tradition of calm, meditative landscape. And then there are the collaborative multilingual word games woven together by Carole Harmel and Lialia Kuchma representing the semiotic games of contemporary academia. This exhibit fills a large gallery with a variety of both paper techniques and Chicago artists, yet it only begins to represent the great diversity of both. (Chris Miller)
“Paper Arts” shows through May 5 at the Bridgeport Art Center, 1200 West 35th.