Big Paper is a little generous. Most of the works on paper aren’t that big (sorry, The Due Return [visual arts, May 11: “Full Sail”] skewed my sense of scale) or are made of several smaller sheets of paper. Often, it’s the subject matter in the six-person exhibition at 333 Montezuma Annex that’s most sizable, confiscating theoretical if not physical space.
The exhibition thrives when the pieces fit both “big” categories, when large paper—or several pieces—carries a large subject. (Think Attack of the 50 Foot Woman on the big screen.)
That’s because macro is always momentarily arresting; taking an item out of scale also takes it out of context. When a large item is writ large (not necessarily as large as it is in real life), viewers must rectify its size and rethink its connotations.
Wesley Berg renders bears inert in two dimensions and with charcoal. In “Two Bears” (93 by 100 inches using six pieces of paper), the viewer is privy to a private, docile moment stolen from a surreptitious line of sight. You weren’t supposed to see the bears with their paws limp, expressions calm and facing each other so they’re nearly nose to nose—but you’re glad you did.
In a series of all roughly 38-by-50-inch ink-on-paper works, Peter Ligon toys with scale to ludicrous effect. He depicts big, fake animals, propped up to advertise their respective establishments. A shark swims in a cityscape, and a steer sells the flesh of his family.
The largest single sheet of paper demonstrates how increasing scale can make a piece experiential. For Ligon’s “Carroll and Columbia,” a roll of paper scrawled with ink spans an entire gallery wall (42 inches by 30 feet), even curling up at each end as if to suggest infinity. The piece posits the viewer at the intersection of Carroll and Columbia avenues (according to a Google Maps street view search, it’s a generally faithful depiction of the intersection in Dallas, Texas). Walking the length of the wall, one perceives a panoramic view of a lost place and time. Gas at the corner Citgo goes for $2.85 a gallon, a reminder that the piece was made in 2007, while a sign across the way advertises “fades/perms/flattops,” calling cards of a different time and place altogether.
Most comically, Larry Bob Phillips toys with scale in “Ca-rtoon,” a small SUV made of wood, foam, plaster and paint parked in the center of the back room. It looks like a 3-D paper assemblage—a cheating house of cards.
Combine this large cartoon rendering of a small SUV with some questionable automotive aesthetics—airbrushed angels and vulgar vanity plates don’t really work on Kias—and gas guzzlers (by extension, Big Oil) almost look benign. Almost.
In abrupt relief to the almost entirely black-and-white exhibition, Alison Keogh’s earth-toned works take up an entire room at the right side of the gallery. Keogh explores a series of media to create “inks”—walnut, sumi, oil and clay, which she sources from a number of glamorous and not-so-glamorous nearby locales. The most intricate pieces, usually those in which she wields sumi or walnut, come off as fine fabric and hair pleats or, if we pretend these relatively tiny works were larger, as wave crests and mountain ridges.
Big Paper is a simple and satisfying conceit that has the ability to convey wonder.
We just wish it had bigger paper.