Bedford Gallery contemporary show of ancient art practice
By Lou Fancher
An art form defined by what is missing as much as by what is present is the focus of the Bedford Gallery’s winter exhibition, Cut Up/Cut Out.
The show pays homage to a tradition that involves piercing or cutting with tools to create negative space in artwork that is fashioned using everything from paper to paint cans to car tires.
Along the way, echoes of 6th century Chinese artwork, traditions drawn from 14th century folk art, 16th century lace, the Mexican tradition of papel picado, a cut paper form still used for Dia de los Muertos, and other historical influences inform the style of the show.
Curator Carrie Lederer selected more than 100 works by 56 contemporary artists, including 13 in the Bay Area, engaged in what she calls the “complex, delicate, beautiful, tedious, consuming, frustrating, and awesome” art of cutting.
“The process and art of cutting can be seen as a metaphor for life itself,” says Lederer.
The works in the show address human beings’ relationship with nature and environmental issues, personal and political narratives, architecture, fantasy, and abstract or formal ideas centering on expressivity, work and family.
Lederer first became interested in paper cutting 15 years ago.
“I organized a 20-year retrospective of Bay Area artist Irène Pijoan, who lived from 1953 to 2004 in Berkeley. In 2000, Irene was in the midst of a body of large-scale cut-paper pieces comprised of a complex network of patterns, words, and numbers. (She) painted the back of each piece neon pink, creating an illuminated reflection on the wall.”
Lederer says the work was “staggeringly beautiful” and the Bedford show is dedicated to Pijoan’s creative vision.
The Cut Up works range from 3-inch pieces to sprawling or towering installations like that of Adriane Colburn.
The San Francisco-based artist’s “Forest for the Trees” is 12-by-7 feet. An Art Deco style lattice rises from leafy green plants whose roots dangle above gauzy patches of earth.
Lederer says Colburn’s art reflects her interest in the wilderness, how nature is altered by industry or climate change, and the relationship between scientific exploration and exploitation.
“She is reckoning with how our thirst to understand and visualize a landscape can irrevocably disrupt it,” Lederer says. “At the core of all Colburn’s work is a fascination with our attempts to make sense of the world through maps, data and pictures.”
Similarly, San Jose artist Michael Buscemi finds interest in shadow, light and textures found in nature. Through the use of strategic placement that takes advantage of backlighting, he creates cut paper forms, the back of which he coats with acrylic paint. The works glow and suggest movement when lit.
“Heart of the Sun” was created with thick, all-white cotton rag paper, sharp razor blades and acrylic paint that gives the piece a peach-toned coloration.
“Buscemi began experimenting with this process early in his career by cutting up and reconstructing his watercolor paintings. He was drawn to the meditative repetition of visual control and the spontaneity that cut paper allowed,” says Lederer.
Like most Bedford shows, the exhibit offers opportunities to learn about art history, but also surprising humor, whimsy and examples of artists’ processes.
Wim Delvoye’s hand-cut “Untitled (Car Tyre)” pieces add unexpected fashion to a familiar form. Repurposed materials are used on several works, including that of Francesca Pastine, who turns ARTFORUM magazines into masks, or Nikki Rosato, whose Michigan road map becomes a human bust form that simultaneously indicates stasis and travel.
Rogan Brown’s complex “Small Kernel” is a laser-cut piece that contrasts the comparatively simple art of Ana Bidart, whose “Spirit Level” features sculpted point-of-sale rolls of paper with an all-white Stonehenge-like display.
Lederer says the exhibit is a contemporary view of an ancient art practice that illustrates evolution as it honors tradition. Perhaps the show’s greatest takeaway will be the moment when visitors realize that they already own the tools to participate. All that’s need are scissors and paper – or spare tires and a blade cutter — and an imagination.