I have to admit I was more than intrigued by the theme of the newest exhibition showing at 40 Point One. As a writer, I often do my best thinking longhand, and I have a predilection for unique stationery; as a library employee and bookseller, being surrounded constantly by paper could easily render it mundane, instead it is elevated to something vital and elemental to my way of life. The idea of “art as physical object” always defaults to the written word printed on the page for me, but it captured my immediate attention to think of an entire gallery filled with many different interpretations of paper as art.
Both the artists and the curator of the exhibition Paper Trails were open to playing with the concept in a multitude of ways. I loved that so many different artistic styles were represented, with each using the paper in a unique way. Paper was the vehicle, the medium, the art itself and even the subject. Everything fit the theme, and more importantly, they fit together. Taken in as a whole, the show definitely displays the breadth of variation possible within such a basic concept.
The written word is not elusive in this exhibition, to be sure. Whether collage works use newsprint to highlight themes, or the I Ching repeats for feet, print is inseparable from paper art. From a literal interpretation: a bound book of local poetry and photography, to a six-foot tall accordion poem of newsprint-sourced cuttings to reflect the oddity of recent history, I found enough words to make me feel quite at home.
Paper brings to mind pen-and-ink drawings, watercolors, perhaps charcoal or pastels. Several artists chose to submit pieces in those veins, as I looked around, my eye slid over many works in black and white or muted colors. When I approached, however, I saw delicate lines and intricate work displayed on subject matter I might have shied away from had it been full-color. Agapostemon virescens by Liza Wynette is a fascinating rendering of a bee, probably my most highly-charged phobia. On the other end of the spectrum, Pensive by EKAH was lovely in a way that I found both lonely and comforting.
Some artists began with the expected and gave it a unique twist. Sarah Gillespie used the ancient method of Japanese woodblocks to suggest biological minutiae in Genetic Chance, to great effect. Equally surprising was UNREALestate by Jan Kappes, which upon first look appears to be a gorgeous painting. In fact, it is ink on vellum used to create deceptive dimension of a squid-like nature. Another eye-tricking work that drew me in is by Preetika Rajgariah. The digital print depicts textures so convincing that I had to make a conscious decision to not touch it. The entire piece is also run through with threads stitched by a sewing machine in a ragged, disjointed fashion that run off the page, giving it a disheveled, damaged look like the most rubberneck-worthy accident.
Physical work with paper makes up a significant portion of the exhibit. At nearly a foot high, El Gato by John Odum elevates origami to the next level. Stacey Gross framed gelatin prints of origami cranes, then took it a step further by providing square photocopies of the prints to encourage the audience to fold their own. Paper-making is integral, and a few artists chose to display that skill in their works, like Judy Jones’ Bagatelle, and the delicate sculptures of Amy Lozar’s Collection.
And then there were the works that took the concept and bent it, very close to breaking, but just enough shy that they really worked. In its simplicity, Battleground by Angelo Martinez grabbed me, made me laugh, and made me ache with recognition. The only piece that does not use paper as its media (as far as I could tell), the painted board depicts a blank piece of ruled notebook paper. Alright visual artist, you scored one on the writer. The other work that stood out creatively started simply with the concept of not just paper, but pencil-and-paper. As expected and predictable as peanut butter and jelly, this pairing worked together to make Alice Yumi Sinzato’s Waterfall truly unexpected and startling. With just graphite layered on a translucent paper that was torn and cascaded in long sheets… alright, I admit: I touched it. Just along the edge, to make it ripple. Seriously, how could you not?
I walked through the exhibition solo on my lunch break one weekday, because the gallery space is in the extended lobby of the Champaign Telephone Company. Mike Hosier has been a perennial supporter of the Boneyard Art Festival, donating empty property space to be used for pop-up galleries. After the Verizon dealer moved out of this area, he removed the display shelving, had the space professionally painted, and used the directional lighting to 40 North’s advantage. And he’s right, it’s a beautiful space that is well-suited to display. I was a little jarred by some of the drawbacks: I could hear the lite-rock radio and phonecalls from the business; there are two occupied offices between hung artworks; and although the staff made me feel welcome, there was a slight feeling of being an interloper. I was glad I came by myself, because I would have felt disruptive had I tried to discuss anything with a friend. As it was, I actually skipped looking more closely at two pieces hanging in the corner, because I could see someone working through a nearby window.
My social awkwardness would have been no challenge, however, had I made it to the reception. I have no problem talking to random folk who are all in the same place for the same reason. From the photos, the opening gala looks like it was lively, full of incredible people having great conversations, which would have made me feel right at home. Plus there’s a kind of energy and invigoration from looking at art communally, with other people who are there to appreciate and explore. For those reasons, more than anything else, I will make it a point to get to the reception for the next (and final) exhibition of 2016 to be held at 40 Point One.
40 Point One gallery is located at 1300 S. Neil Street and Paper Trail will be on display through October 28th. It is open during normal business hours, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. By all accounts, the employees actually enjoy having people there to look at the art, so relax and take your time. If you see something you like, 40 North is happy to facilitate the sale although they do not take a commission. You can inquire by emailing Kelly or by calling 217-351-9841.
All images by Stephen Kemp and Michelle Wright