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Paper! Awesome!

Doodles Elevated

Remember back in school when your 8-x-11 sheets of notebook paper presented unlimited opportunities for distraction during boring class lectures, even portals into unknown worlds? What did you doodle as your teachers talked about the Napoleonic Wars and conjunctive adverbs? Spirals? Spaceships? Ligers? The initials of your latest crush?

Did you sometimes find that your notes for history class were elaborately framed by ninjas and cowboys to the extent that you couldn’t even read what you’d written about the role of colonial women during the Revolutionary War?

This format has finally been elevated to the status of a fine art form in Baer Ridgeway Exhibition’s Paper! Awesome! Filled with over 300 works by around 100 artists, Paper! Awesome! takes as its canvas the 8-x-11 piece of paper — that school and workplace standard that has so often limited rather than released one’s creativity.

Upon entering the gallery, one’s first impression is, of course, one of uniformity — that size and shape of paper is unmistakable in its regularity. However, the eyes quickly penetrate this uniformity of format to be dazzled at the assortment of style, media, color, and subject matter. Like a miniature museum that has taken every possible type of two-dimensional (and some three-dimensional) work and sampled it in the 8-x-11 format, the exhibition displays an astonishing array of art.

Unlike the random doodles of the typical high school student, most of these works are complete compositions. For example, D.L. Alvarez’s “Mae West” not only creates a peek into a beautifully rendered bedroom, but forms an interesting composition by filling the first third of the paper with solid black, cutting off the bed and leaving our view incomplete. This sense of peeping is enhanced by the two holes cut into the paper, like two eyeholes through which we might secretly observe the nightly rituals performed therein.

The works are also not limited to pen or pencil — artists have used collage, watercolor, acrylic, gouache, enamel, even coffee as media. Kyle Ranson’s “Convict,” “Julia,” and “Leah” are all wonderfully interesting linoleum print — not a medium one typically sees in such small format. The rough, heavy lines produced by linoleum cuts stand out sharply through the use of monochromatic ink, providing stark contrasts in these compact, eerie portraits.

The coffee comes in with Kelly Ording’s “Vampire” — an intricate drawing in pen in which the bottom half of the paper is filled with blossoming geometric patterns that expand outward like explosions of fireworks. The black-and-white geometry created with pen and paper is made more intriguing with the use of coffee to stain the paper a faint brown, darker speckles spreading about unevenly above the carefully deliberate design of the drawing.

Just as there are some unquestionable treasures among these 300 or so works, there are also others that are, indeed, closer to the random doodles of school days. Joe Roberts’ “Pizza Party” is one such work — with its stick-like figures and rainbows floating about, it does not seem to have a whole lot going for it in terms of style or composition. On the other hand, Roberts may be deliberately harking back to those flat, two-dimensional creations in which random, ill-defined figures stand in impossible relation to one another. I leave it to the viewer to decide.

Yet, it is exactly in this bizarre mix of style and composition that the fun of Paper! Awesome! lies. Artists have been given the freedom to experiment, to apply their own particular techniques to a common canvas, further illustrating the incredible diversity of the products of human creativity.

Baer Ridgeway Exhibitions
Now through March 27, 2010
Free