Friday, February 15, 2008

New Adventures in Papier Mache

I stopped into the Suyama Space gallery in Belltown and was quite impressed by two major pieces of papier mache sculpture.

First and foremost, the huge interior of the space was filled with this mammoth work, "Seeps of Winter" by John Grade.

The incredibly ambitious piece was inspired by a trip to the northwest coast of Ireland, and a vision of the people who had died, preserved under the accumulating layers of bog. To get the shapes he sought Grade cast sections of ice, melting and distorting the ice casts with heat, then made a skin of paper pulp mixed with ingredients that make it water resistant to varying degrees. The paper was removed in sections, and then re-joined at the Suyama gallery. The result is haunting.

When the installation closes, Grade is taking Seeps of Winter to the base of a glacier in the North Cascades and will elevate it on a field of stakes. A blanket of snow will cover the form until spring when it will thaw and refreeze in daily cycles. The culminating result will also be shown. The show will be on display until April 18. Grade is scheduled for a major museum exhibition at the Bellevue Art Museum opening in August and a show at Davidson Contemporary in October, 2008.

Then, there was this huge head of John Wayne by artist Scott Fife, constructed of shredded cardboard, paper bulb, wood and wood screws. The crudeness of the materials belies the precision of the process. The trails of wood glue and the scars left by misplaced screws contribute to the grace of the result.

Puppeteers know the virtues of papier mache as a supremely versatile sculptural medium, but it's rare to see it so well represented in a fine art gallery.

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