Thematic Art Review (Formalist) Essay

Published: 2020-04-22 15:06:56
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Category: Art

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Visual arts which make use of unusual media and technique, such as collage or origami, tend to  both benefit from and be challenged by the medium and technique involved. A viewer is apt to react first to the medium and technique and perhaps, because of this, thematic or expressive ideas may be perceived as secondary to the impact of a given work.

However, by contemplating given works, such as the  Origami NOW! collection of works at PEM, from a  more deeply considered point of view, the thematic and expressive elements of the work begins to overshadow the once-dominant aspects of medium and technique.  Finally,the alert viewer will realize that, in fact, a harmony of technique nd expression, media and idea has been reached in the most capably articulated works, while in less-capable works, a lack of balance restricts the viewer to a predominantly technical appreciation.

            For example, a piece from the Origami NOW! exhibition such as Eric Joisels Pangolin  is very effective at eliciting a response of admiration and even surprise of wonder at the technique involved in sculpting (or more properly: folding) paper into the shape of a convincingly realistic animal form which suggests an armadillo. On the other hand, although the animal offers a meaningful gesture, as though it is eating or drinking, the overall impact of the piece fails to gain any truly expressive or meaningful energy. It is simply a technically admirable piece.

            By contrast, Joel Coopers Gemini, is a deeply expressive piece which evokes stone relief carvings in origami. The faces are, themselves, primitive and expressive, but the thematic impact of the piece is much deeper than the surface level facial expression of the pieces central figures. The piece derives important impact from its sub-text of transference: ancient stone to ephemeral paper, which makes a statement about human civilization and history and the ephemerality of human monuments, and arty itself, while simultaneously elevating the ephemerality of the medium and technique (origami) to a sympathetic relationship to ancient art and antiquity.

            Yet another piece, Spike Sphere, by  Thomas Hull, straddles the line between expressiveness and technical precision without ever falling precisely on one side or another. In effect, Hulls piece is the most harmonious of those examples of origami on exhibition at PEM. The overt impact of Hulls piece is that of geometrical expressionism, using a complex geometrical shape to express theme. In my opinion, Hulls Spike Sphere is meant to represent no less than the entire human cosmos in a single figure of origami.

I said human because the piece reflects a particularly human concept of wholeness ” as in other geometrical abstractions: globes, the atom, stars, galaxies and even some scientific models of the multi-verse.   Hulls figure is spherical and colored like a budding flower, but spiked ” suggesting pain, danger, emotional response. This precise configuration of human emotion and abstract form, coupled with organic coloring and an holistic gesture elevates Hulls piece to the highest levels. This work is a masterpiece which reveals the origami, as a medium, embodies much more than the stunned admiration for technique and cleverness associated with folding paper creatively and expressively.

            The impact of placing such a diverse collection of works that all make use of a similar medium and technique shoulder to shoulder in an exhibition  like the Origami NOW! exhibition is to invite the viewer to explore the full range of capacities that a medium and technique have to offer. From simple constructs which showcase technique over thematic expression to thematic all driven pieces which test the boundaries of the associated techniques and medium, the  Origami NOW! exhibition is superbly put together and dynamically stimulating for those viewers patient and perceptive enough to gauge the full impact of these  richly imaginative works.

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