For Judy Barie, curating an all-paper exhibition was a bit of a homecoming.
“I started my career doing works on paper, so I have a love for (them),” she said. “My goal here was to find people who embraced paper, but in very different fashions.”
Barie, the Susan and John Turben Director of VACI Galleries, is the curator of “On Common Ground: Works on Paper,” which opened last Sunday in the Gallo Family Gallery on the second floor of the Strohl Art Center. The exhibition features 30 works from nine artists.
The collection showcases a wide variety of works on or with paper. Barie said she was conscious of how the works interacted when planning the exhibition.
“As I always try to do, the room becomes one piece for me,” she said.
Su Su has three pieces in the exhibition. She is a Pittsburgh-based painter who creates distorted black-and-white portraits of Hollywood stars, including Fred Rogers, Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant.
She said that, while she usually works with canvas, for this project she used paper to convey the surface-level nature of celebrity.
“When I think about those movie stars, they are in a two-dimensional world,” she said. “Classic movies or stars, they exist in photographs. They belong to a museum.”
Su, who has a background in theater design, said she is interested in the all-encompassing way actors can embody their characters.
“My medium is paper or canvas, their medium is their voices and their bodies,” she said. “And that somehow becomes a two-dimensional thing on film. … The audience only really sees their work in two dimensions.”
Brenda Stumpf is a painter and sculptor also based in Pittsburgh. She has six pieces in “On Common Ground,” including two large paper collages featuring objects she found while converting an old church into her home and studio.
“I kind of have this need to embed all my materials with meaning and make order out of chaos,” she said.
Items include a label from an electrical panel, a cord and a patch that once contained a water leak.Stumpf said she enjoys the versatility and malleability of paper.
“For me, it’s almost like a veil,” she said. “You can work into it and out of it very easily, versus other materials that are very hard and have almost an armor-like quality.”
Stumpf’s work hangs inside a small alcove of the gallery, creating a space Barie describes as “altar-like.”
Nathan Heuer is the department chair and assistant professor of drawing at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He makes intricate watercolors, utilizing the negative space of his paper to draw attention to his subject: modern architectural ruins.
“The ruins are represented in a blank, white space as a way of taking the object out of context,” he said, “in the same way that when we visit a museum, we see artifacts out of context. I think that allows for a different perspective.”
Heuer’s drawings are inspired by real abandoned buildings. The four pieces in the exhibition represent locations from Texas and St. Louis.
His process is meticulous: He creates perspective drawings, inspired by actual architectural techniques. Painting the individual bricks on a building usually takes four or five layers of paint.
“I had a teacher once point out to me that I really go out of my way to make everything perfect just so that I can ruin it,” Heuer said.
While he said that paper can sometimes be “a nightmare” to work with, it is ultimately necessary for his work.
“It’s fragile, it buckles, it moves with humidity, but on the other hand, drawing or painting is all about mark making,” Heuer said. “And for the particular type of marks that I want to make, … paper’s really the only game in town.”
Heuer said he’s excited to be included in the exhibition.