New art gallery opens with potent group show On Paper | Community Profile | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

New art gallery opens with potent group show On Paper

The works on display cause to appear what has been effaced.

Art by Krista Franklin
Art by Krista Franklin

The inaugural exhibit at Garfield's fieldwork: contemporary art gallery showcases a diverse selection of works all exploring the same medium: paper. Curated by artist and Carnegie Mellon University art professor Ayanah Moor, On Paper features recent works by artists from Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Chicago, Knoxville and New York City.

The exhibition eschews the trappings of haute gallery pretense. Like paper itself, the frameless artworks nailed to the gallery walls suggest impermanence, hung with the blithe reverence of fanboy posters on a bedroom wall. Yet the space feels charged with significance, and it's easy to detect resonances among the pieces.

A selection of collage work from current Homewood Artist-in-Residence and Pittsburgh native Alisha B. Wormsley shows off the narrative scope of her visual shorthand. For example, a Rockwellian scene of pastel innocence gets juxtaposed with a grainy photograph of a lynching, underscoring the barbarous dialectic of American fantasy.

Krista Franklin's cyanotype prints on handmade paper render chicken bones, feathers and afro picks in spectral white on backgrounds of Prussian blue. The haunting images are properly negative: white inversions of stereotypical black iconography. The gestural drawings of William Downs employ ink, charcoal and graphite on found folders arranged in a sort of televisual grid like so many different channels tuned to unseen moments of a personal history. The hyper-realistic lithographs of black hair by Althea Murphy-Price feign the textures of real life even as they delight in the abstract play of line and pigment.

Paul Stephen Benjamin's "ABCKL" deconstructs the word "black" through the tracing, erasing and effacing of the letters in ink, schoolroom-alphabet-style, on ten sheets of brown craft paper. On a nearby desk, Jordan Martin has arranged a series of identical white binders, each containing the same set of "instructions" asking the viewer/performer to "create the following actions." A narrative unfolds like a dream over several pages, where the "you" doing the imaginative work and "the other you" of the imaginings promptly begin to blur.

Despite their differences, all of the artists featured in On Paper are allied in the critical project of appropriating histories, whether personal, national or racial. In one way or another, the works on display cause to appear what has been effaced — through negation as well as juxtaposition — but some also create new contours for forms not yet liberated.

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By Mars Johnson