Newspapers are going out of business almost faster than anyone can read them.
As Tucsonans are all too aware, the Tucson Citizen, publishing in one form or another since 1870, stopped the presses on May 16. This past Sunday, The New York Times Magazine reported that Philadelphia—my hometown!—might become the first big American city with no daily newspapers at all. The Inquirer, once a routine winner of Pulitzer Prizes, may not survive its current bankruptcy proceedings.
Readers may be fleeing newspapers for the 24/7 Web, but Nick Georgiou still has a use for the old rags. The New York artist takes old-fashioned newsprint—covered with yesterday's news—and turns it into paper sculptures.
A Big Apple sculptor and filmmaker, Georgiou was in the Old Pueblo as a visiting professor at the UA this spring, when the Citizen closed. He pays an homage—of sorts—to the old journal in a piece now on view in Tohono Chul's Re-Visions: Art Made From Reclaimed Materials.
His "Citizen K" is a shaggy dog made entirely out of newspapers chopped up into bits. Neatly sliced and carved, the paper squares are positioned vertically all over the dog's 3-foot-tall body. They make for a bristly coat of fur—and a punk-rock pompadour on the head. The K-9's big round eyes are fashioned from pages rolled up into cylinders, the kind that dog owners use to smack the nose of an unruly Spot or Rover. "Citizen K," it must be said, is one homely dog.
Another Georgiou work, "Desert Seeds," is prettier, but it, too, is composed of an antediluvian medium: books. Likewise chopped up into small squares, the books' pages are arranged inside a shallow wooden case, which is hung on the wall like a painting. The darker pages, turned ocher from age, form a pattern against the lighter ones. The yellowed papers vaguely resemble a sprouting plant—a new life, perhaps, arising from the wreckage of the old medium.
"Newspapers and books are ideal source material, because they already tell stories," Georgiou writes in an artist's statement. "The regeneration of the printed word into another form—turning a book or newspaper into a sculpture—is a way of breathing new life into it."
Whether newspapers themselves will have a new life, we don't know as yet. The canine piece suggests, not unkindly, that it's past the time to teach the old media dogs new tricks. Otherwise, newspapers and books risk becoming static, works in a gallery like Georgiou's, relics of the past.
Georgiou is the lone outsider in a group of 31 selected for this fourth Tohono Chul art-from-recycled-objects show. The artists, the rest of them local, take stuff that nobody else seems to want and, following the lead of such artists as Joseph Cornell, turn them into inventive art. Besides newspapers, their materials include old sweaters (Karen Lukacs), grocery produce stickers (Joan Davidson), metal car insignia (Rand Carlson), postage stamps (Barbara Brandel) and bicycle parts (Kenneth Armstrong, Troy Neiman).
Put together by assistant curator Peggy Hazard, the exhibition is always a reminder of how much we needlessly throw away. All the artists deliver an environmental subtext, but for the most part, their cleverly crafted mixed-media pieces are more playful than preachy.
Royce Davenport, an old-media escapee (he was once art director at the Tucson Weekly), years ago turned his attention to making 3-D art out of scraps. His lively "Dancer" is a cheerful figure with twisted wire for limbs, painted artist's drop cloths for clothes, and real-life jewelry for adornment. Her red crystal eyes glitter as she gleefully raises aloft a painted cloth.
Ira Weisenfield is careful to provide a key to his outlandish "Baby Boomer Rocker," a giant chair made out of forged steel and found objects. A Coke bottle, he writes, stands in for that old-time drug use. A sledgehammer and sickle represent lefty politics, and the fins on the chair's swooshing rocking runners are a reminder of '50s cars.
Rug-hooker Janet Soares has gone a little nuts with thrift-store woolens. She dyes the old clothes new colors—weird shades of maroon, gold and blue—and then cuts them into strips and hand-hooks them into new-old fabrics. But she doesn't stop at rugs. Here, she's upholstered a slipper chair with a crazy pattern called "curls and flames," and a cube with a design called "diagonal flames with curls." These pieces look like chairs the devil might use, if the devil were a crazy cat lady who dressed exclusively in thrift-shop finds.
Don Baker uses a technique I've never seen before, in works that are both serious and alluring. He takes pieces of tossed-out metal and arranges them in patterns on a stretch of white-gessoed canvas. Then he wets everything down and waits for the metal to rust into the cloth. The gorgeous rust color transfers as easily as the inks in a standard print.
In "Remington Rand," he's taken the parts of the disassembled typewriter, including the slender metal bars that once attached the letters to the machine, and reorganized them into a starburst. The white cloth, imprinted with their outlines, is like a shroud of Turin, a death cloth for the industrial age.
David Adix makes figures out of castoffs, but his humans have a more serious mien than Davenport's. And he sticks with a single material in each one: plastic supermarket bags for "Seated Figure" and "Kneeling Figure," and computer cords and cables for "Wireless." Neither male nor female, his figures are long, attenuated Homo sapiens, with the tiny head and long limbs of a Mannerist Madonna.
If Davenport's "Dancer" lifts her arms in joy, the somber "Wireless," all in black, raises its limbs like a crucified Christ. In place of a sacred heart in its chest, it has a black computer mouse. On it are written the words "Just Wireless," a mantra for the modern age.
Some of the pieces in the show are pure poetry. Julie Sasse's little assemblages, of wings and shells and screens, touch on memory. Margaret Suchland's intricate collages are made out of old postcards; the faded pictures of, say, a saguaro, and the spidery handwritten messages conjure up lost time. Selina Littler and Imo Baird, residents of Rancho Linda Vista, go out into the desert to pick up twigs, bark and spines, then combine these natural materials with old metal tools to make ethereal angels.
Gavin Troy's works get their start on a journey, too, but his trips are urban rather than rural. He bikes around Tucson and picks up scraps of wood, nails, string, whatever small objects catch his eye. Back in the studio, he leaves some of the wood unpainted and splintery, and paints the rest in luminous colors. Then he assembles the pieces into small, unified works, elusive framed boxes that are half-painting, half-sculpture.
For "Connection," he's nailed a kite string to a pieced-together frame. In one corner of the shallow box, he's carefully piled up tiny wooden pyramids and cubes, painted pink and cream. He's put a tiny painted angel inside a tiny painted frame. Finally, he's painted much of the box a celestial blue, the color of the sky, a reminder of the open air where he found all these art parts.