VISUAL ARTS ‌ When Nature Calls 

Three artists bring low-key SEWE-themed work to Redux

click to enlarge Talia Greene's monochrome cicadas look vividly three dimensional at Redux
  • Talia Greene's monochrome cicadas look vividly three dimensional at Redux
On view through March 9
Redux Contemporary Art Center
136 St. Philip St.

Ask most animation voice actors why they've devoted their careers to making silly noises for cartoons, and they'll tell you it's a rush to get paid to do something that they got told off for when they were school kids. It's easy to imagine Renee Van der Stalt in an equal state of bliss as she creates fascinating artworks by punching holes in paper — the kind of thing she would have got detention for in eighth grade.

Granted, she isn't stabbing at the pages of a composition book with a pen; her marks are more subtle and her patterns far more intricate than a child's mindless ballpoint attack. Her technique is refined enough to warrant an exhibition at Redux, in tandem with fellow paper-centric artists Talia Greene and Christine Buckton Tillman. But there's enough fluidity and sense of exploration apparent to give viewers a glimpse of der Stalt's juvenile side.

The tiny pinholes that form her art mirror natural, large-scale patterns ("Moon Map," "Water Currents") or create new ones. The paper is carefully shaped and, when necessary, pinned. It's fitting that light is listed as one of the components of the Baltimore artist's work, since a change in the way they're lit can alter the patterns' appearance in a drastic way — from swirling grooves to dots to sparkles. Der Stalt's meticulous art has an antiquated air, perhaps because of the pianola-like impressions in the paper — except instead of a pattern that forms a musical sequence, there's a recognizable image.

click to enlarge Renee Van der Stalt's meticulous work with paper mirrors natural patterns
  • Renee Van der Stalt's meticulous work with paper mirrors natural patterns

As with der Stalt, Christine Buckton Tillman would have got in trouble for cutting up material as a kid, but that's what she's doing now. Tillman, also from Baltimore, offers another blast from the (more recent) past with her wool felt circles. They bear the faint marks of sewing prints, the kind that children could follow and make clothes with back in the '60s. Tillman's treatment of the material is just as groovy, with nature-based outlines cut from the felt ("Flower Tree Skirt," "Bird Tree Skirt" and "Pony Tree Skirt.") They look their best when spotlit on the gallery's grey floor.

Tillman applies the same technique to "Fern Curtain," adding her own delicate, feathery touches to a leafy scene by cutting new shapes in a photomural. Looking at the curtain with its shady spaces is like looking out through a window at thick greenery. There's a definite sense of movement, particularly when the wispy piece moves as viewers pass by, creating new patterns with its shadows. For Tillman, the possibilities are limitless -- anything that yields to a knife can become a canvas, and not all those canvasses have to be hung on a wall.

Like the "Tree Skirt" series, Tillman intends her "Logs" to be laid on the floor. These chunky, interchangeable ink-on-Bristol images invite visitors to play pick up sticks with the art. The logs' simple graphic design qualities keep them rooted in their flat, two-dimensional origins.

In Redux's smaller gallery space, large bugs have claimed part of a wall for their own, thanks to Philadelphia resident Talia Greene. Unlike Tillman's logs, these 12 cicadas look vividly three-dimensional. Some hover, some emerge from their shells, others just sit and look ugly; although they're monochrome, the shadows they cast help to make them look lifelike.

If entomophobes can get past "(Thwarted) Emergence" they'll find "Organic Matter," also by Greene. According to Redux interim director Seth Curcio, the artist brought 700 of the small watercolor shapes and used a small portion of them to suit the space. Along with the watercolor, she uses coffee and tendril-like threads on paper to give the objects an organic, squashed-roach look.

Sticking with her creepy crawly theme, Greene has also provided two "Bodyscape" images, with a segmented, caterpillar body marching across paper. Although simple pencil lines are used here, the art is attractive and as organic as the coffee-stained "Matter."

With the flimsy theme of natural beauty holding this show together, NATURE:REdrawn is an underwhelming experience. Its greatest strength is in the way the different works are juxtaposed, complementing each other — alone they'd be a lot less interesting, with concepts as thin as the paper canvasses. Together, they evoke the wonders of nature in a quiet, understated manner.


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