Colorful works on paper at Gross McCleaf Gallery

[Florence considers the role of paper in artistic creation, exploring how six contemporary artists rely on this time-honored medium for new work. — the Artblog editors]

Although paper plays a significant role in the process of art-making, it is often used for preliminary ideas and composition. Paper Works, currently on view at the Gross McCleaf Gallery, presents works on paper as autonomous works of art. The show’s six featured artists use paper as a primary medium in their art.

Simple presentation, thoughtful execution

Monotypes by Stuart Shils

With simple colors and forms, Stuart Shils creates fields of memory. Each of his monotypes in the show is composed of variations on one major color, with the occasional presence of others. Compared with his earlier monotypes, these recent works have evolved from representational images toward abstraction. Yet each of them has a descriptive title, referring to a certain moment in the past. Reaching a point where he thought that simple description was not enough, Shils began to develop ways of representing mood and emotion.


“Just as music does not have descriptive words, visual art does not have to be representational,” he said to me in a phone interview. Indeed, there is rhythm in his monotypes. There is also a sense of depth created by layers of color. Shils works on a number of pieces simultaneously over a period of time, letting the form of a piece reveal itself in the process of pressing each monotype. Layer by layer, the final form appears, like memories emerging from the mind. This process, with its emphasis on elements of the unknown, allows art itself to illuminate the next step, and displays, in Shils’ words, “the beauty of ink sitting on paper.”

Ken Kewley, “Rainbow Cake with Small Pears” (1999), Collage on paper, 1.75″ x 2.25″

Equally fascinated by the potential of color, Ken Kewley makes collages with colored paper, mostly geometric in shape. His representation of still-life scenes has a Braque-ish appearance in form while displaying a spectrum of colors. “Rainbow Cake with Small Pears,” for example, shows a slice of cake in layers of red, orange, yellow, and green, and three pears of different colors on the side against a dark blue background.

These collages are surprisingly small; their size is partly due to the use of magazine cutouts, as Kewley pointed out to me at the opening. Over a decade ago, he used to collect old magazines and cut out areas that contained only color fields. He would start making a piece by painting a subject and scraping the painting with a palette knife. Then, he would glue together magazine cutouts to imitate the painting. By closely observing Kewley’s collages, the viewer can make out individual pixels on magazine paper.


Lately, Kewley has switched to making collages with painted paper. While his colorful geometric style persists in his recent works, the traces of paint give a stronger human touch, which builds a bridge between the artist and the viewer.

Plenty of color to move the eye

Marlene Rye, “Convergence,” pastel on paper, 16″ x 20″

Marlene Rye and Karen Segal are also featured in the show. These two artists’ pastel and oil pastel drawings evoke Impressionist paintings. Rye’s use of complementary colors enhances the expression of light; void of human presence, Segal’s landscape bears an uneasy silence.

Collages by Martha Armstrong

With irregular shapes and biomorphic forms, Martha Armstrong and Marc Salz both create dynamic surfaces full of fluidity. It seems that no matter their approach, all of the artists here are interested in experimenting with color.


In today’s world, where artists get to choose literally any media with which to create art, paper remains one of the most fundamental options. While different types of artworks are represented in this show, it would be interesting to see a larger scope with more diverse and revolutionary use of paper. There is certainly a wider array of art that could be included under the title Paper Works.

Paper Works is on view at the Gross McCleaf Gallery through April 25th.

Florence Hsu is an art historian and writer living in Philadelphia. She is currently pursuing a PhD in art history at Temple University.