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Maurice Papier: A Retrospective

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


It’s very rare for an artist to have a career so successful that it spans decades and can be honored through a retrospective. In the art world, a retrospective often includes an entire phase or representative examples of an artist's lifework, and usually takes the form of a large scale exhibition which allows the viewer to see the development of the artistic practice and evolving aesthetic concerns contained within it.

“Maurice Papier: A Retrospective”, which is up through October 14, was curated by Karen Thompson, Betty Fishman, and Rick Cartwright, and on view at Artlink Contemporary gallery. In the forward of the exhibition catalogue, Karen Thompson, former University of Saint Francis professor during Papier’s time there, describes the formal aspects of the work as “lines of poetry” and a puzzle to be solved. She also accurately describes Papier as “a teacher and mentor to hundreds of students during his great career”. It is very fitting that Papier’s retrospective feels like a conversation with the artist, and since this writer is a former student, it brought back many great memories. Maurice Papier has been a staple of Fort Wayne’s art scene for as long and many of us can remember (He was actually included in Artlink’s first exhibition 37 years ago!). He has lead the University of Saint Francis School of Creative Arts to its current state in a number of roles there, but always finding time to mentor young artists and create inspirational art pieces. Educated at Ball State, Saint Francis College (prior to becoming the University of Saint Francis) and Bowling Green State University, Maurice Papier has melded a plethora of artistic influences from academia and the art market to create a vibrant aesthetic which defies most comparisons.

Memory is a theme within Papier’s work that loosely ties together many of his pieces. Like fragments of personal and collective memories, Papier’s work knits together his voice as an artist and the viewer’s internal monologue, creating a false nostalgia for images never before seen. As Thompson phrases it, “Maury has been quoted as saying, “my work is mostly autobiographical,” but it’s not hard to see it is about all of us”. It is in this vague autobiographical nature that Papier’s work finds a quick home within the viewer, and endears the viewer to the concerns of the artist. Throughout the work, which from a distance can be seen as geometric, distant, and abstract, the viewer is pulled into countless vignettes streaming through each piece, providing another small glimpse of its creator’s consciousness.

Maurice Papier’s two-dimensional work can be recognized by the use of geometry, delicate collage, and more than any of these, color. Papier is a master of manipulating color to pull the viewer’s imagination into a variety of emotional states and various forms of distraction. He tends to use strong verticals or strong horizontals, making his work like totems or idols to be observed. In pieces like “Meadow”, “Night Victory”, and “Day In, Day Out”, Papier uses very detailed overlays of rich colorfields to give the pieces a kind of aged patina. In others, like “Flower Road”, Papier uses straight colors, incredibly strong and forward, to sear the image into the viewer’s mind. His expert use of hot pinks, magentas, and rich blues sets him apart from most. Never afraid of combinations and flamboyant marks, Papier’s work is stands alone in its use of color.

In many of Papier’s works, there is a general architectural structure, and a use of mixed media. Pieces like “Night Lights”, and “Color Chart”, use the more common magazine clippings as fodder for collage, but also sample paint chip strips which can be found at a hardware store to build out an image. The architectural structure of the work reminds the viewer of artists like Joseph Cornell, Fred Tomaselli, and even a little bit of Rauschenberg. This odd combination of influences produces an effect which blots each other influence out, while creating an attractive chimera. Also included in this exhibition is Papier’s works on paper like “Trouble in the Heartland” a particularly interesting overlay of a one dollar bill transfered onto watercolor paper with a delicate midwestern landscape scene scribbled across the page. The shear volume of art historical and cultural influences found in Papier’s imagery is staggering. From image to image, the viewer will find references of everything from background radiation patterns and the resulting marks made in scientific tests looking for sub-atomic particles to ancient Egyptian cultural references and images of the one dollar bill.

Works like “Cloudscape” stand out within Papier’s retrospective as being some of the few mixed media assemblage and relief pieces. In this piece, Papier conjoins three separate picture planes into one object, two of which are seem be to be fragments of the same image, drawing the viewer’s mind to continue the piece to the left and right. The central image is a masterful representation of a cloudy sky at the bottom, in pink lit hues with a pillar and star symbol in the forefront, but with a green-gray cloudless sky to the top of the image. This image commands the viewer to interpret both the symbols and the space represented, and unlike so many other pieces, offers little in the way of private vignettes to get lost in. Instead, “Cloudscape” is a vignette hanging in space, outside of its very structured confines like the others.

Maurice Papier’s work is vast and untapped. Fort Wayne should be honored to have had such an amazing talent call this place home for so many years, and be grateful for Papier’s generosity as he helped develop generations of our City’s creative talent.

For more information:
“Maurice Papier: A Retrospective”
Sept 11- Oct 14

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©2018 Fort Wayne Reader. All rights Reserved.