Verse and Versatility 

With "Great Prints," Reynolds Gallery opens fresh eyes to paper.

click to enlarge For want of a nail: The new group show at Reynolds extols the virtues of paper in a digital age. Above, John Baldessari's playful "Foot and Stocking (with Big Toe Exposed): Shelly," from 2010.
  • For want of a nail: The new group show at Reynolds extols the virtues of paper in a digital age. Above, John Baldessari's playful "Foot and Stocking (with Big Toe Exposed): Shelly," from 2010.

Works on paper endure as one of the most traditional yet innovative platforms for contemporary artists, despite our fast-forward speed into digital culture and subsequent paperless direction.

Why? Perhaps it's the earthen tangibility of paper, the ubiquitous daily bread made from the pulp of trees and other fibrous things. As paper collector Wynn Kramarsky has noted, you must hold a drawing or print in hand to truly know it. Canvas and sculpture are less-willing participants in such an intimate and sensuous experience. Or maybe paper's extreme versatility prolongs its fate.

To explore these questions and others related to drawing, etching, silkscreen, text, collage or cut-outs — all favorites for paper — visit the two exhibitions on view at Reynolds Gallery. "River on My Mind" offers recent landscape etchings and drawn portraits from Richmond's legendary David Freed, while "Great Prints" is a group show of celebrity artists including Ellsworth Kelly, Helen Frankenthaler, Louise Bourgeois and John Baldessari, with some alluring newer artists as well.

Zachary Wollard is a poet turned painter and printmaker, yet his poetry can still be felt in his work, both in text and tone. His "Open Axis," rendered starkly in dark ink on paper, has the morbidity of traditional European printmaking, as in the visions of Kollwitz or Durer. To this, Wollard adds shades of pastel to the same composition, and the fantasy-inspired imagery comes alive in sight and imagined sound, giving voice to the verse dangling in the upper left corner: "So far they come in drones / Awakening fields of atomic-scented mud."

With Anne-Karin Furunes, a Norwegian artist, the mood is more somber. The beautiful and nostalgic woman's face that transpires from plain black paper perforated with various sized holes and placed over a white background, gives no immediate sense of the gruesome subject matter. But Furunes gets her portraits from Swedish eugenics archives, presumably early-20th-century, when the practice of institutionalizing and sterilizing people deemed less-than perfect was in wide practice across Western societies. Her work is technically fresh while socially aware.

Thankfully the exhibition holds no heavier weight than that. It actually covers extremes and offers the likes of Polly Apfelbaum, whose color woodblock prints of stylized flower shapes are a direct descendant of Andy Warhol's pop art, with all its superficiality. These prints, bright with vivid color and false joy, bring to mind "The Brady Bunch" and a kind of zealous American optimism.

Nevertheless, Reynolds makes great use of them, placing the Apfelbaums next to a four sensually simple Donald Baechler prints and, finally, Joan Snyder's "Wild Roses." Beverly Reynolds curated the show, selecting pieces from a sleek variety of artists and hanging them in conversation with one another. Pairing this collection with Freed's intimate creations helps to pack an insightful punch. S

"Great Prints" and David Freed's "River on My Mind" are on view at Reynolds Gallery, 1514 W. Main St., through April 21. For information, visit reynoldsgallery.com or call 355-6553.

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