Published in HIpFiSH Monthly December 2012.
Printmakers Roxanne Turner and Marcy Baker on found and foraged treasures
Impermanent. Imperfect. Unburnished.
These might not be terms typically associated with the creation of fine art, but for Pacific Northwest-based artists Roxanne Turner and Marcy Baker, the world’s vast store of fragmented, forgotten and scattered objects is replete with creative possibility.
Both artists will exhibit the fruits of their artistic foraging at KALA this month in a show titled “In the Box.”
The show will feature almost 40 assemblages, each a multi-dimensional amalgamation of found objects and items from the natural world contained within its own repurposed box.
The seed for a two-woman show was planted when Turner and Baker began to take note of the common threads running through their work: botanical imagery and materials, refuse foraged from the modern world. And, of course, the format of the timeworn boxes themselves.
“It occurred to us that, while our assemblages – composed within the structure of reclaimed wooden boxes – share a similar aesthetic, they are developed in individual and complementary ways,” Baker said.
The Portland-based Baker began exploring the concept of art in a box when she found herself in possession of several old cigar boxes some years back. She quickly became intrigued with the artistic challenges and possibilities a box presented.
At the time, she was living in New Mexico and experimenting with ways to combine the rusty treasures she gathered on her long rambles through the high desert with wax rubbings, block prints, old letters and sheet music.
She began to create collages within the cigar boxes and fell in love with both the process and the larger concept it seemed to reference – finding beauty in the imperfect: a forgotten page of sheet music, an old ceramic insulator cap, and especially the rusted metal scraps lying forgotten in the sand.
“They’re beautiful little treasures,” she said. “I love how they can relate to something brightly colored, like a monotype, that pop of color and how that plays off the worn surface of the metal piece.”
The task of arranging the disparate objects into a coherent whole is by nature imprecise, and requires a bit of spontaneity.
She’ll sit down before an empty, hinged box and consider its shape, its edges, its sides, even its smell. Then, she’ll begin to arrange and rearrange, to bring in and take out pieces, to consider relationships.
“For me, it’s thinking about two sides and how they relate, what they’re saying,” she said. “They could be closed, they could be open, and you can see how they’re talking back and forth, the relationships between those two sides and almost the sense of a book being read, one side to the other and back again.”
The Astoria-based Turner began creating her own boxed art pieces in 2010. She’d spent 14 years focused on capturing tree and plant imagery in two-dimensional formats before she began to explore the box format.
Turner admits to being a “compulsive forager,” especially when it comes to plant materials, and her work incorporates seed pods, branches and blossoms brought home from locations both near and far-flung: Manzanita from California, seed pods from Australia and Japan.
Why the fascination with nature’s castoffs?
“It’s the forms,” Turner said. “They’re very sculptural, they’re as beautiful as animal bones; they’re simple and they’re just gorgeous forms. They’re sort of architectural and there’s so much variety.”
She also makes use of plenty of found and handmade materials: Japanese rice papers, collograph, textured monoprints, silkscreens.
Turner uses these objects in combination to riff on themes of life and its inevitable cycles: growth, ripening and eventual decay.
She also draws inspiration from the Japanese concept of “wabi sabi,” which holds up the imperfect and the impermanent as beautiful within their own right and worthy of admiration.
As it is with nature, these assemblages will no doubt fall prey to the ravages of time, moldering, crumbling, changing irretrievably, and Baker is just fine with that.
“These plant materials will be affected by light and heat and humidity, and so they’re impermanent,” Turner said. “They’re not going to last, they’re going to change gradually over time, they’re probably already changing. So what you see today, the colors may change in a year or two. It’s kind of like performance art.”