May 12, 2013

In the Arts: Marshall finds more than just function in a paper bag

By PHILIP ISAACSON

An old saw has it that the Visual Arts Center at Bowdoin is the box in which the College's Museum of Art arrived in. Aside from the fact that the Center is junior to the Museum by about 85 years and aside from the fact that it pits Edward Larrabee Barnes, the Center's designer and a longtime favorite of mine, against McKim, Mead and White, the greatest powerhouse in the history of American architecture, there is still value in the expression. Excellence does sometimes arrive in objects designed for other destinies.

James Marshalltitle:  "Dynamic composition II"2012graphite, plaster, pva on paper
click image to enlarge

“Dynamic Composition II,” 2012 by James Marshall, graphite, plaster and polyvinyl acetate on paper

Photo courtesy of the artist

James Marshalltitle:  "Deconstructing Donald"2013graphite, plaster, pva on paper
click image to enlarge

“Deconstructing Donald,” 2013, by James Marshall, graphite, plaster and poly vinyl acetate on paper

Photo courtesy of the artist

Additional Photos Below

ON VIEW

JAMES MARSHALL --

GRAPHITE/PAPER

WHERE: ICON Contemporary Art, 19 Mason St., Brunswick; 725-8157

HOURS: 1 to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday; 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday

CLOSES: May 25

CURRENT STUDENT WORK

WHERE: Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, 25 Mill St., Rockport; 594-5611

HOURS: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday

CLOSES:

May 29

These musings about improbable futures are urged by the work of James Marshall, the subject of the current show at ICON Contemporary Art in Brunswick. Mr. Marshall is a sculptor and draftsman in whose work I see history and commitment to an esoteric ideal.

Before dealing with this, I'd like to return to Barnes. It is no coincidence that his Visual Arts Center is in part an homage to Charles Follen McKim. McKim's building is glorious and while Barnes was given a different program he took the opportunity to bow toward McKim while giving the College a relentless example of Modernist architecture.

A good building can serve the world in diverse ways and, as James Marshall advises, so can a paper bag. I cannot speak on the aesthetics of paper bags other than to say that the pleasure of the certainty of its form and its functional assurance make disposing of one a reflective experience. I hate to throw one away. In their best iterations, paper bags are among the most perfectly considered objects that commerce offers us.

By this time I have probably made it clear that Mr. Marshall works principally within the harmonies of paper bags -- small objects of the kind that are still used in bakeries and perhaps in hardware stores. Whatever their source to us, they are the base material from which Marshall extracts his sculpture. The wonder of this is the opportunities that the material can be induced to offer. There are perhaps as many as 15 pieces in this show, each endowed with an individual persona.

Paper allows us to select almost any level of utility we wish it to have. It is the most compliant of materials and does not resist intelligent modification. It has a private language as does, say, the Brooklyn Bridge or the Western Wall of the Temple in Jerusalem or the Pyramids at Giza. Each speaks of strength and I easily include paper among them. Like them it is a material for the ages.

It is not accurate to refer to Mr. Marshall's work as variations on a theme suggested by a paper bag. It would be more accurate to refer to it as an example of classic geometric abstraction achieved within the limitations imposed by commercial paper bags. The use of the term "paper" ties the work to the earliest days of abstract art and the fit is surprisingly accurate. It has appeared occasionally as an ingredient over the last century or so, but rarely with the authority Marshall assigns to it. His use of the form, embellished with graphite and plaster, showing the steps of its conversion into art is remarkable. As to the latter -- the conversion -- enough is left of the original shape of the bag to suggest the issues faced by the artist in the process and, at the same time, to give the work its tactile appeal. It's impossible to see his pieces and not touch them. The graphite and the fabric of the bag are not in easy alliance. They challenge each other, creating a wrinkled, fascinating union.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Cabinetry by Center for Furniture Craftsmanship student Jon Reif.

Photo courtesy of Center for Furniture Craftsmanship

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Cabinetry by Center for Furniture Craftsmanship student Judy Bonzi

Photo courtesy of Center for Furniture Craftsmanship

click image to enlarge

Cabinetry by Center for Furniture Craftsmanship student Mark Galipeau

Photo courtesy of Center for Furniture Craftsmanship



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