Trio of unique artists talks paper

Chris Bergeron

Organizing a new art show at Framingham State College, assistant professor Tim McDonald discovered an unspoken "conversation" among three very different artists with little in common but their innovative uses of paper.

John Budz took clinical photos of an auto graveyard. Cynthia Swanson crumpled and twisted paper into enigmatic shapes. And Gary Duehr captured "Soft Cities" in ghostly images.

After studying submissions from 25 artists, McDonald sensed a subtle alchemy infusing works by an unlikely trio of artists.

"As I was going through the submissions, I kind of noticed a conversation happening among (Budz, Swanson and Duehr)," said McDonald who directs FSC's Mazmanian Gallery while also teaching drawing and painting. "They were all quite different. But I saw something happening when I put them together. It's like there was a line through them that I thought would work as an exhibit."

So McDonald named the show "Talking Papers" to emphasize how they all used a singular medium like paper to realize different creative goals. Free and open to the public, it is on view in the Mazmanian Gallery in the D. Justin McCarthy Center through Dec. 14.

For McDonald, paper is "the common language" shared by these three, whose "work differs greatly in content and aesthetic."

A professor emeritus of psychology at FSC, Budz began taking pictures at 10 but only began exhibiting them several years ago. A Rhode Island artist and teacher, Swanson uses paper, wire screens and cheesecloth to explore "the structure of thinking." Recognized as New England's top "emerging artist," Duehr combines his interest in poetry and photography to create award-winning "public" art.

A Southborough resident, Budz is showing seemingly straightforward color photographs of an automobile scrap yard, which, like the flattened cars, suggest the hidden tensions of a consumer society founded upon built-in obsolescence.

Retired after 33 years teaching psychology at FSC, he photographed piles of junked autos, close-ups of engine blocks and rusted fenders last August at Self Service Used Auto Parts in Freetown.

In addition to his duties as professor emeritus, Budz continues his private psychology practice, which focuses on behavioral and couples therapy from his home office.

Using a Canon 35-millimeter digital camera, he approached his wrecked and rusting subjects as a portraitist trying to record their former lives in curiously poignant images.

In a photo titled "City," a mound of flattened cars rises from a littered lot like the ruined temple of a lost civilization. In "Dust to Dust," a shattered engine block suggests the impermanence that can grind down cars or an industrial society. Yet in "Rust: Brown, Gold," Budz finds a haunting splendor in the changing colors of corroded iron like the ravaged face of an aging beauty.

After studying psychology and initially working in social services, Swanson returned to college to study sculpture and has spent the last 15 years teaching and making her distinctive artworks.

She uses wire, mesh screening and paper sometimes marked with ink to create sculptured installations of strange and fragile beauty.

In a piece titled "Entropy," a wild tangle of narrow filaments shoot up from what resembles a black paper root ball. In "Structure II," Swanson has twisted and bundled strands of fine paper to create an indefinable object that could be a sea anemone or the tendrils of some mysterious tropical flower.

She said she creates art from paper to express herself and explore metaphysical conundrums.

"I'm very curious about the physical qualities of material," said the Providence, R.I., resident. "And at some level I think they're beautiful."

Unlike people who make origami, Swanson shapes her paper, wire and cheesecloth pieces into shapeless forms she regards as "physical metaphors acknowledging this arbitrary way of ordering the universe."

Reflecting her fascination with life's hidden laws, she once wrote the first 5,000 digits for the mathematical constant pi onto one of her paper pieces.

Yet Swanson's paper artworks also reveal her tactile pleasure in using paper in new ways.

"My hands are so much in everything. I think (these pieces) reflect who I am," she said. "You don't often see paper used this way."

At first glance, Duehr's spectral photos of "Soft Cities" seem to be in stark contrast to the bright immediacy of Budz's pictures.

A Somerville resident, he manages the Bromfield Art Gallery in Boston's South End. In 2007 he was named New England's "Best Emerging Artist" by the International Association of Art Critics.

For this show, Duehr is exhibiting gorgeous images of street scenes and architecture from his "Soft Cities" series. Shot in soft sepia tones, they capture, he said, "moments or details you might pass without noticing."

"These aren't the scenes that cry out to have their pictures taken," he added. Tall and relaxed, Duehr said his photos of actual places in Venice and Florence are not meant to be visual documents of real scenes but "an imaginary city that happens to be all of them."

Through his soft but richly nuanced hues and a sharp eye for overlooked details, he succeeds in creating visual poems that capture the imagined mood, not of actual cities like Venice, but the romantic image they evoke in our minds.

Duehr pointed out his 44-by-30-inch photos are meant to be "the size of a window" so viewers might feel they were looking out upon a fabulous place both real and imagined.

He might have been describing the Mazmanian Gallery.

THE ESSENTIALS:

The Mazmanian Art Gallery is located in the third floor of the College Center at Framingham State College, 100 State St. It is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and is handicapped accessible.

To learn more about Gary Duehr, visit www.garyduehr.com.