Fine Art

Art, by the book

Inscribed/Messages brings the written word into the work— to powerful effect

Andreana Donahue’s “Leaves of Grass”
Susanne Forestieri

Although eastern cultures have traditionally incorporated language and text into visual works, it took the early-20th-century European avant-garde movement to see how textual elements, such as newspaper clippings, could serve an aesthetic function. Later, pop artists did something similar, and conceptual artists often made language the artwork itself. But there is a decidedly un-avant-garde tradition in the west that does integrate text and pictures: children’s books. Those, more than any cutting-edge conceptual notions, have inspired many of the artists in the Clark County Government Center Rotunda Gallery’s Inscribed/Messages exhibit.


Four stars
Through November 20
Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Clark County Government Center Rotunda Gallery

Several artists use popular children’s-book formats to make sophisticated works of art. Linda Trenholm’s elaborately shaped board books chronicle her travels and are irresistible, miniature treasure troves of shiny objects, mementos and antique book illustrations narrated with jaunty typography. In Stephen Hendee’s fine-lined ink drawing “Of Adders and Dragons,” the artist’s use of the accordion book format, with its serpentine mechanical creature unfolding on the expanding pages, is pure inspiration. And Noelle Garcia’s tongue-in-cheek “Untitled Coloring Book” puts sophisticated subject matter into a format usually reserved for children.

Andreana Donahue takes a more transgressive approach to books—splaying them open and cutting them up. In “The Cruel Sea,” she scallops the edges of the pages of a hardcover book, then curls them into cresting wave forms. The result is delicate and oddly touching. In “Leaves of Grass” she creates a beautiful object—a visual encapsulation of the nature-versus-cultural-order debate that could become an icon for the 21st century.

This anarchic sense is also at play in John Bissonette’s large-scale monuments to greeting cards: “Thoughts of Sweet Moments,” “Thinking of You” and “Thanks a Lot,” a three-dimensional vignette consisting of a child-sized chair, table and blocks of scattered bubble letters thrown into chaos by puddles of spilled paint.

Not only does this exhibit explore the arts entanglement with language, but it also taps into our earliest experiences with pictures and text to produce a powerful experience.


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