The Southwest School of Art & Craft, under the curatorial eye of Kathy Armstrong, has assembled a varied and haunting multipart show that unites art of social protest and the material and metaphor of paper pulp in an unsettling mash-up of war images. Central to the show is the participation of the Combat Paper Project, an arts collective founded by Drew Cameron (an Army veteran, and activist in Iraq Veterans Against the War) and Drew Matott (printmaker and founder of the Green Door Studio in Vermont). The Combat Paper Project is currently touring print series made from handmade paper whose raw material, or pulp, is made from the actual shredded uniforms of military veteran artists. “You are not my enemy,” a Colophon print featuring a disrobing soldier and a very affecting poem, experiments with masculinity, vulnerability, guilt, and even, subversively, sexuality in an openhearted and graphically beautiful metier.
Other Engaged & Fragmented artists use clothing and other personal detritus as raw materials as well, including John Risseeuw, whose stark and mysterious bas-relief prints, “The Paper Landmine Print Project,” cast the numbingly mundane materials of tragic destruction into literal bas-relief. New York’s Peter Sowiski, meanwhile, takes over an entire gallery room for his astonishing, scary, and unexpectedly meditative large-scale print “series,” (puzzle-pieces, almost, assembled into a silhouetted diorama of aircraft ad workers), “Stealth Service.”
“Margaret Craig, (Painting, Drawing, and Printmaking Department Chair) had heard of the `Combat Paper` project, and I did quite a bit of research on artists engaged in similar work,” Armstrong tells me. “The show started by our wanting to focus on papermaking, and looking at how important the actual fibers within handmade paper can be; on the one hand, we’re engaged in this process of artmaking, and on the other, what `the artists` are working with are fragments, `hence` the show’s title. Beck Whitehead (Paper & Book Arts Department Chair/Librarian) set about doing this handmade paper painting, but `the show` also includes `Sowiski’s` “Stealth Service,” and there’s such a fragile aspect of that paper, very human, human-scale.”
Texas artist Eric Avery (maybe-not-so-coincidentally, an MD) uses glow-in-the-dark inks to visually highlight the otherworldly quality of military might and human rights abuses in “Do Unto Others,” which we might’ve missed altogether if the cell-phone audio tour (highly recommended) hadn’t alerted us to the room behind the curtain.
With the U.S. newly committed to sending 30,000 more future-veterans into Afghanistan, some of whom will return to San Antonio’s BAMC or the Center for the Intrepid to begin their long process of healing, Engaged & Fragmented could not be more timely, more painful, or more meaningful. The fact that the art is beautiful, too, only underscores the shattering pathos of the pulp war makes of us. •