Saturday, March 04, 2006

Deborah Barrett at the Palo Alto Art Center

We went to see the Deborah Barrett show at the Palo Alto Art Center. As I was getting ready to go, I thought “is this worth the time?” I have seen Deborah Barrett’s work at the Art Center many times. And I do admire it very much. But this time, I thought, “there will be no surprises, should I stay home and make art?” Boy, was I surprised! Deborah’s collage techniques are varied and fascinating. She incorporates old fabrics by sewing bits to the paper. Sometimes a square of old paper defines the area that a head fills. I thought I would see more of the same. There were certainly lots of wonderful collages. But there were also some figures of women, little heads made of dryer lint, fabric and plaster and a mouse paper doll that she made when she was a child. Her work has changed a lot over a period of ten years, and yet it always has the same small scale, personal element that appeals to me. I want to climb into the frame and look around some more. I want to get into her head and watch her work in her studio.

My favorite collage is “Man and woman pointing at mouse.” (1995) The woman looks fairly womanly, but the man’s body is made of an old rectangle of frayed fabric, so he is very hairy. His nose is very mousey. And his arm that points at the mouse ends not in human fingers, but in little claws. The mouse on the other hand looks like he has stolen a lot from the appearance of the man.

The mouse paper doll is wonderful. Squeaky has ears bigger than his head. And a pair of ear muffs to keep them warm. Mice occur in many of Deborah’s more “mature” works, too. In fact many of the people in her collages have mouse features, and the mice look very human.

There are many lessons here for beginning artists. The things you love as a child are the essence of who you are. And they are a field of ideas for future work. Deborah Barrett says "I make something that has no other purpose in the world except to comfort me."

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