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A&E (Arts & Entertainment)
Splendor out of debris
By D.K. Row
Mary Tapogna makes intricate mosaics using discarded materials and photographs
The most generous-minded school of aesthetic thinking tells us that art is omnipresent: it is everywhere we go, everything we see. Similarly, it also tells us that art can be made using everything that surrounds us.
From the natural to the purely synthetic, there is little that cannot potentially be the marrow of art.
One of the many compelling things about Mary Tapogna's new exhibit at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center is how the artist has created her mosaic portraits and sculptures out of materials most of us take for granted -- materials, in fact, that we would likely find in our trash and/or recycling bins.
Using found bits of tile, metal, glass, plastics, rocks and even the occasional bottle cap, Tapogna has constructed mosaics that, in one way, amply testify to the artist's hyper-meticulous art-making process.
In another way, they're one more example of art's sheer re-inventive power, its ability to transform, in the best cases, the utterly common into the highly uncommon.
In Tapogna's works, that transformation process isn't simply about how found material is gathered into works of meaningful dimension. Tapogna is better known in some circles as a photographer -- in the mid-1990s she free-lanced for The Oregonian, among other publications -- and the silvery medium here provides the first layer -- the skeleton, if you will -- for her multi-textured mosaic works.
Taking a portrait photograph or a sketch made from a photograph, Tapogna meticulously adheres the gathered detritus to the surface of the image, roughly but faithfully re-imagining the likeness using the found materials. The spaces in between the glued material are then grouted, literally pulling the separate pieces of the puzzle together as flesh and tendon would to bone. What was once a two-dimensional image finally becomes a three-dimensional object, without distorting too much the initial image's representative "truth." Indeed, many of Tapogna's portraits, most of which are of women, eerily retain their human, expressive qualities.
Given the synthetic nature of much of the material used, the works glisten to subversive rather than merely "beautiful" effect; a shard of plastic or fragment of glass can form part of a physical feature, for example. By far, the portraits, more than the sculptures, many of which are purely decorative in nature, are the strongest works here.
Despite its didacticism, there's great freedom in Tapogna's time-consuming process. In its expressive energy and junkyard look, Tapogna's works are reminiscent of art from the East Village's more nascent -- and less commercialized -- moments in the early 1980s or, more clearly, the socially idealistic, rejuvenating fervor of the Italian "arte povera" movement of the late 1960s. in utilizing and transforming what she calls "common byproducts," Tapogna shows that art, once again, liberates itself by liberating the things around us.
Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center
5340 N. Interstate Ave.