In many ways, “Meta/Morphoses” at Panza Gallery, which showcases the work of Charleroi-area artists Brian Lang and Susan Sparks, expresses change for both artists.
For the past four years, Sparks has been working almost exclusively on her “Art of Noise” series, an exploration of sight and sound using what she calls “ink, tape and magic.”
The process involves aluminum duct tape, foamcore, India ink and a drawing process that leaves indentions or grooves in the tape, much like an etching process does in metal. The result is a piece that looks like a cross between an etching plate and a piece of metal repousse work.
“The series is all based on visual representations of patterns and textures of sound,” Sparks says. “I just completed piece No. 122 in this series, and I still very much enjoy the process and the work. But every now and again, I feel the need to push pigment.”
That led to the 20 works by Sparks on display in this show, which are all of bugs and were completed within the past three months.
“These new works came about from the desire to push pigment and explore color, and were inspired by an article I read in Audubon (magazine) about moths and a longtime fascination I have had for the bugs,” Sparks says. “Also, we had a 6-inch-long Luna that clung to our eaves and the stone wall outside of our entryway for several days that simply fascinated me.
“I made the mistake of Googling Luna moth and found hundreds of different varieties,” Sparks says, pointing to her drawing “Yellow Luna” as being one of them.
And, as for the need to push pigment, Sparks says she found no better way to do that than with chalk pastel, because there is no brush or tool between the artist’s hand and paper in the application of pigment.
This body of work started with a simple drawing of the aforementioned Luna moth and, because of the research and depth of variety and beauty of what Sparks discovered, it grew to 20 new pieces. Surprisingly, many of the drawings match the size of their subjects, as with the “Brown Hawk Moth,” which has a wingspan of 6 inches to 8 inches.
Sparks says the use of pastels also aided in expressing the softness and the texture of the moths’ wings.
“I have a tendency to explore a subject by creating a series. Thus, with this group of moths, all were created in bold tones using pastel and colored pencil,” Sparks says. “There are enough moths to keep me interested and to keep this series going for quite a while.”
Lang’s work proves a perfect complement to Sparks’ explorations of color. Having 32 works on display, all of which are drawn on envelopes, each seems to shimmer and flutter back and forth in perfect complement to Sparks’ moths.
Colorful abstract drawings all, they were each created on a standard business-size envelope using mixed media, incorporating oil pastel, graphite and other drawing materials.
Lang has been creating drawings like this, on envelopes, for 20 years. “I showed a small group of them at Gallery in the Square back in the mid 1990s, but since then, I’ve only let one go a year for Art for AIDS. This is my first real exhibition,” he says.
Lang says that, whenever he sits down to draw, he never begins with any preconceived idea or image in mind. “The first layer of color informs the next, then the next,” he says.
Rather than drawing an image or design, forms emerge from scraping away at the layers — and often re-applying the scrapings, like in “Envelope #31,” which was executed in the colors of rust and emerald green. It has been scraped and reapplied in some places, and one can see a reapplied scraping at the bottom of the composition.
“I am constantly challenging myself by mixing colors that shouldn’t work together and allowing that discord to create a certain amount of tension,” Lang says.
More often than not, Lang says he gravitates toward working on the face of the envelope. But, in certain cases, such as with “Envelope #37,” he used the back side, allowing the envelope to regain its identity as an object.
What’s amazing about these two bodies of work is the variety accomplished with a modicum of means — Sparks, in terms of different colored moths, and Lang, in terms of colorful and varied compositions. It makes for an interesting juxtaposition of techniques and imagery — abstract and realistic.
Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.