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by Shirle Gottlieb

(Peter Blake Gallery, Orange County) "Art is art and everything else is everything else," says Paul Darrow quoting Ad Reinhardt.

"Art is not something you do on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, and it is not a career; art is a way of life as essential as breathing," says Paul Darrow quoting himself.

"Darrow's collages--bits and pieces of artifacts from his personal life merged into new references through unusual juxtapositions--are important aspects of his (work)," writes art historian, Arthur Stevens.

"This blend of apparent opposites explains a lot about Paul Darrow. He is living proof that a near-perfect balance of intellect and intuition can be found and maintained," says Marjorie L. Harth, director of Pomona College Montgomery Art Galleries.

“Paradox,” mixed media
collage,12 x 9”, 1999.

“Metaphor,” mixed media
collage, 7 3/4 x 8”, 1998..

And that is only the beginning of a life-long list of characterizations that have emanated from Darrow's singular vision. California born and bred, this artist/printmaker/poet/ educator/photographer/sailor was also inspired by his mentor, Suero Serisawa; the spontaneity of jazz; his attraction to Eastern philosophy; Tibetan meditation; the rhythmic flow of calligraphy; the flotsam and jetsam of daily living; and his ardent love of the ocean.

Wandering through the exhibit of his most recent poetic collages, one can spot allusions to everything just mentioned. Over and over we see shadows, echoes, and recurring abstract shapes that suggest meditative mandalas, "the path," waves of water, the horizon, calligraphic scribbles, and faded remnants of the past. Meditative and contemplative, most of this work is lyrical and mysterious with metaphysical overtones; while other pieces--like Zen koans--are enigmatic riddles that engage and intrigue.

By combining bits and scraps of faded cloth, corroded copper, smashed cans, rusted tin, frayed fabric, kitchen flooring--anything that catches his eye or intuition--Darrow transforms ordinary cast-off objects into extraordinary compositions of layered meaning.

Some titles suggest the dualities of life; others suggest the dilemma of the human condition. In Sacred Word, for example, we see torn pages from a Buddhist prayer book, faded flowers, and patches of bright red/orange (symbolic of life) floating over an ancient Moroccan wall. Transciency is a gorgeous collage that evokes the ephemeral nature of things. The composition consists of bold midnight-blue calligraphic markings scrawled across a weathered surface highlighted by one spot of pink.

Some of the pieces remind one of Persian miniatures or haiku poetry. Tranquil, a small blue landscape, consists of decaying cardboard, tree bark, mildew and mold. Philo, a delicate mixed-media work with gold accents, hints at butterflies fluttering near a palace gate. Metaphor is a pristine example of its title: an old faded feather lying adjacent to a rudimentary bird shape that was torn from red paper.

According to Darrow's aesthetic vision, almost everything on earth has special intrinsic properties--if we would just have the patience to find them. With the strength of his conviction, he transforms an old, mutilated dart board; some decomposed, water-logged paper; and some bold gestural markings into a spiritual, world-wide icon--the mandala. Paradox, is an apt title for this collage; but it also applies, in equal measure, as the operative force in Darrow's exhibit.

"Philo," 4 1/2 x 5 1/2", mixed media collage, 1998.

"Relic," 11 x 81/2", 1999.