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April 21 - May 26, 2007 at Couturier Gallery, West Hollywood

by Kathy Zimmerer

A fascinating survey of Maritta Tapanainen’s organic collages shows a clear progression from a loose, more abstract format to the densely populated surfaces of her recent work.  Her collages are painstakingly constructed with cut-out scientific and technical textbook illustrations superimposed on a background layer of cut paper.  Like a biomorphic jigsaw puzzle, all the pieces fit neatly together with such compositional ease that the imagery flows smoothly.  As she writes, her tools and materials are simple:  “books, X-acto knife, archival wheat paste and rag board. I begin by building a neutral-toned base to integrate the collage—and commence to ‘grow-the-work’—wielding my knife like a pencil.”  She works within a monochromatic palette, with delicate touches of tan and white illuminating her collaged linear images.  Certainly influenced by Jackson Pollock, Joan Miro, Wassily Kandinsky, Roberto Matta and Arshile Gorky in her use of over-all patterns and morphing forms, she creates intricate interwoven tapestries of cut paper.

By immersing herself in the Mojave Desert landscape, Tapanainen developed an acute sense of observation, as the smallest object captures her attention in that vast and primitive land.  Her work continues to follow an evolution from general to specific.  In “Central Park” (1994), serpentine shapes are entangled in a rhythmic motion of many layers.  “Circle Forms” (1994) is also conceived with a fluid abstract hand as superimposed circles dominate the composition.  “Ennustus” (1999) combines her interest in more abstract forms with detailed biological imagery.  

In kind of a free-form ballet, her cut-outs move in and out of a subdued geometric backdrop that acts like a curtain to her linear dancers.  A welter of shapes and imagery exists in her collaged twilight zone: circles, crosses, targets, biomorphic images that resemble intestines, a swatch of fabric and a target.  This floating schema of objects and vaguely geometric forms also exists in another collage from 1999, “Kutsu,” where the images move in a stream of consciousness that she manipulates with great grace.  

"Kutsu," 1999, paper
collage, 10 1/2 x 12".

"In a Dream," 2004, paper
collage, 9 1/2 x 12".

"Big Bang," 2006, paper
collage, 16 1/2 x 17 1/2".

"Incubator," 2005, paper
collage, 9 1/2 x 13".

Surfaces of recent work are replete with detailed organic forms as she digs deeper to create her internal environs.  “In a Dream” (2004) could be a surrealist air show run amok, as strange objects dart in and out of her layered backdrop.  A propeller anchors the disparate items in reality, but only tenuously.  “Incubator” (2005) continues this trend towards a foreground packed with eerie and odd images.  A fish even floats by and becomes a major component in her lacy linear frieze of engineered shapes.  Most striking among these is “Big Bang” (2006), where endless circles create a whirling matrix of identifiable and endomorphic forms.   Linear threads connect the imagery like veins in a body, and the whole becomes a poetic entity that defies reality.  Tapanainen’s work represents a modernist reversal.  Frequently an artist starts out with highly detailed work that loosens up over time.  She does the opposite.  These obsessive worlds of constructed imagery in all of their magical detail have steadily gained in complexity and refinement over time.