Laser-cut paper sculptures at Adkins Arboretum
RIGDLEY — More intricate than antique lace, Blake M. Conroy’s laser-cut images are on view in an exhibit titled “Garden Abstractions” at Adkins Arboretum’s Visitor Center through Nov. 25. Meet the artist and learn about his methods at a reception from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15.
Conroy’s work hovers between drawing and sculpture. Working from his own photographs, he makes incredibly detailed drawings on his computer, sometimes creating three different drawings of the same subject. Then, instead of printing them, he uses a laser to cut the drawings out of paper and hangs them in layers, superimposed one in front of another.
Conroy, who lives in Sparks, studied illustration at Syracuse University before earning a bachelor of fine arts in drawing at Maryland Institute College of Art. Although he works in a Baltimore foundry fabricating work for sculptors, drawing has remained his medium.
“It’s been a progression,” he said. “I started out with pencil drawings, and then I went to cutting my drawings out of metal with a jeweler’s saw, all by hand. My daughter got a job in the print shop of her art college and learned how to use their laser cutter. I had just spent nine months cutting a drawing out of metal, and she cut it out in paper in 90 minutes. So I got myself a machine.”
This first laser-cut image is “Janus,” an image of a single butterfly shown from both the front and the back. Framed so that it hovers just above the matt board beneath, the drawing casts shadows as delicate as a pencil sketch. It’s a drawing, but it has a threedimensional aspect and, like all of Conroy’s work, its extreme fragility echoes the fragility of nature itself.
Not long after, he was experimenting with creating a close-up image of a cornfield too large to cut from a single sheet of paper. Spreading it out over several sheets, he happened to overlap one above another and found the multiple shadows created gave the work extra dimension and depth. This led him to experiment with layering variations on the original drawing.
Conroy is fascinated with how we perceive images, how our brains make sense of the marks on a page, or, in his case, the paper and holes left by the laser. In his newer works, he finds incredible delicacy and complexity by zooming in on the complicated whorls of seeds in the center of sunflowers, drawing them so close up that they become almost abstract.
“I like playing around with that point where you know what it is but you don’t,” he said in a press release.
Just in the past three months, he has introduced color in works such as “Sunflower (Sunspot),” a large image with up to 10 layers of overlapping paper cutouts that nearly fills one wall of the gallery. Shades of orange and buttery yellow show through layers of laser-cut white paper on top, giving this work a special depth and luminosity.
In a related series of works, Conroy reused the drawings he had made for “Sunflower (Sunspot),” cropping them differently and experimenting with dramatic combinations of colors in the lower layers of laser-cut paper. Orange tinges into red in “Sunspot Emergent Red,” while shades of white and pale blue-gray over dark, shadowy layers evoke ice crystals in “Sunspot Blue Haze.” In the mottled lichen green, deep blue, rose and brown of “Sunspot Polarized,” there seem to be secret levels of activity, almost microscopic in their complexity.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Conroy’s method of working is that he can use his remarkable drawings again and again in different ways to explore a wide range of moods and visual effects.
“I could get a hundred variations out of that image,” he said.
This show is part of Adkins Arboretum’s ongoing exhibition series of work on natural themes by regional artists. It is on view through Nov. 25 at the Arboretum Visitor’s Center located at 12610 Eveland Road near Tuckahoe State Park in Ridgely. Contact the Arboretum at 410–634–2847, ext. 0, or firstname.lastname@example.org for gallery hours.
“Sunflower (Sunspot),” a laser-cut paper sculpture, is among Blake M. Conroy’s works on view through November at Adkins Arboretum.