Laser-cut pa­per sculp­tures at Ad­kins Ar­bore­tum

Record Observer - - Arts & Entertainment -

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 info@ad­kin­sar­bore­ for gallery hours.


“Sun­flower (Sunspot),” a laser-cut pa­per sculp­ture, is among Blake M. Con­roy’s works on view through Novem­ber at Ad­kins Ar­bore­tum.

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