Paula Cox’s recent work, currently on view at the Southwest School of Art & Craft, is visually dynamic and thought-provoking. The mixed-media works incorporate familiar forms in bold hues while displaying a handcrafted quality. Much of the work depicts dresses and fans, conveying girlish innocence and its inherent power of seduction. The few pieces depicting human subjects explore the potential for the success or failure of relationships.
A series of “Collage Fans” incorporates myriad textures and colors, arresting the eye and stimulating the imagination. Gold foil shines alongside cartoons, maps, bulls-eyes, religious imagery, and repetition of the word TOXIC. Mounted on wood and covered in resin, these objects delight with a candy-like quality.
“Dresses” made of linocut and handmade paper combine geometric forms and bright colors while exuding a raw, textural quality. The juxtaposition of familiar imagery — like dogs and flowers — with less-familiar symbols, perhaps taken from some unknown alphabet, both comforts and challenges the viewer.
“Orange Target Dress,” a mixed-media wall piece incorporating linocut and handmade paper, hints at the danger that romance can bring. The whimsical form of a girlish frock, complete with a flirty skirt flared as though captured mid-twirl, flaunts a variety of patterns and images. Brightly colored flowers convey innocence, beauty, and freshness, while in contrast, bold orange targets punctuate one shoulder, a hip, and the ribcage. The garment’s neckline plunges in a seductive, flame-like V. The juxtaposition of flowers and targets on a calming, sky-blue background, presents both an invitation and a warning. Does this conflicting imagery refer to the vulnerability of the would-be wearer, or her potential to break the hearts of her admirers?
“Wedding Couple” depicts, in one sheet of cast paper, two forms — male and female — in formal dress. Only the clothing is relevant here; the people are headless and devoid of limbs. The impersonal nature of the subject suggests that marital bliss is but a fantasy. The handmade quality and soft texture of the paper medium highlights the sweetness of — and also serves to idealize — the notion that two soulmates have found one another and bonded for life.
In contrast, “Falling Man” and “Falling Woman” incorporate media that are less fragile, more tangible. They protrude from the wall, rather than hanging against it in the manner of “Wedding Couple.” Made of wood covered in resin, they are sturdy and shiny. Black is the dominant color, evoking a sense of gloom and hopelessness. Each figure is tumbling, her hair flying, his head dashing the ground. In their facelessness, they represent us all. The fact that these are two separate pieces, unlike “Wedding Couple,” underscores the subjects’ failure to forge a lasting bond.
The festive colors and mélange of patterns that characterize Cox’s most recent work make this a timely exhibition for the Fiesta season. A hallway serves as the exhibition space, enabling viewers to engage with one piece at a time as they explore the show. Whimsical forms and familiar symbols encourage admiration, enjoyment, and reflection on the complexities of love and life. •
Paula Cox: Solo Exhibition
Through June 14
Southwest School of Art & Craft
Ursuline Hall Gallery