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Aggressively abstract, multi-media sculptural art makes appearance until June 4.

COURTESY PHOTO: ELIZABETH LEACH GALLERY - Single Panel, Radial is the most complex pieces in Amanda Wojick's show Small Shields and Other Shapes, on now at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery through June 4.

Amanda Wojick's show Small Shields and Other Shapes, on now at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery through June 4, is intensely, almost aggressively abstract. Wojick makes paper shapes which tapes together in patterns. She then traces them on steel plate which she cuts with a plasma torch. After that, she paints or powder-coats the steel in bright colors and sometimes sticks tiny pieces of paper on the sculptures.

Some of the pieces are 3 or 4 feet tall and wide and consist of two sheets of steel with holes cut in them, mounted one a few inches in front of the other. This creates changing shadows and perspectives. The larger ones are flat, but some of the others have small pieces of metal sticking out, like shelves. They are either welded on or cut from the base and bent outwards.

In other variations, some pieces have paper glued to them. For example, Double Panel Black and Double Panel Purple have torn pieces of mulberry paper attached in random-seeming patterns, playing against the shape and colors of the metal beneath.

COURTESY PHOTO: ELIZABETH LEACH GALLERY  - Amanda Wojick's show Small Shields and Other Shapes, made of painted steel and paper.

Don't put a bird on it

It's the type of abstract work where it's almost impossible to find anything symbolic or representative. Wojick prefers it that way:

"The thing that was really important to me with this show is a very high degree of abstraction," she told the Portland Tribune. "I was really editing things that reminded me of anything, and that's actually quite hard." Wojick said we often, as viewers, want abstract shapes to look like something familiar, such as a cloud or a bird. As she worked on this show, she was editing all that out.

Some of the work is based on found shapes — the leftover pieces of metal or paper on the floor of her studio. The works she made from these offcuts rest on the gallery floor, leaning against the wall. (For example, a piece called Black #3.) She calls their shapes completely unintentional.

"I was actually cutting out the other shapes that are the negatives of those, but these are the things that you have a hard time throwing out when you're cleaning up."

She said the selection process was a very intense tuning in. "They look simple and easy, but it felt quite painstaking to make the final decision. There's a real tension between the quick and unintentional, and the slow and laborious decision-making."

The Eugene-based artist is the head of the art Department at the University of Oregon. During the COVID-19 pandemic she was moving between her space on campus, which has no equipment, her metal shop and her home — where she works on the dining room table with her young kids nearby. The process of piling materials into her car and seeing how they slid or moved around became part of her art.

Webs

On the gallery wall is a grid of small, gouache-on-paper works. Wojick says the Elizabeth Leach Gallery staff encouraged her to show them, although she had not intended to. They consist of lots of painted ovals, often slightly overlapping, which is where the negative space between curved objects comes from. Also, they are often painted over with patterns such as spider webs and brickwork. Wojick made them every day when she transitioned from her very rational job as a professor to making art in her studio. They were more warm-up exercises than sketches for the future sculptures.

"As I was putting them up on the wall, I started to take pleasure over many months of just rearranging them and putting one next to another and seeing the different relationships in groups. They just had this energy that was really exciting to me," Wojick said.

COURTESY PHOTO: ELIZABETH LEACH GALLERY - Amanda Wojick's show Small Shields and Other Shapes.

Freeway

Her young son made comments about which of the gouache pieces to include, while admitting he couldn't verbalize his response. She says in general, children "work with pattern and abstraction in these really beautiful, free ways. And they're not trying to make things look like other things. They're just exploring the pleasure of the material on the paper and filling space and positive and negative shapes. Those are really thrilling things when they're not trying to draw anything."

She wouldn't define that as doodling, either, since doodling is "much more intentional and focused and immersive. Doodling sometimes is quick and casual, and it has the connotation of mindlessness. Whereas I think there's a mindfulness in those pure abstract drawings of children."

Some of which helps to explain why abstract painting is still a viable form, 100 years after it was avant garde.

Darts

"Single Panel, Radial" is the most complex piece. It is a sheet of metal made of triangles, ovals and other shapes stuck together. Then on top of that, in multiple colors, there is painted a radial pattern that crosses concentric circles, just like a dart board or spider web. There is a lot of white in with the primary colors, so it never looks garish, but the effect of looking at two different overlaid patterns is mesmerizing.

"There's a pink and a white and an orange and a yellow and a green, and all the colors of the spectrum, and slightly not-primary colors, or straight up secondary colors, but a little bit off."

Wojick made several of these, but the gallery is small and only had room for one.

She has a related, much larger sculpture called "Call Number Cascade" in the Salem Public Library that was unveiled in October 2021. It is on a large concrete wall in the reading space.

Wojick said: "I wanted it to look like folded paper and to take advantage of its context in the library. It was a perfect project for me, because of my love of paper, and the relationship between paper and steel. How those things could work in a large scale was very exciting."

The gallery show in Portland is different in scale — Wojick wanted it to be "very tiny and intimate."


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