Size matters — just not in the way you think. Last week, The Arts Center debuted its “Small Work Works!” exhibit, demonstrating that smaller pieces of art can be just as impactual as the larger ones.
And it can also come in a myriad of mediums: The pieces featured in the exhibit are created from wood, ceramic or paper; are plate-pressed, fired or crocheted; are colorful or monotone; are humorous and/or macabre. For example, Owen Premore’s crocheted pieces run the gamut from satirical (such as his balloon dog) to literally gut-wrenching (a mirror to his crocheted guts being compressed in a box).
No matter the process or materials, the pieces all show one thing: that smaller can be just as “better” as bigger.
Local artist and OSU fine arts professor Yuji Hiratsuka is one of 13 artists included in the exhibit. Although they are on a smaller scale than what Hiratsuka said he prefers to create, his five contributed pieces are indicative of his artistic style.
“I usually work on a larger scale,” he said. “That’s when I master the content. … I can do a lot of things physically.
“But sometimes I do a smaller piece, and I enjoy it.”
All five of Hiratsuka’s pieces in the exhibit have been created using an intaglio — or etching — process that requires the use of plates and printing press. A plate is made using acid to etch the image on to the surface, and is then painted with a specific color before sent through the press to transfer ink from plate to paper.
“I use four plates — yellow plate, blue plate, red plate and black plate,” Hiratsuka said.
Hiratsuka’s pieces are colorful and bright, featuring subject matter such as Victorian furniture, fruits and vegetables, nature and, most prominently, his whimsical figures caught in action: performing on stage, reading a book about fungi, gardening.
“The figure is my main interest,” he said. “And always a figure with something; not just standing like in a portrait — with actions, interacting.”
Hiratsuka gives his figures funny outfits, almost like Halloween costumes, he said. For inspiration, he flips through magazines and catalogues of royalty-free images, searching for fashionable shoes and accessories with which to adorn his figures.
“They’re kind of funny people, whimisical, a little bit ambiguous,” he said. “I don’t put eyes, so you can’t tell if this person is looking at you or looking at the book or looking at the side — who knows?”
Hiratsuka’s work also has a distinct reference to his Japanese heritage — he was born in Osaka — and takes on the style of Japanese prints.
“Very graphic, very colorful, very flat,” Hiratsuka said. (As opposed to the Western way of shading subjects to give them dimension, he added.)
“It’s very stylized, with no shading or shadow. I just carry over that kind of aspect.”
East fuses with West in his work, however. The clothing elements, Hiratsuka said, are distinctly Western, drawn from the Victorian era to the en-vogue.
Hiratsuka said that as far as process goes, nothing really changes from size to size. There are other advantages and disadvantages, however.
For example, a bigger piece is closer to scale of an actual person. “A size bigger means that I work close to a life-size figure,” Hiratsuka said. “The figure is my main theme.”
However, creating smaller prints is quicker and more cost-effective, Hiratsuka said. For a smaller piece, he will typically make 25 editions as opposed to only 15 editions for a larger piece.
“But people shouldn’t judge by the size,” he said. “Some are big but not so good; some are small but are so strong.
“Size is just the artist’s statement.”
Joshua Stringer, an artist based in Salem, uses materials such as paper, watercolor paint, found photos, dried plants and thread to create his mixed-media collages — most of which are smaller than a sheet of computer paper.
“My pieces are small is because the materials I use are small,” Stringer said in an email interview with The E. “I want attention to be paid to the small things. On too large of a surface the small materials get lost.
“One of my main intentions in my work is to direct awareness to the ordinary, quiet and overlooked aspects of our environment, and small artwork has the ability to draw a person close, to help them slow down and be quiet for a moment.”
Stringer, who cited haiku poetry, contemplative spirituality and nature as being among his inspirations, describes his pieces as “collage techniques with minimalist aesthetics.”
And minimalist — and deceptively simple — they are, with few, carefully placed elements and a neutral color scheme.
“My compositions are often sparse with sometimes only three or four elements in the composition,” Stringer wrote. “It is important for me to maintain the integrity of the materials I use, which I understand to be a principle of minimalism.”
As far as process goes, Stringer said, he starts with a particular material that catches his eye, and then builds his collage from that, adding pieces and taking away white space to create his layers.
“I like to be surprised by what happens when I put things in new relationships,” he said. “I often create my compositions in an intuitive way by adding and subtracting elements until relationships begin to form that are emotionally and intellectually evocative, but which are still ambiguous and awkward enough to be able to live with over time.”
Unlike Hiratsuka, who’s plate-making and etching process doesn’t change drastically from size to size, Stringer said there are some definite challenges to creating small collages.
“There are some technical challenges in working with small materials, especially dried plants in that they can be damaged easily, and cutting very small images out with an exacto knife takes special precision,” he said.
Another challenge, Stringer said, occurs when a small piece is featured in a group exhibit that includes larger pieces.
“It takes a unique beauty or unusual composition or something special to attract a viewer and draw them close, but I like this challenge,” he said.
“Small Work Works!” is on display through Jan. 3 at The Arts Center, 700 S.W. Madison Ave., Corvallis. A reception for the exhibit takes place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 4, and the Brown Bag Art Talk will be held from noon to 1 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 11.
For more information about the exhibit, see theratscenter.net. For more about Yuji Hiratsuka, see liberalarts.oregonstate.edu/art/faculty/hiratsuka. For more on Joshua Stringer, see joshuastringerartist.com.