Paper Proliferation!

A show at Dinnerware is one of several lively arts exhibits in a seemingly revitalized portion of downtown

Hardly any of the art in the paper show at Dinnerware is entirely made of paper.

Never mind that the artists are all members of the Sonoran Collective for Paper and Book Artists. Nearly every piece among the dozens in The Art of PaperWorks is an inventive mix of media. Paper is combined with linen, acrylic paint, canvas, wax encaustic or oil stick. Drawn on, glued on, colored and cut, the paper sometimes stars in the art, and sometimes plays only a minor role.

Marti White uses paper like paint in "Topographic Key," a lively abstraction of orange, rust and gold. She collages paper onto canvas, building up her layers into a painterly surface until you'd swear that they're traditional oils.

In Mary Ann Johns' works, by contrast, paper becomes the base for energetic scribbles in fat oil stick. She's used swift black strokes to divide up her "Art Message" into a horizontal grid. Inside the irregular black rectangles are seasonally appropriate egg shapes tinted Easter colors of pink, blue and green. But there's nothing fragile about her wild, out-of-the-boundaries coloring. Her strokes fly in all directions.

And underneath the cross-hatched color, she's printed tiny images on the paper in blue ink, creating a mysterious sub-calligraphy of numbers and flowers. In "Reviewing Possibilities," likewise, subterranean images bleed through the color. This time, though, the paper is a photographic contact sheet that contains tiny black-and-whites of über-urban street scenes. The photographed buildings and walkers seep through the robin's-egg blue and pink on top, making for an intriguing combo of the real and the imagined.

Jackie Richards deploys her handmade paper in a freestanding sculpture, "Scroll," which hangs on a steel frame rising up 6 feet high on the floor. A swath of off-white linen dangles from ropes, becoming a free-floating "canvas" for a collage of tumbling papers. Shiny gold manufactured paper alternates with thick homemade paper, and some of the sheets have been printed with black ink, or drawn on. A long vertical band of metal holds everything in place.

You might expect to see a good deal of lush handmade paper like Richards' in a show by paper artists. But this group defines paper loosely. Some artists count commercially printed found papers, as Barbara Brandel does with her postage stamps and maps. In "Traveling With Secrets," she's glued the stamps into the shape of a spy, dressed him in a spook's trench coat and dark hat, and set him against a map of Manhattan.

Penelope Starr expands the definition of paper even further to include the cardboard frames on photo slides. She makes "paintings" by arranging grids of slides, six images strong, into rectangles, and colors the cardboard slide mounts with high-grade "painting" crayons, several steps above Crayola.

In "Cate in the Desert," she's made three such grids, lined up vertically, but only the bottom set pictures the desert. Up close, you can see tiny pads of the prickly pear. The pockmarked top grid looks lunar, and strange abstractions fill the middle grid.

More coherent is the slide collection in "Storm Front." Starr uses the same format, but this time, the slides carry through on a theme. They picture white paper towels stained with black ink, and the inky spills suggest gathering storm clouds.

The imaginative paperworks at Dinnerware are not the only paper art in the neighborhood. In fact, a resurgence of paper art downtown seems to be mirroring the birth of a mini-arts district.

East of Dinnerware, Jan Zbiciak Brummet has opened Griffonage Studios at 270 E. Congress St. Dinnerware had been using the space as a satellite gallery but sublet it in November to Griffonage, according to David Aguirre, president of Dinnerware.

Laura LaFave, who used to show large colored paintings on canvas at the old Dinnerware across the street, is exhibiting Dessins Petits/Small Drawings at Griffonage through April 26 (623-3323). These small gems on paper have the same loose swirling lyricism as her paintings, but they're all black and white--and miniaturized. Curving shapes of human figures, fish and whales swoop through these near abstractions.

Michael Cajero's giant burned papier-mâché sculptures are in the storefront of Eric Firestone Gallery at 266 E. Congress St. (on view in the window indefinitely; open by appointment only, 577-7711). One of Tucson's most provocative artists, Cajero uses trashed paper and wire to conjure up life's demons and fallen angels. Outtakes from his big show that just closed at Firestone's Scottsdale gallery, these storefront figures are stricken, suffering musicians. One man and one woman, they twist their torn bodies to blast their horns with their last strength.

Up the block and around the corner, The Drawing Studio is in its new home at 33 S. Sixth Ave. The current exhibition is--you guessed it--a paper show called Collage as a Way of Seeing: Beyond Kindergarten. Another group show, this one highlights juried work by the Contemporary Artists of Southern Arizona (CASA). Like the Sonoran paper artists, the CASA members mix their media and make their collaged paper just one element among many. Artist Carol Ann, who uses only her given names, enlists a rainbow of media to create her jazzy "London Westend," a cityscape in saturated red.

The Tucson neighborhood around Sixth Avenue and Congress Street may not be London, but suddenly it seems lively. Beowulf Alley Theatre is busy staging plays just north of the Drawing Studio; the Crescent Moon Smoke Shop is a downtown fixture on the corner; and even the new Flanagan's Celtic Corner, at 222 E. Congress St., is thriving, according to manager John Flanagan.

And Dinnerware, which was forced back downtown last fall after it was ejected from its space in the Steinfeld Warehouse, has started up still another "Tucson arts incubator," at 108 E. Congress St., next to Grill (100 E. Congress St), Aguirre says. Called ONsite, "It's starting off with work by UA and Pima students. It might be a rental gallery, for group shows for a fee. It will have rotating shows," he says.

"It's been interesting timing," Aguirre adds. "The Drawing Studio closed on that space, and Dinnerware got booted out of Steinfeld. There's been an uptick downtown. The pendulum is swinging a little bit."