Paper Transformed

Could Bill Mackey and Thomas A. Rossi be two of the last artists exhibited at the current Dinnerware?

Every day, millions of pieces of junk mail land in millions of mailboxes all across America.

Credit card applications, pleas from nonprofits, fliers for store sales and supplications for magazine subscriptions insinuate themselves into the lives of the middle class, cluttering up their minds, not to mention their houses. Everyone has their own dumping ground for this stuff--mine is the dining-room table, bane of my life--but Bill Mackey has come up with a relatively novel solution to the junk-mail problem: art.

An architect and owner of the Monkey Box restaurant downtown, Mackey takes unwanted paper and converts it into collages. Elegantly composed and delicately colored in the pastels of credit-card receipts, the grays of charge cards and the blues of discount coupons, his collages make a wry commentary on facets of American life, from business to art to war. A group of these appealing works, mounted on painted plywood, is now on view in the solo show this is nowhere at Dinnerware Contemporary Arts.

In the ironically titled "all this could be yours," a dispiriting office, complete with pods, disses the degrading habitat of low-level corporate workers. A row of unoccupied desks marches across a floor painted dentist-office green. Mackey has brought his architectural skills to bear in composing the tiny desks, fashioning them puzzle-like out of credit-card receipts that he's ingeniously snipped on the diagonal to indicate foreshortening.

Likewise, he's sketched a tile ceiling in shorthand, with black lines receding to a vanishing point. At the center of this capacious but claustrophobic space, a small figure in red, a middle manager no doubt, joyously flings his arms out, exhorting the absent troops onto ever-greater capital glories.

A dated set of patriotic playing cards from Circle K is mustered up for the anti-war piece. Arrayed on a rough plywood plank, the cards picture assorted Iraqi war players, from Condoleezza Rice, the Queen of Spades (ouch), to the forgotten Shoshanna Johnson, ID'd as a "former POW." This photo gallery is sloppily painted, with out-of control spatters of white and blue flung all over the place, kinda like the chaos in Iraq.

Mackey's a little kinder to the art world. In "streetscape 01," an homage to cultural travel, he's created what looks like a room in a museum. At right, he's layered colorful brochures from the Metropolitan Museum, the Barnes Foundation and others into a sort of art installation. At left, another installation is composed of the credit-card receipts that tally the costs of this travel enterprise. In the middle, enjoying the show, are the traveling art lovers, looking every bit like those simplified contour-line folks that populate architectural renderings.

"Streetscape 02" is downright fun. Tall and skinny, it pictures an urban canyon, with a narrow street running in between two rows of paper-scrap skyscrapers. Plastic credit cards form the silvery sidewalks. Mackey's done a great job conveying the exhilarating feeling of being in a big city that rises up all around you.

The show's title comes from one of its least interesting pieces, "this is nowhere--housing." A long, diagonal structure slices across a simplified landscape of pink sky and blue ground. The "building" is made up of the documents chronicling the purchase of a house by Mackey and his wife. But the title has taken on new resonance beyond the work itself, now that Dinnerware gallery and the warehouse that houses it are to be emptied.

The Arizona Department of Transportation owns the Steinfeld Warehouse, and has served notice not only to its artist tenants but also to the gallery to vacate their spaces. A recent reprieve has extended the deadline to March 31, but David Aguirre, the gallery's executive director as well as manager of the whole warehouse, is hopeful a deal can be struck to allow the artists--and the gallery--to stay.

"This building is the flagship of the arts district," he says. "This is where it started." Artists have had their studios there for nearly 20 years, and after such a long time, "we were not expecting outright eviction."

He's continuing to plan the Dinnerware season.

"Alfred Quiróz will curate an exhibition of whatever he wants in March. In April, we have Plugged, an international women's video exhibitions. We'll use the parking lot if we have to," and project the videos on the warehouse walls. May is scheduled to bring the Salon des Refusés, a collaboration with the Tucson Museum of Art that will exhibit works that don't make it into this spring's Arizona Biennial.

Now in its 27th season as a nonprofit gallery, Dinnerware is the "longest-lasting gallery of its kind in the Southwest," Aguirre says. In its long life, Dinnerware's been in a variety of locations, from Congress Street to Fourth Avenue, and moved into the old warehouse only last fall. The space it leased was decrepit and almost uninhabitable, and the gallery spent $14,000 on repairs, and tallied up countless volunteer hours to make it usable. Now all that money and labor might all be for naught.

Thomas A. Rossi's paintings--displayed in the Project Gallery, a small satellite space adjoining Dinnerware's main gallery--inadvertently offer their own commentary on the situation. These are big paintings, with big themes, expressed in short titles: "Culture," "Empire," "America." Full of energetic action painting and layers of color, they're both idealistic and cynical.

"Culture" is a big expanse of white paint tinged with pink, ochre and green, underneath angry graffiti linking up the words "Congress" and "bribes." "Symptomatic" attacks HMOs and the entire medical-capital complex. "Empire" lashes out at the whole capitalist system. It's hard not to use them as meditative pieces on the threat to the art spaces downtown, on the kind of willful recklessness that would turn a thriving arts complex into a nowhere land.

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