Painstaking Process with Paper

Jackson Hole Weekly
By Aaron Wallis
Published Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Jackson Hole, Wyo.—I recently spoke to Austin, Texas artist Lance Letscher about his upcoming exhibition at Tayloe Piggott Gallery. The gallery press release described Letscher’s work as “drawing comparisons to James Castle, Josef Albers and Piet Mondrian.” That’s a tall order to fill. Though the artist was himself quite modest, polite and almost embarrassed by the comparison.

Letscher’s work consists of multi-layered, almost sculptural, collages assembled from a wide array of paper sources, then glued to masonite. I don’t really see any similarity to James Castle, known for using spit and charcoal. Albers not so much either – there are squares in the works of both, but Albers focuses on subtle variations in color perception. Mondrian paints squares too, but his are flat and in only primary colors. The first comparison that springs to my mind is No. 5 by Charles Demuth. Though that comparison is really only applicable to Letscher’s work involving intricate circular pie patterns repeated in varying colors.

Letscher says he does not look for direct inspiration from other artists, but rather tries to let process and method dictate the evolution of a piece. His early work as a sculptor, while still in grad school, still seems to influence his 2D work. American folk art quilts could also be cited as a distinct influence. The pieces are wonderfully complex with layers of collaged paper from a wide range of secondhand sources. Letscher told me he “aggressively collects paper” including, books, magazines, album covers, typography, promotional materials, advertising and newspapers that he uses to construct his work.

Thumbing through a few of Letscher’s catalogs, I was impressed by the variety of his collage technique. There are several distinct phases to his work from the circular patterns, to abstract landscapes, to kind of narrative diagram looking pieces, layering of patterns to create screens and the current work that seems to be more about rectangular repetition.

Letscher said most work generally falls in one of three categories – decorative, expressionist and conceptual. I would consider these collages to be decorative, though I would avoid the pejorative connotations that often accompany referring to a work of art as decorative. I see a few artists trying to make work similar to Letscher’s often using digital media to create collages. I am kind of against the digitally based Photoshop collage prints. They look and feel cheap. But Letscher’s work is neither. It appears to be the product of a painstaking process.

Along with Letscher, the gallery will show work by Lisa Kokin, who uses paper pulp from pulp novels to create sculptures. She also chops up the covers and stitches them into flowers that spread across the wall. The work obviously references the text and interaction of printed words in a visual arts context. Both colorful and pleasing to the eyes, Letscher’s and Kokin’s works go together like peanut butter and jelly.

The opening reception for Lance Letscher is 5 to 8 p.m., Friday, at Tayloe Piggott Gallery. Free. 733-0555.