Paint some sheets of paper. Grab a pair of scissors. Arrange the colorful strips. What do you get? A day in the life of a New Yorker – or anyone residing in a metropolis for that matter.
Paper cutouts have been masterfully arranged to bring forward the dynamic pace of city life in a new exhibit featuring vehicles caught in traffic, pedestrians rushing down steps, and busy intersections. Like stray dogs confused not long ago, but now responding on command, the puzzle pieces assemble, form ears, haircuts and gestures. Each is absolutely indispensable to the fleeing moments in David Kapp: Crossing the Grid, on view at the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens through Dec. 9. (Here’s a short preview video:)
Born in 1953, Kapp is known for contemporary renditions of street landscapes that are not devoid of chaos and challenges. His ribbons of paper recreate the daily drama caught between a city’s sky and its pavement. Although his body of work includes oil paintings, and some are featured here, Kapp’s collages are what this show is all about. At times, it is hard to reconcile the playful outcomes, such as the multicolored Stadium II, with the highly calculative execution driving them.
Just as any modern concrete jungle, Crossing the Grid exhibits mood swings. Wall Street Looking Up III (2014) projects a somber, stoic picture of power, silence and solitude. The rigid buildings composed of dark strips of varying sizes tower over pedestrians presumably looking to catch a glimpse of that soothing lavender sky. The work is 25 x 17 inches and struggles to contain the ultra-modern twin structures that threaten to squeeze those standing in the middle.
It has very little in common with two other collages from that same year.
Vibrant hues and crowds contribute to the highly energetic current in Summer Crowd and Green Crowd and Traffic. As most collages in the exhibit, the best way to appreciate them is from a distance. Only then do the seemingly useless irregular shapes of paper harmonize and reveal what their secret dance is all about.
The same goes for Kapp’s oil paintings. A darker shape defies a dull, colorless background in a square panel titled Cyclist III. It remains undecipherable until we take a few steps back. The small gallery room housing this 2008 piece affords just enough space to do so. Before our eyes, the figure sharpens. Its motion earns definition and those circles are no longer accents in an abstract geometric composition. Meet the protagonist: The rider.
But say you are a rebel and go against that advice. In that case, stand as close as you can. Pick any of his works, focus on a spot and ignore the surrounding noise. There, you will find signs of abstract expressionism like beautiful parasites living off a most obvious organism. This is one of two surprises Crossing the Grid offers.
There are no accidents here. Whether they serve to convey movement or silhouettes, every shape has a role to play, even if it is as a handrail, as in the Coming Into the Subway series depicting soon-to-be passengers drifting down the steps dressed in dark, open overcoats. The angle setting the stage for an inevitable encounter, the precipitating pose, and that floating quality of the fabric, make them special – at least to me. These are my personal favorites in the show.
You are excused for thinking it must have taken the New York City native very little to put this cut-and-pasted world together. At first glance, the works appear simple and light; the products of a child’s busy afternoon and the prelude to at least one household chore.
After all, the headlights in 4 Cars – from 2013 – look as if ripped with bare hands, and don’t feature the clean, straight cut afforded by a sharp tool and awarded to other pieces. A warm orange tone divides the bottom half from the top, which is darker and features a blue and a yellow vehicle. A black cutout standing in for a shadow emerges from under a set of front tires. Yellow scratches appear on the surface. Like scars of sorts, the marks portray a city that has switched off its charm and turned on the raw and the unforgiving.
Before attending Queens College and receiving a Creative Artists Public Service Fellowship in Painting and the Rosenthal Foundation Award, Kapp too, was a child. That his mature, grown-up persona manages to preserve a childish enthusiasm that generates artworks this straightforward, carefree and centered in the present moment is the other surprising factor.
It is tempting to judge his simple technique as a cheap shortcut toward a round of applause. But something must be said about the imaginative method and vision that can turn flat strips of paper into animated, vivid moments. The preconceived arrangement, the subtle restraint, and that intentional snapshot view all point in one direction: Don’t try this at home.
David Kapp: Crossing the Grid runs through Dec. 9 at the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens, 253 Barcelona Road, West Palm Beach. Main gardens are open Wednesday to Sunday 10 am to 4 pm. Admission: $15, $10 for seniors, $7 for students and children. Call 561-832-5328 or visit www.ansg.org.