Friday, July 29, 2011

"Mark Wagner" Currency Collage

Mark Wagner, Pavel Zoubok Gallery, NYC, 2011.
There are a lot of things one can do with a dollar bill. Stuffing it into a stripper's G-string is just one thing that comes to mind. Spending it is another. And saving it is perhaps one that should come to mind more often.  The Brooklyn based artist Mark Wagner takes an altogether different approach - making art out of it. His "currency collages" are just that - patterns and images made exclusively from cutting up and collaging the U.S. Dollar Bill. But this is no ordinary cheap gimmick. On the contrary, the work he produces is both beautiful and thought provoking.

Currently on exhibit at the Pavel Zoubok Gallery in Chelsea, his subject matter spans from decorative to political, from tiny re-worked  Dollar Bills floating on the wall, to  17 X 6 foot monumental tribute to the Statue of Liberty, which is where the show gets its name, "Give Me Liberty of Give Me Death".

At first, a viewer might be drawn to a particular work just because of its intriguing portraiture. Then, upon closer inspection, it is revealed that the image is produced using various parts or the Dollar, usually in a repetitive fashion. ( It made me realize how complicated is the design on such an everyday object.) I particularly liked the works which incorporate George Washington doing various activities.

Mark Wagner, Pavel Zoubok Gallery, NYC, 2011.
Upon examining the collages closely, the various parts and pieces of the complex design of a Dollar are all brought into play, to illustrative and enlightening effect.
Mark Wagner, Pavel Zoubok Gallery, NYC, 2011.
While some of the messages are political, playing on the obvious stigma attached to currency, Wagner also seems to have a sense of humor as well, as in the peacock collage above.

Mark Wagner, Pavel Zoubok Gallery, NYC, 2011.
Being a big fan of the decorative arts, I loved the wallpaper he creates from currency, displayed on a segment of a wall, complete with outlet and kick-board.

Mark Wagner, Pavel Zoubok Gallery, NYC, 2011.
Some of his work also creates optical illusions, showing his resourcefulness with the medium, and an almost Escher-like appreciation for mathematics.
Customized Dollar Bill, Mark Wagner, NYC, 2011.
A paper artist myself, I am always fascinated to see artists using unexpected materials in creative ways. The Dollar is, after all, just a piece of paper with an implied value. (The paper stock for US currency is produced by Cranes, a stationer that also sells fine stationery and other paper goods.)  The same could be said about art on paper, a basic material with an assigned value. Fundamentally, is an artwork created out of currency worth more merely because of its materials? Or is the currency defaced, and rendered worthless? I will let you answer those questions for yourself. Whatever the case may be, the works created by Wagner are stunning in there engineering and subject matter, and he certainly has a promising career.

The artist happened to be on hand during the opening, and was doing demonstrations of some of his techniques. I quickly queued up and handed over my own crisp Dollar, a small price to pay for art. Right before my eyes, he transformed it into the beautiful lattice-work piece shown above. A great souvenir to take home from the gallery.

For more on Mark Wagner see his website:

And for more on the Pavel Zoubok Gallery:

And to see some other creative ideas of things you can do with paper, check out Paper Arts:

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