ART REVIEW by Alec Clayton for OLY ARTS
Tacoma artist Sharon Styer is primarily known as a photographer whose photographs of vacant and abandoned buildings, among other subjects, are haunting and mysterious. Now she’s onto something new.
About two years ago, Styer began making collages that are funny, bizarre and intelligent – often with known people, places and things in unexpected settings. One such work, a three-dimensional construction, is now part of the Invasive Species show at Tacoma Community College.
A large group of Styer’s collages are now on display in the lobby of Harlequin Productions’ run of “Noises Off,” including a photo of the one used on the poster and program for the play, which is slightly different from the rest in that it doesn’t look like a collage; it looks like a watercolor and ink drawing copied from Toulouse-Lautrec. It is, in fact, a collage of a slightly altered “At the Moulin Rouge” by Lautrec.
Many of Styer’s collages are skillfully put together in such a way that it is hard for the viewer to see the edges of where things are glued together, except for the instances in which she clearly wants the viewer to see the startling juxtapositions, such as when eyes are too large for heads. Another hallmark is long, wordy and humorously enigmatic titles that either have no relationship to the images or that have relationships to the images only Styer can see.
One work, “I read your diary and I have some suggestions,” is a portrait of a fierce looking woman – not one anyone would want to cuddle up to. She looks like Helena Bonham Carter in The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, except Carter is pretty and the woman in Styer’s collage is frightening, with mismatched eyes and bright red lipstick on horribly distorted lips, and she’s wearing a Dutch boy outfit right out of a Renaissance portrait.
In “What becomes of the girl when she is no longer a girl” — one of the rare instances where the title matches the image — an old woman’s head, in color, is collaged onto the neck of a beautiful classical nude photographed in black and white. The switch back and forth from color to black and white in figure and ground unifies the image visually.
Styer employs a similar use of a classical nude in black and white with full-color background in “The weight of the past is an untold story.” In this piece, the nude could be a model for one of Degas’ dancers. She washes her hands in a sink while a ghostly figure watches through a window and another stares at her from behind a mirror. In front of her sits a young girl with her legs cut off.
While there is much humor in Styer’s collages, it is often dark humor, and many of her collages can be seen as ominous.
These are excellently crafted pictures that have a lot in common with the work of local collage artist Gail Ramsey Wharton and with some of the stranger works of world-famous collagist Romare Bearden.
Collages by Sharon Styer
During the production of Noises Off and by appointment, 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through March 8
State Theater, 202 4th Ave. E., Olympia