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Room to Grow

Emily Joyce stretches her legs at Inman@Lawing

Wall space, the final frontier. Emily Joyce is taking full advantage of Sheetrock square footage in "Operation Eracer," her exhibition at Inman@Lawing. Inman Gallery proper is part of Houston's long tradition of "house" galleries -- one of the pluses of our fair, unzoned city. But while Montrose's vanishing bungalow galleries are great intimate spaces for showing a wide variety of work, sometimes an artist needs soaring white walls and sleekly neutral space. And Inman's temporary home at Lawing Gallery has space and sleekness aplenty.

Joyce's work comprises shapes that are cut from the vinyl used in commercial signage and then collaged together to create "paintings" that adhere directly to the wall. While her first wall works seemed constrained by an invisible picture frame, her more recent pieces have broken free of any imagined boundaries. At Lawing, Joyce's forms drift down from a ceiling pipe and meander over the liberating expanse of pristine 15-foot walls.

The vinyl comes in the bright, attention-getting colors of advertising, imparting a pop feel to the work. The forms themselves are silhouettes scavenged from pop and consumer culture. Joyce started out using commercial craft stencils -- teddy bears, vines, flowers and shells -- painstakingly hand-cutting her images. Now she scavenges silhouettes from the world around her, more interested in the shape (the silhouette of a frog, Charlie Chaplin or a Spirograph design) than the source (everything from '80s wallpaper to children's book illustrations to car decals). Joyce has trained herself to cull abstracted forms from everyday life.

She traces her silhouettes and then scans them into Photoshop, "printing them out" via a plotter that cuts the shapes from 15- by 40-inch sheets of vinyl. Mechanically cutting the forms has freed Joyce up to make large constructions without spending insane hours with an Exacto knife.

She arranges the shapes on the wall, layering various cuts of the same vinyl when she wants larger, solid areas of color. The overlaid silhouettes are like ill-fitting puzzle pieces, with spiky edges resulting from their protruding legs, spokes and angles. The finished work becomes a kind of Rorschach blot abstraction.

It's great to see Joyce's paintings free to roam, but increased scale raises new issues and options. The smallest work, The Dream Eater (2002), is the most formally satisfying, while the two larger works feel like groupings of smaller paintings, each with a similar visual weight. The eye desires a greater variety in the scale of the component parts, or a more extreme massing of the tiny little forms.

Joyce is also showing some great Plexiglas paintings in the back room. In her very early works, the Plexi felt like a practical compromise -- a permanent and easily transportable means of presenting the kinds of images Joyce would normally create directly on a gallery wall. But in these new works, the Plexiglas becomes a glossy, desirable skin over the pigment of the artist's striking compositions.

Hello Boss (2002) is especially nice. Against a pale beige background, a band of multicolored stripes turns into itself in an Escher-like trapezoid and runs off the bottom of the painting. Representatives from Joyce's vocabulary of forms cavort in the center. The pieces are reverse-painted on the back of the glass -- this means Joyce had to paint first what appears to be painted last, and vice versa. The shapes are painted in polyvinyl acrylic and the brush strokes show through some of the more translucent colors like cobalt blue and fuchsia. The juxtaposition of commercial smoothness with the subtle signs of the human hand sits well.

Joyce's visual strategies are steadily evolving. "Operation Eracer" is satisfying work that introduces new frontiers to be explored.

 
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