'Spread Too Thin' is a series of 18 conceptual works in paper.
On one hand, hyper-productivity, hustle culture and social media bombardment demand we work harder and longer...on the other hand, looming global recession spreads thin our resources so we have less with which to do more. Furthering the pursuit of using paper to represent the human experience, 'Spread Too Thin' is a series of work on/in paper which illustrates the effect of overextending ourselves.
Cellulose, named to reflect its composition of cells, is the industrial name for paper pulp from which paper is made. Thus, paper is a profound metaphor for people because our fundamental structural unit is also the cell. When handled and impressed upon, paper responds in much the same way people do; buckling, weakened, pierced, tattered and wrinkled.
When spread too thin, people become fragile, frayed at the edges, buckling under pressure and vulnerable. This series is a minimalist, symbolic reflection of the experience we all encounter when we take on too much, try too hard to impress others by pushing ourselves beyond healthy limits and overextending ourselves.
Each piece is an example of a different way of spreading cellulose and the various effects created. They are named in the way of the post-minimalist, process art of Richard Serra - for the gesture used to effect the result. Many of the resulting 'papers' carry surface textures like skin which heightens the analogy and some have inks added, highlighting the dynamic movement of the material.
The artist wants you to consider...what happens when you spread yourself too thin?
“Upon entering the gallery space, I was immediately drawn to the relatability of the show's poster. Spread Too Thin is an expression so many of us can relate to when considering how messy and stressful our experiences of the world can be.
Once I learnt that the materiality of paper was a representation of skin, the exhibition's logic became apparent; the handling of the paper represents what our minds can feel like. This was represented through material. It was a representation of how much we try to cover and compensate for over time. The way in which the paper had been malfunctioned, manipulated and disrupted reflected the way in which our skin and bodies become damaged by the pressures of life. The works were abstract drawings with paper, characterised by broken and disrupted marks. This once again references the how the world leaves us feeling – broken, and our thoughts are often distracted, disrupted and disturbed. The exhibition reminded me of an amazing book I read titled How to Get your Life Back by John Eldredge.
Saturated distinctly signified our bodily response to stress and concern. The way in which the paper had been manipulated to its thinnest point reflected what we call our “breaking point”. The work represented the aesthetics of our sayings "I am shattered" or "broken". The work was a physical representation of how we can sometimes feel. Something tangible that articulates how we feel inside, which is difficult. The paper’s textures, tones and shapes appeared bodily and reflected human like characteristics.
I also thoroughly enjoyed Valerie's constant and rigorous questioning of the work's interaction with viewers and its presence in the space."
A look at the latest series by Valerie Ellis, artist and former psychotherapist. Spread Too Thin once again captures the Zeitgeist of our current moment.
Today’s post is a rare commercial gallery outing for the Salterton Arts Review. Even rarer, this is an artist whose work we have seen before. Valerie Ellis is a British-Australian artist whose journey to art took a somewhat circuitous path. Her twenty years working as a psychotherapist have helped to shape an artistic practice at the intersection of art and psychology. In Touch Me, the series the Salterton Arts Review visited in 2021 at London’s Espacio Gallery, Ellis examined brushwork as the traces of a physical presence, at a time when we were all starved for touch and human connection.
Ellis’s next series, which I discussed with the artist but have not had the privilege of seeing up close, took this art/psychology connection a step further. First Impressions is a metaphor for the traces childhood leaves on the psyche. Paper is crumpled and smoothed, the resulting lines and wrinkles highlighted, for instance with a soft layer of pastel. The result is topographical: at the same time visually compelling and a powerful way of making manifest that the past, for good or bad, cannot be undone.
And now Spread Too Thin once again captures the Zeitgeist by exploring the boundary between art and psychology. Ellis explains:
“When spread too thin, people become fragile, frayed at the edges, buckling under pressure and vulnerable. This series is a minimalist, symbolic reflection of the experience we all encounter when we take on too much, try too hard to impress others by pushing ourselves beyond healthy limits and overextending ourselves.”
An intriguing offering, which I was keen to see for myself.
The concept here is simple. Ellis has taken paper pulp, often white but sometimes with colour, and pushed it to its limits. Literally spread it too thin. The result is a variety of different textures. The titles of the works often give a hint as to the process and sometimes the intention. We see for instance Swept, Poked, Blobbed which physically embody these actions. Shattered, Inundated or Stretched do double duty as actions and mental states. Shattered was a particular favourite of mine, delicate fragments of cellulose mounted and framed, incredibly tactile.
Aside from the concept, for me it is the tactile nature of these artworks which makes them so interesting. This series essentially captures a physical action and preserves it as a moment in time. I found myself getting up close. Looking at where the paper lifts proud of the mount, where it is thicker or thinner. It seems a shame almost to have the glass between us, and I agreed with something Valerie said to me in conversation: that some samples of the paper would have been a nice addition to allow visitors to experience the physicality of them. I don’t think samples would have lasted long, however. What is already spread too thin will quickly break down under the slightest pressure.
And this brings me to my reflection after visiting the exhibition. As with Ellis’s previous series, this is art which surfaces an issue by making it physical, but it remains up to the viewer to decide what to do with that information. In Spread Too Thin, the clue is in the title. Spread too thin. We know what it feels like to spread ourselves too thin. It’s uncomfortable. It’s unsustainable. What I’m still unsure of is what we do about it. But giving the answers tied up neatly with a bow is not the role of art, after all. The viewer, like the burned-out individual, is an active agent and needs to take a role in the process.
I’m afraid today’s post is something of a teaser, as I visited on the last day of the exhibition and so haven’t given you the opportunity to see it for yourself. You can see the series here online, with better images than I was able to capture in Noho Studios’ underground space.
Once more I look forward to seeing what is next from Valerie Ellis. These conceptual series lend themselves to a distinct series of production before moving on to the next idea (I mean maybe not: how many Concetto Spaziale did Fontana produce, for instance?). I expect that Ellis’s next exhibition will be different again, but look forward to her continuing to capture and distill our unpredictable times through art.
I have a question about this series of pictures...