RAW: A New Approach at Tempe Public Library

The Tempe Public library has two public art galleries within it located in the Youth Library and Café Connections. Currently on exhibit in the Youth Library is a wonderful exhibition entitled “Raw” which focuses on three local artists: Joe Willie Smith, Monica Aissa Martinez, and Aimee Leon.

“Raw is an exhibition reflecting organic choices and how they impact artwork”. The three artists use raw, recycled, and or organic materials in response to the growing health and environment concerns of traditional art materials. The gallery may be small but the exhibition catches the patrons’ eye as soon as they enter the Youth Library. This is a great combination of contemporary artwork on display showcasing a variety of mediums, techniques, and styles.

I was immediately struck by the massive metal wall hangings by Joe Willie Smith, which appeared to be crushed metal. Mr. Smith is a local multi-media artist who currently teaches at Phoenix College. His work mainly focuses on creating “Sonic Sculptures”, re-purposed materials to make instruments, but he also looks to exploring this crushed metal to help him better understand that “a set of physical restraints that exist within a shape that determine how energy is directed within a form’.

As the viewer takes a closer look, they discover Joe Willie Smith artwork goes beyond the visible. The work in this current exhibition is a part of a series titled “crushed” which focuses on reusing found and repurposed metals that have been crushed then he alters the metal by scratching and drawing on them to create the final artwork. This is seen in the pieces: “Untitled” crushed steel with “Untitled” green patina, “Untitled” crushed steel with white patina, and “Untitled“ crushed steel with blue text. These works are strikingly beautiful in part due to their massive scale, the folds of the metal, as well as the striking color variations from piece to piece.

Next to this work we see the delicate and intricate paintings and drawing by Monica Aissa Martinez. The human body and how it works, technology and how it affects us as a society as well as the individual spirit. These are reoccurring subjects in her current series of work. An excellent example of this is can be seen in her painting “Vital Commotion”. The artwork depicts various organs found in the human body, how they are connect, work, and/or disconnect. The color palette is muted except for the central image of the heart. While the forms appear to be slightly abstracted with the internal organs seeming to be effortlessly floating, almost organic, on the canvas. Monica Aissa Martinez uses casein and egg tempera rather than traditional harsh chemicals found in oils and acrylics. She uses the casein as underpainting and the egg tempera as the surface color. Materials and process that should be used more often but it is much more time consuming and difficult.

These works are juxtaposed by the interesting organic fiber artworks created by Aimee Leon. At first glance the viewer simply see fiber in a case, but with further examination one will notice the beauty, elegance and simplicity she has created with these small tactile vessel-like forms. Amazing to comprehend that Ms. Leon has been able to create these works of art locally, without a “footprint”, from shearing to spinning and lastly to creating her work like with “Once upon a place far away”. Her work is displayed in a central glass case with one additional piece hung from the ceiling: a light wrapped in fiber titled “Contradiction” displayed next to Martinez’s small scale drawing. As an artist, Aimee Leon’s work has led her to also become a certified sheep shearer; she uses local wool and other repurposed fiber. Ms. Leon said, “I explore alternative commodity structures through performance and the creation of functional objects imparting historic techniques and materials.” Ms. Leon “learned to shear sheep to collect wool for object making, with a secondary purpose of supporting local farms and avoiding the footprint created via import systems” her artwork is simplistic, natural, and beautiful, the viewer just wants to touch them.

RAW offers an eclectic exhibition for all ages, demonstrating a variety of artwork. It is a great way to introduce children and adults to stunning, local, contemporary art as well as a few noted local artists and a “green” way of creating artwork. This exhibition will be on view until December 4th.

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by Nicole Royse
Contributing Writer
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