It's a tough world out there...'Cut-paper artist Paul Robles offers up whimsical - and frightful - portrayals of nature in Rabble Rousers
Sandee Moore

'It's a tough world out there...'Located in a furniture store, Gallery 803 works an apropos reversal of the neutral gallery space, presenting art integrated into decor. Despite its rejection of the white cube paradigm, 803 is a strange mix of domestic space and blank canvas: it is stuffed with furniture, but all of it is blankly white, waiting to be covered.

Cut-paper artist Paul Robles' work plays nicely off the comfy white world of the furniture gallery. His brightly coloured and intricately cut 'drawings' on white velum are framed in white, creating a sense of openness, whereas a dark frame would give the effect of fencing in his menagerie of swallows, snakes, monkeys and more.

A lacy web of holes pierce each figure - decorative doilies and Indonesian shadow puppets spring to mind - creating texture and detail. Monkeys are spiky haired; swallows are smooth winged. Cut from squares of origami paper, even the repugnant in Robles' work is somehow delightful and a little fanciful.

Untitled (Carp) appears to be a confusion of bulging eyed goldfish in shades of red - the nexus of swarming forms creates a skull shape, reminiscent of the colourful tissue paper decorations used in celebrating The Day of the Dead.

A tornado of swooping birds in shades of blue turns Hitchcockian in The Rabbit Skinners: tiny hares dangle from swallows' beaks, snatched up by an ankle. A crested bird (a woodpecker perhaps?) arms itself with a tomahawk.

Untitled (Breakaway) makes me wonder why everyone isn't afraid of birds - long-tailed swallows are surrounded by an eddy of ragged scraps, suggesting this gang of flitting figures has merrily ripped something, or someone, apart.

The bad luck of rabbits and their feet continues in Untitled (Playground Martyrs #1); a golden rabbit is snared by a monkey dangling comically from a jumble of inter-linked tails and arms, evoking the children's game Barrel of Monkeys.

When not portraying the inherent violence of the natural kingdom, Robles turns his scissors to icons of masculinity - most notably, cowboys.

Photocopied images of dark-skinned cowboys are framed with a garland of flowers and an ornately knotted serpent. The artifice and aesthetic in Robles' technique exposes the cowboys, too, as finely crafted fallacies, as handsome and powerless as his knotted snake.

Robles has been creating his vibrant cut- paper works for several years; three white paper crowns included in Rabble Rousers represent a new foray into sculpture for the artist. Made of sturdier paper, the crowns are multilayered compositions.

One crown shows a magical white garden, a pair of birds nest between mammoth flowers. Nestled behind the blossoms, mostly obscured, is a hanged man. The work romantically suggests the cycle of life and death.

A second paper crown features a nest of brambles intertwined with the sinewy form of a snake - it's irresistible: dark, pretty and playful. (I managed to hold myself back and didn't try it on.)

Works in Rabble Rousers are priced from $650 to $2,500 for a large diptych. And you'll already know how great these pieces will look with your new sofa!

Sandee Moore left the mild climes of her B.C. home for the warm embrace of the Winnipeg arts community six years ago. She is an intermedia artist, a former director of Video Pool and occasional arts writer.

Until Nov. 21, Gallery 803, 803 Erin St. (Elán furniture)


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