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Review: Spehn shows new direction at Sheldon

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 16, 2010 - For a number of years, St. Louis artist Erik Spehn has been producing beautiful, delicate abstractions using masking tape to lie down and remove strips of paint.

Recently, the artist began using the paint-covered, discarded strips of masking tape to make new works that he calls "Tape Drawings," and several are currently on view in the Sheldon's Nancy Spirtas Kranzberg Gallery.

The drawings exhibit an impressive variety, from the tightly structured rhythms reminiscent of the artist's paintings, to much looser, syncopated variations on the grid theme.

They range in their employment of color as well: a whole series of the drawings concentrate on a narrow range of yellow tones, while elsewhere works contrast black and white, or purple, cream and blue.

Although Spehn's paintings achieve nigh mystical effects of optical purity and equilibrium, one feels that the drawings allow him to relax and breathe a little. The results offer a greater range of visual allusion and metaphor -- some evoke fields of wheat, others cityscapes. One even resembles the jaunty switchback rhythms of African Kente cloth.

But at their heart, the drawings share what is marvelous about the paintings: their ability to transform mere strips of tape and paint into visual statements that are fragile yet solid, subdued yet lyrical, simple and yet sublime.

Ivy Cooper, a professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, is the Beacon art critic. 

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