by Scarlet Cheng

Ann Weber has been making sculpture, using cardboard as her primary medium, in the Bay Area for over 25 years. She currently maintains a studio in Los Angeles to create a broader audience for her work and to be inspired by new surroundings.

She recently exhibited a large grouping of her work at Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery and created a site-specific work for MOAH Museum in Lancaster, California. She had her second solo show at her gallery, Dolby Chadwick Gallery in San Francisco in 2015. Additional solo venues include the Boise Art Museum, Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles, Triton Museum, the Fresno Art Museum and the 798 Art Zone in Beijing.

Residencies at the American Academy in Rome, the Oberpfalzer Kunslerhaus in Schwandorf, Germany, the Internation School of Beijing, Montalvo Art Center in Saratoga, California, the De Young Museum in San Francisco, Albion College in Michigan and the Lux Institute in San Diego provided her with opportunities to create sculpture in extraordinary settings and interact with a diverse audience.

Casting the cardboard sculptures into bronze or fiberglass culminated in Public Art Projects in the State Capitol Health Services Building in Sacramento, Skyline Park in Denver and the Cesar Chavez Library in Phoenix.

Ann Weber: Necessary Inventions

Necessity is the mother of invention, even for artists who seem to have a wide array of traditional materials to work with. Ann Weber trained in clay at California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, her mentor being the formidable Viola Frey, but after graduation she realized it would be prohibitively costly to set up her own ceramics studio. So she experimented with a number of other malleable materials including plaster, paper mache, and canvas.

After moving to a new studio in East Oakland, she sat contemplating a pile of leftover cardboard in the middle of the floor. Ann Weber has been making sculpture, using cardboard as her primary medium, in the Bay Area for over 25 years. She currently maintains a studio in Los Angeles to create a broader audience for her work and to be inspired by new surroundings. Inspired by the cardboard furniture of Frank Gehry, she decided to use them for her next art project. “I wanted to eliminate the cumbersome properties of clay,” she says, “and cardboard felt like it had infinite possibilities.” It was also readily available— these days she culls cardboard boxes from her local Trader Joe’s. She likes integrating the properties of her finds into her work, whether they be for color, illustration, or specific words.

Weber cuts the cardboard into strips, weaving them together and then fastening them with staples to make freestanding shapes. “I could build a 6-foot-tall sculpture in a day,” she says of her discovery. “They were rough and raw, which also appealed to reminded me of the Arte Povera movement.” In that Italian movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, artists such as Marisa Merz and Michelangelo Pistoletto used everyday material, including textiles and leftover construction material, to make work.

In this exhibition several pieces were inspired by other artists. Weber’s first college degree was in art history, from Purdue University, and she has a wealth of art history knowledge percolating in her mind. Three works make reference to Ellsworth Kelly, the great Minimalist painter, and his use of primary colors. For Weber, who was taken by his remarkable series Spectrum, his paintings are not just paintings, but have great presence in the space they occupy. Another series pays homage to the brilliant Italian Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Having spent time in Rome as Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome, she has had a chance to admire Bernini’s sculpture up close such as the Fountain of the Four Rivers in the Piazza Navona. She is particularly taken with his dramatic rendering of drapery, and thus the enfolded twists of After Bernini, Rio de la Plata (2013).

Her work often becomes anthropomorphic; they are like characters from a story. She herself thinks of them as “biomorphic abstractions.” The Personage series in particular appeals to her feeling that one thing comes from another, that everything in the world is connected. The cutout pieces from one work become the basis of the next work. “These pieces are metaphors for my life,” Weber says, “perhaps love affairs or periods of obstacles.” In the sculpture Almost (2005), two tall pieces stand next to one another, with curves and recesses that look like they would fit together but they don’t exactly.

One of my favorites is The Wedding Party (2009), an installation composed of seven pieces ranging in size from 10” tall a boxy sculpture, perhaps the wedding gift -- to a figure 8’ tall. That tall figure and a smaller one are shaped like upside-down teardrops, with slender “waists” held up on a rounded base. One can imagine, given the title of the installation, that they might be the couple about to be married, with other members of the celebration gathered around them. Indeed her works are often exuberant and celebratory, unexpected and witty entities that spring into our presence, and invite us to share a personal connection with them.

Scarlet Cheng is a Los Angeles based art critic, a regular contributor to publications such as "The Los Angeles Times," "Artillery art magazine, and "The Art Newspaper." She was formerly Managing Editor of "Asian Art News," a magazine based in Hong Kong, and an Associate Editor at Time-Life Books, based in Alexandria, VA. Currently, she also teaches art and film history at Art Center College of Design and Otis College of Art & Design.

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