Cardboard, Unpacked

Cardboard, Unpacked


The artist among her 2006 sculptures Tiny Dancer (left) and Strange Fruit. Photo: M. Lee Fatherree

"I'm interested in rela­tionships," says Ann Weber. "Why they work, why they don't work. All the emotions that come and go throughout life. Balancing acts - art, life, family. How far can you go before it all collapses?"

Weber explores these big ideas in her often enormous sculptures, biomorphic forms that have towered as high as 16 feet. In her show "Love and Other Audacities" at Los Angeles' Craft and Folk Art Museum (through September 11), she captures the complex dynamics of a marriage ceremony in The Wedding Party (2009), a tableau of familiar figures dominated by a 7-foot Bridezilla and her even more imposing mother. Prose & Kahn (2010) depicts a voluptuous, three-bellied pregnant woman looming over a slightly cowed man, a comment on gender roles. "Right now I'm doing a piece where the daughter is huge and the mother is tiny," says Weber, who calls her approach "psychological, neither abstract nor representational but something in between."

Amazingly, though their textured surfaces suggest wood or leather, Weber's works are made entirely of cardboard - plain, ordinary stuff she scavenges from wherever, cuts and staples to build shapes, then shellacs. Plentiful, pliable, and lightweight, it's been her sole medium for 20 years, and still offers "limitless possibilities."

To tell her stories, Weber relies on "the most basic, universal forms in life - cylinder and sphere, male and female," an affinity she connects to her early career as a potter. She built a successful business producing porcelain dinnerware for high-end stores, but after 15 years in New York, she was ready for a change. In 1985, she left for the San Francisco Bay area to study at the California College of Arts and Crafts with Viola Frey, whose monumental clay figures she'd admired at the Whitney.

Besides inspiring her to go big, "Viola taught me how to be and think like an artist," Weber says. "She always said, ‘You're a beginning artist for the first 10 years out of school.' That gave me a lot of freedom. After graduation, I couldn't deal with clay anymore. It was too much process, too heavy. So I started experimenting with different materials - plaster and chicken wire, old bottles, burlap."

In 1991 she moved into a new studio and, once unpacked, found herself eyeing stacks of flattened boxes. If architect Frank Gehry could make innovative furniture out of cardboard, she figured, why couldn't she make sculpture? "It was a eureka moment," she says.

Lately she's been leaning toward asymmetry in her arrangement of cardboard strips, and venturing beyond her long-preferred plain browns and whites to a more exuberant palette. "I almost had an accident the other day, going after this bright green tequila box on the side of the road."

At the opening of her show at CAFAM, a guest told her he'd assumed the maker of such immense pieces had to be someone strapping. Weber, who is petite, laughed appreciatively. "Well," she replied, "that's the beauty of cardboard."

Weber's work is also on view at the Center for Visual Art, Metropolitan State College of Denver, through Aug. 13. Joyce Lovelace is American Craft's contributing editor.