In early April, in the days following their release from this winter’s hush of snow and ice, my outdoor surroundings chattered and sang in response to the warmth and light. The yards in my neighborhood uttered words I hadn’t heard in months: grass, robin, crocus. Nature was again becoming its rich, colorful, elaborate self.
It was during this time that I saw an exhibit by the local artist Brenda Miller Slomovits, who specializes in intricate paper collages that channel a vibrancy and variety like that which was sprouting and blossoming outside the gallery. Her subjects range from natural spaces and animals to man-made places and local landmarks. Beautiful and moving, her collages not only evince a synergy among pretty and patterned scraps of paper, but also reveal Slomovits to be an impassioned observer of the world. She has an eye for detail, a taste for complexity, and an ear for the natural world’s myriad voices.
As a medium, collage is well suited for capturing complexity–all those unique yet interdependent fragments, an organism wondrously made. One collage that embodies this quality is Salamander (2012): resting against a background of overlapping floral motifs, the title amphibian is composed of inky pieces of paper spangled with luminous gold, green, and blue dots. Some real-life species of salamander have spots on their skin, so Slomovits’s intention might have been to replicate those markings. The effect, however, is of galaxies shining in the night sky, of star stuff embedded in a salamander’s back.
Slomovits, who works at the newborn intensive care unit at the Mott Children’s Hospital, started making collages in the early 1980s. She loves everything about her medium, from the colors and images of her paper, collected from magazines and calendars and maps, to the feel of tearing it. The rough edges and bold hues making up her collages can resemble thick, gestural brushstrokes, particularly in her “Latitude” series, three collages resembling post-impressionistic landscapes. With its gold, ochre, and azure palette, the hilly terrain in Latitude I evokes a Van Gogh wheat field.
Her interest in the natural world extends to a deep concern about the effects of global warming. Her “Climate” series (2013-2014) includes four abstract collages–Climate: 1952, Climate: 2032, Climate: 2052, and Climate: 2082–that struck me as acute expressions of unease, fear, and anguish.
The exhibit also features several of Slomovits’s Ann Arbor Observer covers, including collages from the late 1990s of the People’s Food Co-op (featuring a display case packed with produce) and the Treasure Mart (featuring its display window packed with curios). According to Slomovits, these are “places with a personality,” locales that are both close to her heart and meaningful to the rest of us.
This sensitivity to the vibrant particulars that make up our cherished world needs to be seen up close. The exhibit is on display at the Jewish Community Center’s Amster Gallery through May 31.