- When: Friday, January 8, 2010, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
- Where: Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St., Lawrence
- Cost: Free
- More on this event....
Lynda Andrus may well have one of the largest supporting crews of any artist out there.
She isn't exactly running a workshop like Andy Warhol or Dale Chihuly, where apprentices churn out the artist's vision. Nevertheless, the Manhattan-based artist's crew - numbering in the hundreds every year - is critical to her process.
And if you look closely at any of Andrus' pieces in her new exhibit, "Unwrapping the Past," it's little wonder why. Somebody's got to unwrap the thousands upon thousands of pieces of candy, whose wrappers become the most prominent part of her work.
As a professor at Kansas State University, Andrus' most ready resource is the student body in the art department.
"I'm known as 'the candy lady,'" Andrus says, laughing. "I have students stop by all the time just to unwrap. And I have little baggies I send with them if they want to take (candy) home. They love it, let me tell you."
Andrus' specialty is assemblage, and for the last decade or so, her go-to medium has been the wax-coated paper everyone else throws away - Starbursts, Tootsie Rolls, Tootsie Roll Pops, Dubble Bubble, Bit-O-Honey - any colorful wrapper from a retro candy fits her palate.
Each piece in the exhibit requires several hundred to several thousand wrappers. Andrus irons them one by one to remove the wax, then lays them out in a pattern that suits the form she's working with. Some forms are relatively simple - tables, chairs, pillows and the like. Most forms, though, defy being enveloped in tiny pieces of paper - curtains, a fluffy comforter, flowing ornate dresses, a drum kit, a tricycle.
Then she painstakingly glues the wrappers to the form until it's completely enshrined in vivid primary and secondary colors. From bags of candy to completed art piece, it's a time-intensive process. Andrus hopes that element of time transfers to viewers of the exhibit.
"By taking these common everyday objects that are mass-produced," Andrus says, "and taking one and really analyzing it, it kind of slows down time. You might place it with something else and it looks totally different, maybe brings out colors or shapes that you never saw in it before. It changes people, it's amazing. When they come and see shows and say, 'You know, I've never looked at things like that.'"
Kid-friendly candy land
It's a picture of three kids: Lynda as a little girl in a dress, her big brother standing there in swim trunks, and an older boy (maybe 7 or 8) in jeans and an undershirt playing with a toy plane.
"That kid had to give us candy so he could hold my brother's airplane, because he loved that airplane," Andrus says. "The picture's actually taken outside, but when I see that, it takes me back to my brother's room. Everything in this (exhibit) is related to just that quick instant. The toys, the drum, all this stuff he had in his room. Or stuff that he would have liked to have in his room - I like to embellish a bit," she says.
Andrus' inclination to embellish is what led her to assemblage soon after completing her ceramics degree.
"When I was school in ceramics, it was all very functional ceramics. And of course I wasn't doing that. I was doing something totally different, and I was like, 'Why can't I spray paint it?' Well, because, you can't - we don't do that," she says.
"So that led me to not doing clay at all - and now I use any material I want. Which has come to these assemblages. You imbue a piece with this precious, sentimental attitude. And it could be a rock, but it's how you handle it, or what you put on it, or how you place it," she says.
Andrus' exhibit is the first show brought to the arts center by new exhibitions director Ben Ahlvers, who started in October. He chose her work because "it's energetic, thoughtful and fun," he says.
"People really need to walk through the gallery to experience Lynda's work," Ahlvers says. "Initial reaction to the bright colors and use of iconic imagery can cause you to smile and nearly taste Starburst candy. The scale of the work is a formidable element to the viewer's experience. She creates an environment full of furniture, houses, toys that are prime for a 4-year-old to want to live in."
Indeed, the childhood objects, the bright colors, the candy wrappers - it all combines to make "Unwrapping the Past" a very kid-friendly exhibit. And seeing how kids react to the show has been the best part of recent shows, Andrus says.
"I was at the (gallery) one afternoon and a whole bunch of little kids came. I hide off to the side, and to hear their reactions, it just made my day," she says. "They started telling stories that I would never think of, explaining why things are the way they are.
"One little girl ran up to one piece with her dad and she said, 'Look, the umbrella's protecting the house so it won't get too hot. It's a hot summer day - it has to be a hot summer day, there are flowers and a tricycle.'
"It's just so honest and a happy thing. I think now with war and people out of work, it's just nice to have something that's positive."