, Salem, MA


September 5, 2013

Painting outside the box

Some famous people are featured in Ann Strassman’s exhibit at Endicott College — Mick Jagger, Ted Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth — but none of them get the star treatment.

That’s because most of the paintings in her show were created on flattened cardboard boxes, the kind that are used to ship refrigerators, washing machines and other large appliances.

“I paint on cardboard because I don’t want people to think art is precious,” said Strassman, who has a studio in Boston and studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Her exhibit, “Ordinary and Extraordinary People, Conversations on Canvas and Cardboard, Portraits by Ann Strassman,” will be in Endicott’s Heftler Visiting Artist Gallery until Sept. 27.

While the rough and ready qualities of cardboard challenge our preconceptions, they also contribute to the creative process, Strassman said.

“I like working with junk on the surface,” she said. “I like surfaces that aren’t clean and have a history of themselves on it.”

That includes the folds and tears in packing boxes, along with the labels pasted on their surfaces, and even the material printed on their sides, such as brand names, assembly instructions and icons that show workers how to handle a box.

“I think especially when you have machine-made graphics to contrast with the strokes an artist makes, I like the contrast, visually and philosophically,” Strassman said.

She is mostly interested in the visual impact of these elements, but “occasionally something will jump out, and I’ll say, I want that to be there; it contrasts or goes with the image,” she said.

Viewers, then, may be forgiven for searching for meaning in the words “sub-zero” crawling behind Albert Einstein’s head, or a word like “warning” nestled in Mick Jagger’s hair.

The physical properties of cardboard also play a role in the way Strassman’s paintings are made.

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