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Mixed media collages at CircaArts Gallery

Brigid Mangano | Monday, December 5, 2011

Scholars have estimated that one out of every three Americans collects something. Some collect used bottle caps or celebrity baseball cards, while others prefer foreign postage stamps or Willow Tree figurines. In most cases, these collections are destined to be stored in a box or displayed on a shelving unit. For the local artist Christine Tirotta, however, collecting is a crucial part of her creative process.

Many of the items Tirotta collects are later incorporated into her mixed media collages and jewelry. A large body of her work is currently on display at the CircaArts Gallery in South Bend, where she was recently named Artist of the Month.

The exhibition is aptly titled “Words and Pictures,” and consists of 16 different pieces either mounted to the wall or resting on easels. Each piece is composed of found objects that Tirotta purchased over the years at garage sales and antique shops, ranging from early twentieth-century calendars and letters to newspaper articles and pages from the Bible. Tirotta’s strong background in graphic design is immediately apparent because each work is characterized by a harmonious arrangement of its components.

One of the recurring themes in Tirotta’s work is spirituality. Tirotta avidly collects religious pendants and confessed she is fond of sacred icons. In a beeswax collage called “The Passion #1,” a black-and-white image of Christ nailed to the cross and a close-up of two hands raised in prayer is superimposed on a checkerboard-like pattern. Beeswax was also used as the adhesive for “Our Mother,” a collage in which a stylized acrylic painting of Mary overlays excerpts from books and a poem dedicated to the Virgin.

Although most of the sacred imagery and texts in Tirotta’s work belong to the Christian tradition, other world religions are also represented. In “Journey of Faith,” a Buddhist verse about overcoming suffering is juxtaposed with a centerpiece made from hammered brass that evokes the crown of thorns. This piece stands out from its neighbors because the main support is a wall clock with an octagonal face and several crosses in place of a chime.

Other works are much more light-hearted in nature. “Waldorf Salad” consists of a photograph of several apples taken by Tirotta’s daughter, a fruit salad recipe clipped from a magazine, a miniature spoon and five Scrabble pieces that spell out the word “apple.” The canvas is offset by a sheet of raised Plexiglas, which adds to the three-dimensionality of the piece.  

Adjacent to “Waldorf Salad” is a collage entitled “Social Media” that draws attention to the dramatic changes in the way Americans communicate with one another and perceive the passing of time. In the center, newspaper strips are woven together in the shape of a diamond, while in the right corner, Tirotta glued the interior of a wristwatch. Of all the pieces in the exhibition, “Social Media” is the one that really highlights Tirotta’s graphic design skills.

“Words and Pictures” will remain on view at CircaArts Gallery through the end of December. Anyone who considers himself a collector or who takes an interest in collage art should visit downtown South Bend to see the work of this talented artist.