Portrait of the Artist

Alexis Granwell

Sculpting Paintings

By Noelani Kirschner | June 17, 2019
Hallow, 2019, handmade paper, papier-mâché, wood, 59 x 24 x 12 inches.
Hallow, 2019, handmade paper, papier-mâché, wood, 59 x 24 x 12 inches.

Alexis Granwell, an adjunct professor at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, originally wanted to be an oil painter. Having specialized in figure painting at Boston University, she realized that two-dimensionality felt limiting when portraying the human body. She transitioned into drawing and printmaking, and found that the latter required her to think sculpturally about two-dimensional works. “Printmaking is very sculptural because you’re carving into metal, you’re carving into wood,” Granwell says. “That process somehow opened me up into working with sculpture but my sculptures now have painterly surfaces.”

  • Deluge, 2019, handmade paper, papier-mâché, wood, cement, 49 x 13 x 10 inches.

Granwell’s most recent works, like Hallow and Deluge, embody the corporeal form layer by layer. She begins with a steel skeleton, bent into shape from pliable chicken wire. Then she creates papier-mâché to sculpt on top of the metallic mesh, forming the organic body of the piece. When it’s dry, Granwell takes still-wet, handmade painted paper to encase the whole structure, like a skin, through a process called laminate sheet casting. The end result resembles white, hollowed bone with a patina of coppers and teals.

The finished pieces sit atop found-wood and concrete pedestals, reminiscent of sculptor Constantin Brancusi’s juxtaposition between seemingly artificial, polished bronze sculptures and roughhewn oak stands. “I love Brancusi’s thinking about the pedestal and how it can be a form or a part of this layering of time,” Granwell says. “These objects are stacked on top of one another, almost like ancient ruins.”

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