Having Scoured Parisian Kiosks for Old Paper, James Verbicky Muses on Advertising and Mass Media

A piece of paper is not just paper to James Verbicky. It’s a memento of a time that is passing, an era when brands advertised in magazines instead of online, when people wrote letters instead of text messages, when we printed our photographs instead of viewing them on glowing screens.

Those paper relics serve as building blocks for the Canadian-born artist’s “media paintings,” three-dimensional assemblages of Baltic birch wood covered in vintage ads and magazine clippings. Verbicky found the materials in Paris while scouring kiosks along the Seine as he searched for interesting artifacts from the golden age of print advertising.

Knowing the source of these papers is important to Verbicky. The story behind each piece “makes the collage more interesting and creates a certain mood,” he has said. He layers the paper, arranging the pieces in a Mondrian-esque horizontal grid, which he finishes with a resin topcoat that leaves the surface shiny, the paper almost transparent. The layered images bleed through, creating a crowded amalgam of retro graphics that is by turns playful or dark, symbolic or indecipherable.

Verbicky’s colorful, enigmatic media paintings were chosen for an exhibition at the Louvre in 2008, and they’ve earned particular attention among collectors. For “Omniscience” at Gilman Contemporary, the artist’s first exhibition in Sun Valley, he created a suite of eight new works.

Stepping closer to one of his collages, you’ll become vaguely aware that you’re looking at clippings from old advertisements, even if you can’t identify any particular brand or product. And that’s part of the idea. Verbicky’s papers don’t just represent a not-so-long-ago time when the printed word was essential to the dissemination of information; they also speak to the pervasiveness of commercial advertising, both then and now.

Whether arranged into circular shapes, emanating from a central point like rays of sunshine, or carefully positioned to form the ominous shape of a human skull, Verbicky’s works all manage to evoke the past. They also ruminate on the power of the media and the value of printed material, particularly as publishers and readers turn their gazes toward digital forms of communication.


—Bridget Gleeson


James Verbicky: Omniscience” is on view at Gilman Contemporary, Ketchum, Idaho, Jul. 3rd–Aug. 1, 2016.

Follow Gilman Contemporary on Artsy.

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