On a towering wall of the Oklahoma City Museum of Art's third-floor galleries, red-and-white-striped popcorn boxes blossom into florets, purple paper plates create seductive swirls, and various cut-up paper cups transform into graceful ribbons of color.
For New York sculptor Lisa Hoke, art is a form of play, and what other people consider trash are the pieces to her large-scale puzzles.
“I never throw anything away. When I cut the cups, it has a line off the top and it has a bottom. So I brought a whole box of tops and bottoms,” Hoke said, pointing to the cream-themed corner of her monumental wall frieze, where a collection of cup bottoms creeps down the wall to a festive cluster of top strips.
“I have to be really careful on my way home on recycling night not to dig through people's bag, because it's really astonishing how beautiful the colors are,” she admitted with a laugh.
Hoke's new site-specific installation “Come on Down” debuts Friday at the museum, which also is opening the new contemporary exhibit “Chuck Close: Works on Paper.”
“It's exciting to showcase contemporary art — and particularly unique contemporary installations — at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art because it's showing our visitors … the art of our time and the unique manner in which an artist can become inspired by a space,” said curator Jennifer Klos.
“When we work with living artists and they actually come to the museum to install the piece, it's such an exciting and gratifying time to see an installation come to life and to actually watch the artist in her creative spirit and vision.”
For Hoke, 61, the creative vision begins with everyday life. The Virginia native started her three-decade art career working in cast iron, wire and automobile parts, eventually transitioning into her current medium: mass-produced cardboard found in consumer culture.
“I've always worked with found material: I've gone from working with thread and buttons to used baby food jars when my son was little. Anything that I could find and buy, usually inexpensively, in modules that repeat,” she said last week as she was installing “Come on Down.”
“I've always liked taking things out of my everyday life and transferring them into my art. That's just my natural way of thinking. Even when I was casting — I did casting in iron — I cast vegetables. … It's not about trying to find an art material to make art out of; it's trying to find a material that makes sense to me, where I'm looking for a kind of hidden beauty in it.”
She doesn't have to look far among the carefully yet spontaneously arrayed collection of french fry sleeves, liquor packages and chocolate wrappers to find something beautiful: an orange-and-white striped cheesecake box from the famous Junior's in New York City.
“I just think those are works of art. Some advertising I get the feeling is not done just to sell something. … You know, there's a certain kind of advertising like Junior's that's about identity and about recognition. And generations of people, if they change that design, it would upset people,” she said.
Shifting from the orange section into the brown area of her frieze, a patch of brownie mix boxes reminds her of one winter when her son, Matthew, went through “the brownie stage.”
“And Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies: We had to have those in the house. So there are like things that remind me of just life and the passing of time,” she said, pointing to the wrappers. “Now he's 22, so I still try to buy Famous Amos when he comes home. They're harder to find now … plus, he doesn't come home as much.”
A few years ago, Hoke was creating art out of plastic cups when she discovered the dizzying range of paper cups available for purchase. She began collecting not only cups but a wide array of cardboard through various means: Her building superintendent and sister gather bagsful of stuff on her behalf; Economy Candy saves boxes for her; and the distributor at a deli in her neighborhood sells her boxes of surplus and misprints.
“There's this thing about printed material that it has a tremendous life,” she said, adding her installation will be on view at the museum through April 13, and then she will take it down and use pieces elsewhere in a different way. “Some of the color I think is fleeting, but the ephemeralness of it is part of what I love about it. It also means it can't be broken, 'cause I can fix any part of it … so in a way, I've come up with a perfect system for myself for dealing with ephemeral material that I love, that I collect, and allowing it to have a sort of precious temporary position.”
To build her site-specific installations, the Virginia Commonwealth University alumna first creates 2-foot-by-3-foot collages out of her recycled materials.
“I move from color to color. Like I'll have boxes of colored recycling in my studio, and then I'll just dump it out and cut it up and do a red piece. Then, I'll do a blue piece the next day and keep cycling through. So I look at each one as a sort of singular piece of art.”
In Oklahoma City, she arranged the collages by color, screwed them into the walls and then tapped her vast collection of multihued paper cups and other scrap to fill the spaces in between. Measuring 15 feet tall and 105 feet long and made up of four years' worth of pieces she's created in her loft studio, “Come on Down” is her biggest installation yet.
“It's really exciting,” she said. “You can really only dream about having this experience of this kind of scale. … And that's sort of the fun for me, because I don't know what's going to go with what.”
The artist, who initially got an English literature degree at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, said she doesn't pay much attention to logos when she is creating her collages, but she loves finding out once they're arranged that she has the Swedish fish candy swimming into Glad Bag boxes or Snoopy hanging out with the Woodpecker Cider mascot.
“The way that we buy in bulk from corporations, I can't help but think about some of those issues when I am dealing with this,” she said. “We as consumers, we consume a lot, and we dispose of so much of what we consume. And that is the part that I find particularly shocking, but from an artist's point of view and pure material, it's a windfall for me. But it's sad. There's a sadness in the disposability of it, and part of when I'm doing this is the hope that people will see that there's an innate beauty all day long that we encounter.”