All taped up

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on January 24, 2021

Last week, at the DeBlois Gallery where I’m a member, we begin work on a New Project. It’s a form of self-expression I’d never heard of before: Tape Art.

It involves, as might be obvious, sticky tape. Lots of it. By “we” I mean my co-member and co-conspirator on projects, Emma. She’s been an art teacher for decades and this was one of the techniques that she introduced her students to. As a form of public art it has several highly attractive features: One, the tape is much easier to apply than paint — it doesn’t drip, it doesn’t need to dry and being made of paper, it isn’t smelly or toxic. Two, it comes off easily — particularly if one uses the specialised low-tack tape used by house painters. Three, it’s a relatively cheap and easily available medium. Four, it’s surprisingly flexible.

The moment Emma described it to me, my response was, “Let’s do an installation at the Gallery!” I have always harboured a desire to do outsize, outdoor art — but I’ve never been keen to risk being arrested for vandalism. So for the past few weeks we’ve been working towards this collaboration. Emma had the all important ingredients: Tape and the know-how! International tape artists have used various decorative media, but Emma’s preferred approach involves easy-to-remove painters’ tape exclusively. It’s available in two colours, blue and green.

Instead of working on a wall, we start our project on 4x3-foot black foam-core board — it’s quarter-inch-thick Thermocole, sandwiched between sheets of paper. It’s light but doesn’t bend or curl. Our plan is to create a tree, based on an image created by Emma, of an apple tree. We’re working within the Gallery’s space which is really kind of fun, because we’re surrounded by the art of other members. The first show of 2021 is a tribute to all the members who have contributed to this small but feisty collaborative gallery in the course of its 36 years.

Emma starts us off with two upward green stripes. The tape is an inch wide. It tears very easily, so we can set it down, pull out a long strip and then... just pinch it off. It’s like drawing with strips of paper rather than with ink or paint. While she recreates her tree, I follow up with strips representing water around the base of the tree. In the course of the afternoon, we’re joined by two other members. A sprinkling of visitors to the Gallery, maintaining distances. Our art project is admired and maybe smiled at — we can’t know because we’re all wearing masks!

As the light in the sky fades to dusk, we allow ourselves beer, burritos and a chat-break, while completing a sale to one of the visitors. We don’t quite finish the project because there’s a secret element that needs group participation. I’ll share it when we’re ready! For today, we pack up, Emma drops me home and we end the day happy and exhilarated.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on January 24, 2021

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