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A Girl in the Arbor #13

Gladys Nilsson


collage with gouache, watercolor, colored pencil, and crayon on paper

29 3/4" x 41 1/2"

Girl in the Arbor #13 is the last collage in a series of works in which a woman sits on a wooden chair nestled beneath a canopy of trees. Throughout the series, swimming around her, and embellishing her body, are a jumble of objects cut from the glossy pages of Vogue magazine and books on the history of art. This isn’t the artist’s first foray into collage, as cut-outs appeared in her work exhibited at the Hyde Park Art Center in the 1960s. Nilsson’s childhood hobby of cutting out paper dolls also resonates playfully in these vibrant collages.

In the center of the composition, a large woman wraps her fluid body around two green tree trunks—or did the trees sprout up while she sat? Her serene face is a reproduction of a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci from the Royal Collection. A sleeping man from a Goya etching uses her round bottom as a pillow, while the rest of her body is adorned with an absurd number of zippers, belts, buckles, and chains expertly cut from Vogue. These accessories hinder her movement and reveal their impracticality: her legs are ensnared by a string of red beads; one of her ankles is tethered and wrapped in leather belts; and the other is bleeding what appears to be bright, red nail polish as a butterfly bandages her vulnerable, and poetic, Achilles heel.

The forest floor below her, comprised of text about snakes torn from the book Snakes of the American West, suggests a biblical read of the figure and the various luxuries dripping from the trees like ripened fruit. It is tempting to ascribe meaning to the playfully collaged elements; instead one might simply enjoy the wonderfully bizarre and often humorous relationships among the cut-outs. For instance, in the bottom right corner, situated next to a cutout of the Pisa cathedral and an architectural column which comically stands in for the famous leaning tower, is a Greek bronze head. The classical head seems to comprehend her tragic fate as the proxy Leaning Tower of Pisa teeters above her at an exaggerated angle. Clever juxtapositions such as these abound in this collage and happily require the viewer to return for further exploration and delightful discovery.


Purchase, through gift of Mark and Judy Bednar