Susan Sironi's Forget Me Not exhibition

Uncle Tom's Cabin, a sculpture from the exhibition "Susan Sironi: Forget Me Not," now at the Offramp Gallery. (Courtesy of Offramp Gallery / March 22, 2014)

How many times has it been said that books are doorways? Open them and you can take little journeys through the minds of authors or the subject’s landscapes. Artist Susan Sironi has taken that metaphor and manipulated it in a very personal way. In what amounts to an act of reductive sculpture, she literally takes a scalpel to the concept and reshapes it.

Sironi alters the terrain of books and renders new sets of coordinates within each. In so doing, she invests objects with new experiential material. Her new show of book constructions, “Forget Me Not,” is now on view at Pasadena’s Offramp Gallery until April 20.

Sironi takes old books and neatly cuts different-shaped portholes into their covers. Then she surgically alters each successive page, cutting away sections and layers so that the paper in the book forms a forest or a corridor. Shapes commingle, twist and turn, and overlap in each volume. Sironi can create a thicket or an ever-receding set of paper curtains within a given depth-of-field.

It’s a clever and original turn on the collagist’s art, as Sironi turns literature and illustrations into surreal tablets. Her pieces require incredible focus and discipline yet she’s a doer as much as a thinker: hack through 200 or so pages (on however small a format) and you can bet she’s improvising at many junctures.

The scale that Sironi works in helps to draw viewers into her oeuvre. Reading is an intimate, solitary experience and her book creations can be as compelling as good literature. She wisely doesn’t appear to try for the literal, eschewing the construction of new texts from old.

“Forget Me Not/The Image Makers” (2014) is made from a coffee table book of old Hollywood glamour portraits. Framed in a glass box, the pages have little flower-shaped cutouts. The effect is a bit like that of a set of windows, where each reveals a little more than the previous one. Sironi was a good sport about providing an identical volume on a nearby table. Thumbing through the color and black-and-white star photographs allows for an added appreciation of just how much she’s rewritten the book, so to speak.

A long-form work, “Timeline” (2014), runs laterally around one of the Offramp rooms, encased in plastic glass. It’s a meditation that touches on scrolls and/or serial texts. Although words are a big part of the piece(s), text is not discernible. Sironi has silk-screened old piano roll indentations on the glass surface, which not only faintly reads but also falls in shadow on the paper surface. Surgeried words and images meander, or do they just sit there in solitude? Lyrical shapes of color give further musical implications. Again, her work plays with metaphor and layered meanings.

Like all artists, collagists are a bit like magicians: they have their processes and personal methodologies but typically, their finished products show only what they want to reveal. The public doesn’t need to see tables, lamps, cutting boards, boxes of X-Acto blades and piles of scrap cuttings to appreciate the art. Sironi, though, will sometimes include Plexiglas containers within her frame boxes. They’re filled with what look like the cut detritus of her finished pieces. Those containers might be filled with bits of paper like a tiny dumpster full of autumn leaves, or they might house a 4-inch-high stack of toothpick-thick paper rods.

Their curious inclusions of what would otherwise be discards can be considered in a couple of ways. Maybe she’s a recycler, interested in revealing what has been lost just as much as what’s been achieved. Then there’s the degree of difficulty involved: Examining the minute clippings and their uniformity does create a bit of a your-name-on-a-grain-of-sand quotient. Or maybe she just wants to let people know how hard she works at it.

What: “Susan Sironi: Forget Me Not”

Where: Offramp Gallery, 1702 Lincoln Ave., Pasadena

When: Through April 20. Closed Mondays through Thursdays.

More info: (626) 298-6931, www.offrampgallery.com

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KIRK SILSBEE writes about jazz and culture for Marquee.