Located in the heart of the Barker Hangar at Santa Monica airport lies Santa Monica Art Studios. Venture in towards the maze of rooms and you’ll pass by artist after artist meticulously working away at their craft. Hands splattered with paint, brushing broad strokes on canvas, calloused hands whittling away at soon-to-be statues, and tucked away in the corner of this labyrinth of laborers, you’ll find Deborah Lynn Irmas. And her scotch tape.
Scotch tape? Scotch tape. In Irmas’ hands, an everyday office item becomes a statement piece.
Some works resemble cracked earth in the Sahara, with deep, bold blacks creating depth in the piece; others look like an inky Rorschach test, tape becoming an afterthought of the piece, pushing a perceived created pattern to the forefront; another piece looks like stained, shattered glass in the right light. Each piece is starkly different, surprisingly using the same method to reach an infinite amount of conclusions. Also, it bears repeating: the main ingredient is tape.
“I’ve had people come up to me before and ask if they’re photographs,” Irmas says of her work. “When they see that it’s tape, they’re shocked.”
With her art having appeared in UCLA, Long Beach’s MOLAA, and Palm Spring’s Barba galleries, Irmas’ journey towards tape-as-muse began in a traditional way, with her parents — specifically her mother — instilling Irmas with artistic sensibilities.
Describing her parents as an artsy couple, Irmas lists her mother’s various outlets: seamstressing, dancing, knitting, and detailed paintings which she’d sell at art fairs. “She was a true artist, good at everything,” Irmas says. “She was always making something. I guess that part wore off on me.”
Irmas grew outwardly from the classical style of her mother’s classical-style paintings, skewing “naturally minimal from early on,” finding an artistic identity in minimalism’s shapes and flat colors. “I never wanted to and never could paint like my mother, and I got into graphic design for that reason.”
Once a job in graphic design went completely digital, Irmas couldn’t keep her passion alive in that form. “I was restless during that change, I didn’t want to sit at a computer all day.”
This led to soul-searching for Irmas who “did a lot of figures, did all kinds of things” before inspiration struck, leading her back to her minimalist ways.
“I was doing some paintings and I would always put ideas on the wall with tape, like a tape Post-It,” Irmas recalls. “I was at a point where I couldn’t think of what to do next for a piece, but the tape I put up that day was blue and grabbed my attention. I was fascinated by that one piece.”
Her first work of tape art is minimalism defined. In it, there’s a painted piece of tape holding up a small painted square, meant to look like a piece of canvas held up by tape. The painting is nearly photorealistic, meant to engage the viewer from a distance and encourage them to walk up to the piece, and upon closer inspection, realize it’s just a painting.
Irmas eventually tried to do more paintings of different patterns of tape before deciding upon using the real thing.
On a trial and error journey, Irmas spent “months and months” of experimenting with mediums and surfaces before landing on wood panels, glue, Solter’s plexiglass, and Indian ink as her weapons of choice in her return to minimalist work.
Irmas “gets a lot of angst out” during the process, stacking layer after layer of tape on top of a wood panel, spreading and smearing ink, and then gluing her work, to plexiglass. Pieces take anywhere from three weeks to a month to complete, and Irmas never goes in with a set idea—these pieces, fueled by her creativity, take on a life of their own.
“It’s kind of like printmaking, you never know what you’re going to get,” Irmas says. “Some pieces could have the same amount of tape as another, but it reads so differently.”
For a 36×36 piece, she goes through over 25 rolls of tape. 3M, the tape manufacturer, is a fan and has sent her boxes of tape in a show of adoration.
Irmas’ work continues to evolve, experimenting with style and medium changes, then style changes within those medium changes. She’s included fabrics and glitter within her tape art, as well as mounting her work on plexibox to give her work a see-through, three-dimensional effect, accentuating the wall behind the piece, adding to the tape’s display.
For Irmas, it’s been an unexpected evolution of art and a life lived thus far.
“I couldn’t have told you last year that this is where it’d go,” Irmas says of her art. “You just have to be free. The only advice I’d give to anyone: if you’re going to pursue art, you have to do it as genuinely as you can. Don’t be worried about selling or if people don’t like it. Every artist is so different. You have to be true to yourself.”