'Paper Prankster' links art to words

Author-artist Johanna DeBiase's first exhibit includes literary works by several local writers

By Dena Miller
Posted 9/25/19

Ekphrasis: a word neither frequently used nor easily pronounced. But it's probable that you've encountered it more often than you've realized."Ekphrasis is using a piece of visual art …

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'Paper Prankster' links art to words

Author-artist Johanna DeBiase's first exhibit includes literary works by several local writers


Ekphrasis: a word neither frequently used nor easily pronounced. But it's probable that you've encountered it more often than you've realized.

"Ekphrasis is using a piece of visual art as inspiration for a piece of literary art," explained collage artist Johanna DeBiase, whose works "tend to be narrative in style, as they set a scene with characters and transport the viewer's imagination to another world and, hopefully, evoke emotion, just like good storytelling."

If you're still unclear as to what ekphrasis is, then do make it a point to stop by DeBiase's first solo exhibition, "Paper Prankster," at Paseo Pottery, 122B Paseo del Pueblo Sur. Not only will you enjoy the imagery of her thought-provoking collages -- many of which will stop you in your tracks -- but you'll also get to read the ekphrastic responses to a collection of her works.

"Since I'm a storyteller, it made sense to have an ekphrastic event at the opening [earlier this month]," she said. "I think my art lends itself to story, either by way of poetry, prose or prose poetry," so she invited writers John Biscello, Iver Arnegard, Ned Dougherty, Melissa Glarner, Eric Mack, Flora Mack and Bella Tovino to lend stories to her art. Posted alongside her works, they are now an integral part of the exhibition and lend even more depth to her minimalist yet powerful imagery.

"I enjoy creating fantasy worlds filled with giants, visitors from outer space, colossal horticulture, intergalactic playgrounds, mythic creatures and portals to other dimensions," DeBiase continued. "Color also plays an important role in my work where I seek contrasts that entice the eye and brighten the mind. In my collages, anything is possible: the ground can be the sky, your head can be a flower, a bird can be a god."

Perhaps you're more familiar with DeBiase's place in the local literary scene where she has garnered a name for herself with her -- not surprisingly -- fabulist fiction, the most recent of which is a novella titled "Mama & the Hungry Hole." The well-received debut is set in Northern New Mexico and tells the story of a lonely young girl who befriends a tree.

DeBiase also serves as curator for Prose Month, sponsored by the Society of the Muse of the Southwest, where she worked with the organization's Young Writers program. She has been an instructor at the Taos Writers Conference, and is often found on these pages of Tempo, reviewing books with Taos connections.

"Writing has always been my primary form of creative expression, but collaging is a close secondary," she noted, saying that, "writing can be a frustrating business. It takes a long time to write a book and just as long if not longer to publish it and find a readership.

"I wanted a means of expressing myself creatively that wasn't as time-consuming and that would have an immediate audience, purely for the pleasure of sharing art for art's sake." And, like for so many Gen Xers, social media became a platform for her work. "Instagram was my inspiration for my current identity as Paper Prankster. I quickly amassed a following and received immediate positive feedback, so I knew I was onto something good," she said.

"My ritual used to be to deconstruct my collages … and reuse the images for new collages or to make buttons. That is, until I learned that there was an actual interest in framing my artwork and displaying it on the wall, maybe even selling it to art lovers. This had not occurred to me," DeBiase wondered. "I was so centered on the social media sharing that I never considered preserving my collages. Now, I both scan them for Instagram, and frame them for the walls."

The artist also chose to print and hang Instagram comments related to the featured works, completing the circle of her exhibit, ekphrasis and all. Yet, for DeBiase, the weaving together of words and visual art doesn't end with collaging.

"While at a writing residency in South Carolina, I learned how to do stop-motion paper cut animation from an artist who did this kind of artwork professionally. I was enamored by her work and tried out the idea at home. When I published my novella, I made a book trailer using collage animation and on book tour, I created a small collage animation to go with an excerpt from my book. This evolved into creating collage animation for my stories and poems, most of which you can find on my Vimeo page and a couple of them were published in online literary journals."

Laura Brzozowski, owner of Paseo Pottery, expressed an enormous pride in being the first gallery to offer DeBiase a solo show. "Her work is sophisticated yet playful, touching on the whimsical but also on issues such as climate change, gun control and the female narrative. Her talent with visual art far surpasses the relatively short time she has dedicated to it."

Through the end of October, duck behind the blue staircase downtown and see "Paper Prankster" for yourself. Not only have you maybe learned a new word; you'll open your mind to some fabulous fabulist art, as well.

For more information, visit or call (484) 529-8460. And for more about the artist, visit


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