Collage, for me, is about acceptance. The small elements are never perfect, they’re not what I envisioned when I sat down at the table, but these quirky bits – greens too bright or scale too skewed – make the art. Because I use found images, use scissors and adhesive, but not Photoshop, the process involves making peace with imperfection.
The cliché “it is what it is” fits: this green, this horizon, these hands, these eyes, this mind.
Most of my collages originate with a story. The oldest works in the exhibition play with stories from secular and sacred literature like Ophelia, Hathor, Inanna, or the Annunciation. Most of them are brides caught in a surrealistic snapshot, all at a threshold moment of change.
The more recent works originate in my own writing. I’m working on a full-length fantasy novel called The Other Crowd, and one of the characters has become a participant in my collages. Lucie is a teenager traumatized by magic and a forced visit to the other world. In the story, she creates the series “Little Lu” as part of her healing. My work with Little Lu isn’t an illustration of the story, it’s more of a deep character study and experiment with working with another person’s vision. I use Lucie’s parameters – primarily monochrome materials, manual cut and paste, incorporating “mistakes,” pre- 1985 materials – and sometimes succeed at channeling her work, but most of the time it’s a dialogue more than a channel.
For instance, in my story, Lucie works on a collage of a pond, placing a baby, a rose, and then finally a gorilla on a Matisse lily pad. I tried to recreate that image, coaxing Lucie to work with me, but she declined. I’ve been recovering from a serious illness, and Lucie’s hanging around (more or less), but not willing to collaborate. The limitations of my body make uncomfortable space for an imaginary teenager.
My body has changed: eyes, hands, legs and nervous system. Lucie balked, but when I worked with the lily pad, I saw that I was telling my own story of recovery, with my fictional character prodding me to accept my own process. In the hospital, when I learned to stand and then walk again, I blessed every dance instructor who’d taught me to find my center. Every time I balanced and breathed I called on saints Cunningham, Dunham, and Graham.
Self-Portrait with Saint Cunningham was supposed to be Lucie’s, but it became the most personal piece in the show.
“This one is yours,” she said. “Tell them I helped.”