During my last exhibition in August several people said to me “your art is very you” or some variation of that sentiment. I am always interested to see how people interact with my work and what they take away from it, but I hadn’t heard this before. I wondered at first if this was a bad thing, that self-doubt monster raising its head. I had wanted to convey something universal, something anyone could relate to, but now I was being told my work was maybe too personal. Creating art has been therapy for me. A way to heal. I can only imagine that some of that pain and personal strife comes out, gets expressed. Is being too personal, showing too much raw emotion a bad thing or an inevitable part of making authentic art? Should I tone down the personal side of my art to make it more saleable or should I stay true to what develops on the page?
I struggled with this for some weeks until I came across these words from Lenore Tawney, a pioneer in the world of fiber arts and also a talented collage/mixed media artist. She believed that artists had a need for their work to come from “a place in one’s deepest self, at once “mysterious and thrilling”. The attitude of openness toward this place in yourself can be like the thick bed of leaves on the forest floor. It is always there no matter what goes on above.” These words are taken from a wonderful book I just finished called “The Slip - The New York City Street That Changed American Art Forever, by Prudence Peiffer. Tawney went on the say:
“What we most try to avoid in life is, in fact, our greatest teacher - that is pain, anguish. This pain and this anguish take us off the surface of life and into the depths where the treasure lies. This is your life, dear friends, meet it with bravery and great love.”
My own pain and anguish comes out honestly in my work. I am comfortable with this now and know that it is a very valuable part of my art and has contributed to who I am today. Rather than very direct, in your face emotional brush strokes, the emotion materializes as a story within the collage or drawing. Collage is a beautiful medium for storytelling. Collage is a mashup of already existing bits from other sources - ordinary objects - and on the page it becomes less about how things were in the world and more about the new story these bits tell when composed together.
Again from the book, The Slip - James Rosenquist, one of the earliest pop artists from the 60’s said “ the brain itself is a collage machine. All day long you unknowingly take pictures in your mind of the things you see, in your sleep you try to sort these juxtapositions through dreams.” Collage is like reaching back into your memories and finding a whisper, a smell, your grandmother’s hands, her giggle, her smile. It is about finding special bits that represent a moment, a time, a voice and putting them together with my own voice, my own time, my own thoughts and hopefully telling a story that is both personal but universal.
I will continue gathering whispers from the past, things that may otherwise be lost and gone, and incorporating them into my own drawings, patterns and color palettes that tell a story. Stories of resilience, bravery and love.