Sunday, December 02, 2018

play and possibility

When I was in the 7th grade, my junior high English class was challenged in a district-wide book contest. Later I would help faciliate that very same contest when I worked at the elementary school, but that year I set out to write a horror novel, pretty much the only thing I was interested in reading.  This wasn't my first attempt, and it wouldn't my last.  But I flaked about halfway through and decided to make a children's counting book with some stencils I had. When the spiral bound version came back at the end of the semester, it was a nice little book and I gave it to my cousin. A year later, I would start writing my first poems--about kittens and flamingos and unrequited high school love.  While I planned to become many different things over the next few years--a lawyer, a journalist, an interior decoratior, a marine biologist, a teacher, there was always a certain feeling that writing would always be part of my life in some way, mostly becuase I seemed to be pretty good at it. The realities of what that entailed, in a world where very few people in my life even read books, let alone wrote them, I had no idea.    Not only that, but until I got to college, I'd never met a writer, poetry or otherwise. Being a as a career--seemed less likely than being a Broadway star or a professional gymnast. At least the paths for the careers seemed like something that could be laid out in a row and checked off is you have the natural talent.  

When it came to the visual arts, I was never a student who exhibited any sort of aptitude --and any interest would have been moot in a world where my electives were elsewhere--junior high band, highschool french for four years, newspaper & yearbook.  I did stumble into drama my senior year but only becuase of schedule conflict.  My sole art experience up til then had been many well concieved but horribly wrought attempts in grade school art classes--lopsided pottery and crooked wire sculptures--sometimes ambitious but usually disastrous.  My mother, during my formative years, was a hobby painter of ceramics.  She would buy beauttifully colored paints in tiny pots and a multitude of statues and wall pieces--poodles, clowns,  cats, victorian girls, fish to hang in the bathroom.  Money was tight and the paintables were expensive, so they'd be chosen carefully, usually as gifts, at a store called OFF THE WALL near the mall. Occasionally, she'd let me and my sister pick things we wanted her to paint--one of the last I remember recieving being a giant dolphin statue I took to college with me. My sister must have absorbed some of these tendencies and spent her entire 4 years of school and some time in college in and out of various studios and art rooms. While an art career seemed less abstract and more conceivable than writing, it still seemed like a nice hobby, a way to make extra money selling crafty things in booths, or teaching it in the school system.  But not something you devoted a "career" to.

My only moment of artistic brilliance surely happened my junior year of high school.  Our English teacher was unconventional, a  woman with brilliant red hair, a cool fashion sense, who according to rumor carried a tiny silver pistol in her tiny red clutch purse should anyone threaten her students.  This was before shootings were a daily occurrence and we liked the idea of it, the safety of it, even if it weren't true. I had come from two years of a strict 5 paragraph essay kind of teacher, so this one was like a door blown open.  Our first assignment was a collage based on The Crucible, which I  remember enjoyably and meticulously cutting images out of Glamours & Cosmopolitains on the floor of my bedroom whilst watching 90210 on my tiny black and white tv.  Our second assignment was based on The Scarlet Letter, and in lieu of a paper we were supposed to create something visual.  I decided on what would probably turn out to be my first attempt at anything like an artist book.  I was, and still am, horrible at drawing, I managed some crude flower drawings that stood in for the main characters. When I think about everything I created in high school, this ranks right up there with my American Goverment paper on UFOS (our teacher did say we could write about anything related to government.)  I still have the latter, but sadly not the former.

I did some painting of theatre sets and took a class devoted to it my final undergrad year, but other than that I may have forgotten my forays into visual arts entirely if I hadn't wound up working in an arts college,  A few years in, our then library director started an exhibit series, inviting staffers to contribute.  I was already well into my writing exploits, but I was having a hard time figuring out how to participate when most of my work was on the page. The first attmpt was to write poems on rice paper and string them through three floors of the library.  Then there were huge banners of words near the stairwell. But I wanted more, and in 2004, in the midst of my poetry MFA, I decided to take a summer collage workshop down at the Book & Paper Center.  Becuase it didn't depend on ability to render that still eludes me, I was actually pretty decent at it--the cutting and the gluing and the composition.  I was hooked, and over the next few years, I made a lot of collages and assemblages and started selling them on etsy pretty successfully, along with paper goods, accessories, etc.   In 2005, I created my first  official project incorporating both--the book of red--for a WomanMade exhibit. At the same time, dancing girl press was taking off, and I was beginning to design more covers on my own.  Suddenly, my creative output was nearly as visual as it was written, and I appreciated the way these things rubbed against each other,   Writing at the time, had always seemed so much more like work, the visual arts were all play and possibility. It was also strange that even this started to change--that the visual work began to change the written and not only did the writing get better, but easier somehow.

More mash-ups followed--the collaborative at the hotel andromeda and billet doux. I started making visual zines that incorporated found text a couple years later--things like miscellaneous and landscape | architecture.  The first non-one-off project I worked on that fully incorporated both orginal writing and visual was 2012's shipwrecks of lake michigan.  Soon, while every visual project or series did not always have a written element, most written projects incorporated visuals, and it really began to inform what I wanted to do creatively. Sometimes the links are more tenuous (while I created this series of collages whilst writing the manuscript for girl show, I never thought they fit, so when I created the spectacle series a few years later, it seemed natural that of those should grace the cover (and a broadside I created for the AofR vending machines.)

Collage is my main medium, but over the past 5 years, I've explored others painting, printmaking, book sculptures, installation, and they give the work a bot more texture and possibility.  unusual creatures, which incorporates the cabinet cards collages, also includes this library installation, which informs the visuals of the book object it will eventually, hopefully soon, become. I've also been working digitally a bit more, especially in more design-oriented things, but I still have the occasional itch for paper and the tactility of working with it. It helps to be swimming occasionally in ephemera and discarded library materials.  I also really like watercolor and ink painting as mediums---things that do not depend so much on realism. Also monotypes, a series of which I started last Christmas and which I have a ton more that need to be scanned and added to my flickr.

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