Thursday, April 25, 2013

True confessions of a cutter

“In her more lucid moments, she knew that half her life 
had been sacrificed to safeguard her secret heart, 
to appease that unreasonable, mortal dread she suffered 
of being suddenly revealed to others in a nakedness of spirit 
that terrified her more than the concept of God's own retribution itself.”

-- Raymond Kennedy, Lulu Incognito

Collage 4-25-13
 “That was the irony of Lulu's days; 
that she who lived in a torment of concealment 
had never known a moment when she did not feel 
the eyes of conscience upon her.” 

-- Raymond Kennedy, Lulu Incognito

On rainy days, when she was in a good mood and usually after a feverish bout of house cleaning, my mother would give me and my sisters her old magazines to cut up and paste into collages. 

Mostly she read Redbook.  The covers were warped and stiffened from the wet rings of coffee cups and Pepsi cans. Some of the pages were folded in half, diagonally, right through the middle, marking something my mother must have thought was important, or worth remembering later. The boxes of the quizzes were filled in with her funny looking, left-handed, backward-facing checkmarks.

My mother's magazines did not interest me until they became the raw material for art. I could spend forever cutting and creating with my dull-tipped safety scissors and squirt bottle of Elmer's glue. I usually made faces (go figure!)  I should say, I re-made faces, switching out the eyes, noses, mouths and hair of the beautiful models and transforming them into something a little less lovely, but definitely more interesting. In my little-kid collages, the proportions were all mixed up and wonky. The eyes didn't match. The mouths were huge. The noses went in the wrong direction, like Picasso. 

I wasn't trying to make anything meaningful or profound or controversial or attractive. 

I was just making.

Psychologists and therapists often use collage as a non-threatening art therapy tool that helps clients communicate their feelings, thoughts and emotions. According to art therapist Cathy Malchiodi:

"Magazine photo collage is widely used by art therapists largely because it's a forgiving medium, especially for individuals who are intimidated by pencils, paint, or clay. In making a collage, you don't have to go through the agony of drawing something realistic and are spared the feeling of embarrassment that your pictures look like a ten-year-old drew them ... It also doesn't demand an immediate commitment like a brushstroke across a canvas. In fact, until you glue the images to a surface, you can change your mind, experiment with composition, and add and subtract pictures until you get it right." 

I don't make collages much anymore. I made a few mixed media pieces during my "No Day Without Art" project last year. But we have had some pretty rainy days here lately and the magazines have been piling up, so I decided to go for it. There are men putting new siding on our house right now and it was kind of a weird, unsettling fishbowl experience having dudes in tool belts right outside my window while I was cutting and pasting pictures of naked ladies and eyeballs and popsicles. But hey. The show must go on.

And I must say, the collage-bug bit me again. Pretty hard. Cutting out images with an X-acto knife is super-therapeutic. Way better than safety scissors. And in case you're thinking about trying a collage yourself, glue sticks and spray adhesive make a much smoother finished product than good old Elmer's.

I know there are collage artists who do amazing, unbelievable things with this medium. Wanna get blown away? Check out the work of Derek Gores I don't expect to approach anything near his kind of genius with my humble collages. But I like to think that he and I can share the same swept-away,  complete absorption of losing-yourself-in-art feeling. On his website, Gores says he isn't interested in "heavy, conscious concepts" with his art, but that he is "always hoping for that feeling of having the senses of a kid, where everything is new." 

Me too.