Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Last Leaf

In an earlier post (The Thief of Time, Feb/08) I wrote about a dear cousin and sister artist who was slipping away from the world synapse by synapse. She suffered a sudden decline earlier this month and died. I will miss her greatly. In the past years, she had been sending me dried magnolia leaves that she had picked up on the grounds of her home. In her spidery hand, she mused on her fascination with them and what she could do with them if only she had the time or the focus she had once had. They were lovely objects. Leathery to the touch and the eye, stiff and gutsy, they invited us both to consider them as more than mere compost-fodder, but possibly as small canvases.
You may think from the above paragraph that we had a lively and constant correspondence but I am ashamed to say that while she was eager for news of my current work and invited me to a meeting of the minds, I was at best scattershot in my response. I have no excuse, one of my many faults is my inattention to others. And as is the case with all shortcomings, I hurt myself the most. I missed the many opportunities to get to know her better, to be more a part of her wonderful, enigmatic, charmed world.
So, now I hold in my hand the last leaf she sent me, despite its sturdiness, it did not come through the post intact. It is cracked and a small section has broken off. Even in its diminished condition, it speaks to me- in the soft, southern warble of my cousin's voice- it says " Don't forget me," I promise I won't.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Humble Materials

I am often bemused when people ask me what materials I use- I can imagine the wheels going around in their heads, trying to either figure out my technique/working process, or attempting to square the asking price for the piece with the amount of money invested in the materials. My answer- I use humble materials but elevate them with creativity, skill and talent- doesn't give them much to hang their preconceptions on. Perhaps they are thrown by the idea that creativity, skill and talent may actually be worth something or may not be purchased along with the buttons, cardboard or acrylic paints I also employ.

And I do use very humble materials. I have placed restrictions on what materials I will use- and the difference between the two categories of materials (authentic and fake) rests on my idea of what is authentic. Things like toothpicks, ordinary buttons, waxed-linen thread, coated wire, illustration board, chip-board, masonite; to me these are authentic materials. They have no pretensions or need to social-climb, they would be content being used in their more traditional ways. Some, like the feathers, the colored-grommets, fancy papers and beads are pushing the boundaries a bit, I fear- a little twee, a tad uppity- and I do worry about slipping into kitsch or craftiness. I pray to the guiding spirit of restraint, Joseph Cornell, to keep my eye flinty.

I also resist falling into assemblage, I use ready-made items sparingly and with some trepidation. If I need a comb for a piece, I use cardboard and toothpicks to make a comb, not purchase a doll-house scale comb from the craft store. Bricolage -using the materials at hand- is a stern taskmaster. Using store-bought pieces brings someone else's hand into the work- not authentic.

What brought on this reverie on humble materials? I brought home a nice big sheet of chipboard today and was lost in thought for a few moments considering all the delights ahead of me as I use it up...