Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Collage: a Theme Evolves

At a meeting of my small Artist's Way group last Sunday, we talked about why we value making art, be they stories, painted chairs or collages. One person said she had discovered that she likes herself when she is caught up in writing a story, laughing at her own words and the characters that come to life. My first response was to say that art brought what was in me to the outside, a rather inarticulate statement. I know I like taking scraps of this and that, be they images or words, and weaving them into some new whole. Many of us said we made art for the sheer joy of it. You do it because when things are going right, it feel like you were born to do it! And that feels terrific.

Another aspect of it for me is that when I making art, I encounter problems I CAN solve, versus other issues or problems in life that don't come so easily. Every collage composition presents challenges in balance, color, texture and/or theme. Recently I watched as a certain theme evolved in my so-called scrap collages. I'd been mostly playing with color and form, somewhat abstractly. But then images of doors and windows started sneaking in, and they seemed to ground the compositions. Before too long, houses became the entire theme, though I was still using some abstract elements. And, so a whole new theme was born. Perhaps you can see the trend for yourself in the collages above, with the older collages towards the bottom, and newer more house-centric collages at the top.

Talking about the value of making art, I couldn't help but think of my friend Albert Huffstickler (1927 - 2002), who said this about the path of art in his poem "The Way of Art":

It's the willingness to be a window
through which others can see
all the way out to infinity
and all the way back to themselves.

I am humbled to think my art might do that for someone. May it be so.

illustrations by KAO: Scrap Collages 37, 28, 23, 24, 16, September, 201o

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Best Novels I've Read Lately

Here are three books I've read recently that I really enjoyed.

The Irresistible Henry House (Random House, 2010) by Lisa Grunwald is about a boy with many mothers. Henry is a practice baby in a college home ec program during the post WW II era. Later he is adopted by the program's strict, stalwart head teacher. When her extreme neediness emerges, Henry grows up hiding his problems and artistic talents. Eventually sent away to boarding school when he stops speaking, his teen years are largely spent developing his artistic skills and figuring out how to juggle girlfriends. His job as a Disney animator, time spent in London, as well as influences from the counterculture, influence his coming of age. Because this novel is darkly comic, expect both laughter and tears.

Going back a little further in time, The Postmistress (Putnam, 2010) by Sarah Blake opens during WW II, when a doctor leaves his small town on Cape Cod to volunteer in London. In case of his death, he leaves a letter for his wife with the town's postmistress. Meanwhile in Europe, a female radio journalist struggles to find and tell the stories of Jewish refugees. The doctor's wife and the postmistress listen to her broadcasts, little knowing that fate will tie the three of them together as the war marches on. Intriguingly moody, this is topnotch historical fiction with many compelling story lines.

The Scent of Rain and Lightning
(Ballantine, 2010) by Nancy Pickard kept me on the edge of my seat. As the book opens, Jody Linder learns that the man who went to prison for killing her father 23 years ago is back on the streets. Should she believe new rumors of his innocence? Also unresolved since the day of her father's murder is the disappearance of her mother. As surprise and suspense electrify a small ranching town in Kansas, readers too will feel agitated by the atmospheric changes. Pickard is the award-winning author of 18 mystery novels, and I hope to read more of them soon.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Collage: Working with Scraps

I'm at a stage with collage where I'm allowing myself to play with abstractions. I approach them almost as scrap quilts. I challenge myself to use a certain small handful of scraps and go to it. I am also working with leftover scraps of matboard. Playing like this helps to turn off the inner critic. Often I am drawn to fully saturated colors and patterns, the goal being to trick the eye into almost not knowing what it is seeing.

I've had a touch of insomnia lately, so some of these were made after midnight! It is fun to wake up and go see what I might have made the day before. After I finish the first layer of glue-down, it may or may not be all done. Often I add more layers later. To make sure the layers adhere well and stay flat, I slip the images between pieces of wax paper and insert them into a large book which I weigh down with another large book or my assorted boxes of scraps. Collage is quite obsessive! I love having this outlet for my imagination. Off I go now to cut up a few more scraps...
Photos: Scrap Collages by KAO, 2010

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Growing in Circles by Bonnie L. Casey

I just finished reading Growing in Circles: My Struggle to Make Peace with God, Myself and Just About Everything (Two Harbors, 2009)by Bonnie L. Casey. The list of girlfriends I'd like to send a copy to is long: women going through midlife divorce, women fighting depression, fibromyalgia or PTSD. Not to mention mothers of children with conditions such as Asperger's syndrome. Also, I have one friend in Idaho who is writing a spiritual memoir and she would appreciate this book. The subtitle says it all!

Bonnie's tale, a journey from the Seventh Day Adventist religion to eclectic mysticism, is structured around the steadying influence of her Sacred Circle girlfriends. In Bonnie's words, here is the purpose of the group: "to support each other in our search for meaning and connection with the Divine." Her group meets monthly, and readers are privy to their wonderful topics of discussion, sent out in advance by email. Among the topics: finding joy in life, habits to discard, perceptions that influence inner peace, significant experiences with animals, the influence of myths and fairy tales, relationships with fathers, and many more. What an honor it was to look over Bonnie's shoulder into the group's dynamic influence on her life. Because I too, also belong to a women's sacred circle group that meets weekly to discuss similar issues, I am a great believer in their shared wisdom and resonance. I think of these meetings a form of spiritual practice as well as a bedrock of friendship and connection.

I wonder if Bonnie has ever seen the book Signs of Life: the Five Universal Shapes and How to Use Them (Tarcher/Putnam, 1998) by anthropologist Angeles Arrien. In it, she explores how circles, spirals, squares, crosses and triangles encourage and inspire us. Circles are of course a powerful symbol of wholeness. Bonnie L. Casey's circular journey to wholeness is a true heroine's journey. Among the tools she finds useful in her battle with mental, physical and spiritual crises are yoga, labyrinth walking, gardening, meditation, mindfulness and gratitude. She also touches on labyrinth walking, one of my favorite spiritual practices. One of the watershed books Bonnie found along her path to wholeness was Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype (Ballantine, 1992) by Jungian psychoanalyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes, also a book I highly value and tend to read over and over.

I am indebted to Here Women Talk, a social network I stumbled upon a few months ago, where I enjoy facilitating a discussion group called Creative Intentions, for introducing me to Bonnie L. Casey and her soul-searching, inspiring book.