Playing with the Pieces
Collage, for me, is a spontaneous process and I find ways of doing things I've never done before. I love collage – it seems natural and easy for me to talk in this language. People think collage is easy, but it’s much more than “sticking things on with glue.” It takes all of me. It’s puzzle thinking – turning things around – finding things that work.
Creating a cloth collage painting is both fast and slow - it's fast in the beginning as I develop the work, but then it goes slowly. Putting all the pieces together takes a lot of time and a great deal of patience.
I use unprimed linen and cotton fabric and apply the background first. Next, I cut each fabric piece to shape, add color, and apply it to the canvas with polymer medium. It can be a messy process and you'll often find me sitting on the floor when playing with the pieces.
Forms and shading are developed in subsequent layers. Multiple layers of fabric are shaped, folded, or creased while still wet and pliable to create contours. Features are then highlighted with paint or pencil. Wonderfully unexpected accidents can turn scraps of material into bold figures that resonate.
Painting is mostly hard work. Sometimes the outcome is good - sometimes it’s not. Sometimes the process unfurls effortlessly – and other times it is a royal battle when nothing works and the piece is sent swiftly to the trash.
It’s a continual process of effort.
I haven’t found my perfect painting yet, but that’s what leads me on to the next one.
Q & A ~ August 2022
What Are Your Favorite Subjects For Your Art Pieces?
Now, at the age of 97, I look back over many, many years and realize all of my work is – surprisingly - really autobiographical. You draw from everything around you and are influenced, consciously and unconsciously, by everything you have ever seen. I took art in college because I thought it was easy and I thought everybody did what I did. I love visual things and, early on, loved doing the figure. When I was 30 years old, I was fortunate to study semi-privately with Gerd and Irene Koch in Ojai, California, two outstanding teachers whose training and philosophy made me think.
I’ve always loved animals. They are full of natural beauty or whimsy, but in order to do an animal, I have to see it in its own natural habitat. This meant traveling and who doesn’t love to travel? It’s one of the best educations there is. Wanting to see everything from puffins to tigers took me to India, Australia, Africa, Alaska, the Pribilof Islands, Japan, and Borneo, among others. In addition, I had the good fortune of living in Paris for three years. Every day I did something with art and traveled widely throughout Europe to visit as many museums and galleries as I could.
Currently, I’m intrigued with fairy tales, especially tales from The Thousand and One Nights and Alice in Wonderland. Haven’t we all loved fairy tales? I loved my childhood books with favorite illustrations by Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac and wish I had kept them forever. And then when you have children of your own, along comes Eeyore and the wonderful illustrations by E.H. Shepherd. There’s something enduring with a moral compass in those stories that is lacking in today’s world.
What Are Your Favorite Collage Techniques and Materials?
Years ago, I was asked to do a series of animals for a solo show. I had to get it done rapidly, so I started cutting up large pieces of linen, staining the fabric, and then applying the fabric shapes to the canvas. I found it very natural and easy and fast. It was my own work; there wasn’t anybody else doing that and it became my signature painting style. It’s a matter of spacing and what color and what shape goes next to what shape. It has its own rhythm.
My work is about texture, and collage is one of the richest expressions I have ever encountered in my life. It is a gift to be able “to see.” When I lived in France I had a terrible time getting good brushes. The French made beautiful paints and papers, but I got my brushes from Germany. Today, I don’t care where the brushes come from since I can use any tool to make my art.
Later, when I could no longer do my lovely large pieces or stretch canvases, I had to go to paper and was dominated by the size of 350 pound watercolor paper. Even so, I use the same technique which starts as a charcoal background with lots of wipe-outs until I’m satisfied - because if the drawing isn’t good enough, no matter how long you work with that piece, it will never be good enough. Of course, that doesn’t mean the painting doesn’t change along the way. There are many changes. Some works get stuck and are put away and some of those works are never to be seen again.
What Do You Especially Enjoy About Being an Artist?
Art is a visual language about marks - marks on paper - or marks on anything, really. As artists, we’re free to do and say what we want. Perhaps it’s the only profession where you can do what you want to do and say what you want to say. Art is reflective and you have to be able to go back and forth to it again and again to know if it’s any good. You yourself don’t know what you’ve done until after it’s done.
You need inspiration and you have to have something to say. It’s about the composition, color, and texture and you put it all together and hope the muse comes in. I love Persian miniatures, Japanese prints, Mary Cassatt, Picasso, Cezanne. Each one has something profound and they say it in their own language. I don’t do heavy things. I want joy and upbeat and happiness. I really do, and after having done this over 70 years of my life, I’m still finding out what it’s all about.