Week 52: Endings and Beginnings

I have reached the end of this journey, and my 52nd collage is complete. For this final work in the series, I decided to pull together some of my favorite imagery from throughout the year, and create an essential distillation of My Suburban Life. This is my place and the things that I treasure. There is the map of the neighborhood, and images of the surrounding landscape where we live. I included the dogwoods, the rose bushes, and the pear tree in the front yard where the mockingbirds sing. The wild geese fly overhead, while seedlings sprout in the garden. There are themes of growth and flight, both appropriate metaphors for the work of the past year. My husband and son walk close by while I lean over my drawing board, secure in my place in the world, my love of creating, and my commitment to my work. This is a very different feeling from when I began the project, with that strange ambivalence and unease of living in the ‘burbs. Now things are different. I have not only made peace with my suburbia, I have made it my own. My identity as an artist is not defined by where I live, but how I live a creative life.

The Lego Spaceship was featured in the very first collage, and makes a final appearance here as well. This was from a small drawing that I made back in January 2012, when I first began the project, and had saved to use in a future work. Ever since my son Max flew his Lego Spaceship into my studio last January, it became a symbol of Art meeting Life. The spaceship hovers above the earth in the realm of the imagination, while simultaneously being a tangible domestic object, embedded in the material world. This magical child-like ability to bridge the gap between imagination and reality became my inspiration. My previous body of work had conspicuously avoided the realities of everyday life, preferring the escapism of imaginary lands. One year ago I asked new questions: Can I come down from my Ivory Tower and welcome the Lego Spaceship into my creative domain? Can I take the stuff of everyday life and transform it into art? Can I move freely between those two realms, with an openness and receptivity to both my own imagination and the intricate details of My Suburban Life? These questions led me to a place of greater awareness and compassion towards myself and my world, while continuing to challenge me to strive towards my best, most authentic work.

Endings and Beginnings, acrylic collage, 12 x 12 inches

Endings and Beginnings, acrylic collage, 12 x 12 inches

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Detail, Endings and Beginnings

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Detail, Endings and Beginnings

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Detail, Endings and Beginnings

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Detail, Endings and Beginnings

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Detail, Endings and Beginnings

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Detail, Endings and Beginnings

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Weeks 50 & 51: Christmas Tree

Sled ornament from my childhood.

Sled ornament from my childhood.

Every year I look forward to unpacking the Christmas ornaments and decorating the tree. My family likes to pick out a large fir that goes from floor to ceiling and festively commands the room. As I place each ornament on the tree, it whispers a story to me. Some ornaments are thirty something years old and come from my childhood, while others are even older and belonged to my parents. The newer ones remind me of our newlywed years, or when my son was a baby. Each one represents a time and place that is conjured up again every Christmas. The tree becomes a shimmering display of memories that dangle amidst the evergreen boughs and twinkle lights.

Christmas Tree, acrylic collage, 12 x 24 in

Christmas Tree, acrylic collage, 12 x 24 inches

I enjoy the Christmas tree so much that I decided to dedicate two collage panels to this subject, displayed vertically one on top of the other. The ornaments in the collages were drawn from observation of our actual ornaments. A few were refurbished or re-created in the drawings to honor those favorites that were lost or broken. Most are from my childhood. There is a little white elephant who once lived inside a clear globe. One year the glass broke, while the elephant survived. Here I placed him back inside his protective bubble. There is a tiny snowman, a mouse on a red chair, a bird house, a cuckoo clock, and sparkly silver birds. There are red wooden sleds with the childhood nicknames of my sister and I carefully painted in white lettering, with a holiday greeting and the year 1980. I was nine, and Vicki was eleven. There is a gnome hiding amongst evergreens in a glass mushroom, a flat wooden soldier, and a beautiful Japanese Girl with a satiny red dress and silky tassels.

Detail, Christmas Tree II

Detail, Christmas Tree

My childhood favorite was a plastic Humpty Dumpty, dapperly dressed and sitting on a brick wall, grinning gaily, his hands in the air. While he might seem somewhat incongruous amongst the more traditionally themed Christmas ornaments, for me, it was Humpty who best expressed the joy of the season.

My mother had a special silver globe with a ballet dancer inside, and faceted mirrors that reflected the ruffles of the tiny tutu.

Detail, Christmas Tree II

Detail, Christmas Tree

Sadly, this treasured ornament was lost in a move, and I’m still not sure what happened to it. In the collage, I was able to bring it back. Another lost ornament was my husband’s childhood favorite, a stout little Viking man with a shield and sword. We don’t know what fate befell him. He too makes a come-back in the collage. Since he was lost before my husband and I met, I never saw the Viking, so my drawing is based entirely on Ken’s descriptions and my own imaginative conjecture.

Detail, Christmas Tree II

Detail, Christmas Tree

When we were first married, a dear family friend gave us a beautiful set of painted glass ornaments that included characters from The Nutcracker and other Christmas stories. These became very special to us. We had gone to see The Nutcracker performed by the San Francisco Ballet on Christmas Eve of 1999, the day before my husband proposed to me. I remember that experience each time I hang Clara, the Nutcracker, and the Mouse King on the tree. Another favorite from this same ornament set is a kindly Santa Claus wearing an elegant red cape and holding an evergreen garland. He’s one of the larger ornaments and always gets a prominent place on the front of the tree.

I asked my nine-year old son to pick out his favorite ornament so I could include it in the collage. He chose the bendable beaded candy canes which are fun and flexible, easy to hang, and impossible to break. A wonderful choice! He can enjoy these for many years to come.

The practice of drawing the ornaments was very painstaking. I fell deep into the process of observing every detail, noticing both the perfection and the flaws, the sparkly sheen and the dulling of age. Some are quite fragile, or near falling apart. Some will break one day in the future. Creating the collage was a way for me to preserve the ornaments and the halo of memory that surrounds each one. At the same time, there is something about loving them fully and completely through the process of drawing that will allow me to let go when the time comes.

Christmas Tree (top panel), acrylic collage 12 x 12 in

Christmas Tree (top panel), acrylic collage 12 x 12 in

Christmas Tree (bottom panel), acrylic collage, 12 x 12 in

Christmas Tree (bottom panel), acrylic collage, 12 x 12 in

Detail, Christmas Tree I

Detail, Christmas Tree

Detail, Christmas Tree I

Detail, Christmas Tree

Detail, Christmas Tree I

Detail, Christmas Tree

Detail, Christmas Tree I

Detail, Christmas Tree

Detail, Christmas Tree II

Detail, Christmas Tree

Detail, Christmas Tree II

Detail, Christmas Tree

Detail, Christmas Tree II

Detail, Christmas Tree

Week 48: Flu Season

It’s Flu Season and the bugs finally caught up to my husband and I last week. (Yes, next year I will get my flu shot.) We spent five days groaning together on the sofa with body aches, stuffy noses and hacking coughs. Despite the discomfort of being sick, we did enjoy the extra time together. We watched so many movies we had trouble recalling what we had seen in our DayQuil-induced delirium. This was not exactly a fun week, but I admit it was nice having an excuse to stop frantically rushing around with holiday preparations. As I laid on the sofa under my favorite blanket, achy and miserable, watching the twinkle lights on the mantle and the fire flickering in the fireplace, my pains subsided just enough so that I could appreciate the beautiful silence and peace of just being allowed to rest. It’s too bad I have to get sick to justify such moments to myself.

For the collage, I imagined the flu virus floating around in the air above our heads as my husband and I snuggled down into our bed with our aches and pains and remedies at our sides. As I was drawing the bugs, they became more and more ornamental, suggesting a perverse version of the holiday verse, “while visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.” I had a good chuckle over that connection, which was probably an effective strategy in combatting the illness. After all, laughter is the best medicine.

Flu Season, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Flu Season, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Flu Season

Detail, Flu Season

Detail, Flu Season

Detail, Flu Season

Detail, Flu Season

Detail, Flu Season

Detail, Flu Season

Detail, Flu Season

Week 47: Preparing for Winter

Detail, Preparing for Winter

Detail, Preparing for Winter

As the days get colder, we are pulling the winter coats out of the closet, and lighting the fireplace in the family room. We put on extra layers, make tea or hot chocolate, grab a good book (or the iPad), and warm our feet on the hearth. In the mornings, the dew has turned to ice, and the front lawn sparkles with frost. Holly and I postpone our long walk to later in the day when the sun has taken the chill from the landscape. The cold weather brings a reminder of gratitude for the warmth and shelter we easily take for granted out here in the cozy suburbs.

The leaves have all fallen now, and we see the bare branches of the trees, dotted with leafy bundles of squirrels’ nests. I look out the back windows to the woods behind our house, and with the absence of foliage, I can see deep into the open forest. As the trees and thickets become thinner and more transparent, where are the animals taking shelter? I imagine the bears move back towards the mountains and find their caves, while the rabbits and foxes retreat below ground. The deer move deeper into the woods, seeking wind break and cover from evergreens. The squirrels busily gather acorns, stuffing their cheeks. It’s time to prepare for Winter.

Preparing for Winter, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Preparing for Winter, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Preparing for Winter

Detail, Preparing for Winter

Detail, Preparing for Winter

Detail, Preparing for Winter

Detail, Preparing for Winter

Detail, Preparing for Winter

Detail, Preparing for Winter

Detail, Preparing for Winter

Detail, Preparing for Winter

Detail, Preparing for Winter

Week 45: Homework

Max concentrates on his Math homework.

Max started fourth grade this Fall. A regular part of our nightly ritual is sitting down at the kitchen table together to check over his homework, which hopefully has been completed before dinner. I love listening to him explain his thinking, or thoughtfully articulate a question. I remember the satisfying sensation of simple math, the security of knowing that this type of question has an answer that is either correct or incorrect. No gray areas, no lingering doubts, just the pleasure of watching the solution come to light.

A dramatic discovery is made.

And then there are other types of questions that require words and lengthy explanations. It is fun to participate in this spirit of open curiosity: What causes thunder and lightning? What is a hurricane? Where does rain come from? One evening I pointed out the beautiful moon, and was surprised to hear Max reply, “Mom, that is a waxing crescent.” He went on to explain the relationships between the sun, the earth, and the moon. Recently we studied the Geographical Regions of Virginia, the Weather, and how to write a mathematical equation from a “Number Story” or word problem. With each revelation, I remember when I was nine, and the world was new.

For this collage, I took a new approach, combining my drawings with Max’s drawings. I used fragments from his actual homework papers, including his writing, pictures, and the teacher’s grading notations in red pen. The collage became a nostalgic homage to childhood and school days in the Fall: We learn about the weather as the wind blows and leaves swirl in the front yard. The wild geese fly overhead. A football spirals through the air. The weathervane spins. A sailboat waits to take us away on a life-long adventure in learning, with the sun and the wind and the rain as our companions.

Homework, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Homework

Detail, Homework

Detail, Homework

Detail, Homework

Detail, Homework

Week 37: Family Table

Our family loves to gather around a table. Cooking beautiful food and sitting down to enjoy a leisurely meal is one of our favorite ways to spend time together and mark special occasions. We recently hosted a seafood feast, served outdoors in our backyard, in honor of Grandma (my fabulous break-every-mold mother-in-law) who just moved here to Virginia all the way from California. The meal featured grilled shrimp and calamari, homemade aioli, clams with fennel and pomegranate, seasonal salads, a whole grouper baked in rock salt, and of course, some great wines. I wish I could take credit for the cooking, but it was master-minded by two dear friends who are so much like family that they can take over my kitchen as if it were their own!  Uncle Rick was another special guest, really the hero of the day, who had driven Grandma (his sister) across the entire country with all her stuff in a Penske moving van, delivering her safely to her new home. There was a lot to celebrate. Having Grandma here to share in our lives is a wonderful new era for our family.  Loved ones gathered around a festive table on a beautiful crisp Fall day makes for one great party.

Family Table, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Family Table

Detail, Family Table

Detail, Family Table

Detail, Family Table

Detail, Family Table

Detail, Family Table

Week 36: Friendship

This collage is inspired by my 20+ year friendship with my dear college friend, J. P.  I went to visit her recently in New York City, planning to help out after she underwent some major surgery. She is recovering beautifully, and as it turned out, her humor and spirit lifted me up as much as my cooking and caring was comforting for her.  She is a city-dwelling actress, writer, and musician, while I am a suburbanite visual artist. We have always enjoyed sharing our creative ideas, finding parallels between the performing and visual arts, and cheering each other on as we follow our own paths throughout our careers. As I worked through the collage, the image of diverging and converging paths emerged, sometimes going in separate directions, but often doubling  back to intersect or follow the same curve, at least for a while, before taking off again on a new course. We have had very different journeys, but can appreciate and enjoy our differences as much as our similarities, celebrating our friendship on our own unique common ground.  She is one of those special friends that makes me feel like no time has passed since we last got together. We talk about food, art, politics, relationships, family, and careers, and always seem to be on the same page. Did I mention she is also one of the funniest people on the planet? I am so grateful for my friend.

Friendship, acrylic collage, 12 x 12 inches

Detail, Friendship

Detail, Friendship

Detail, Friendship

Detail, Friendship

Detail, Friendship

Detail, Friendship