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

Week 42: Out-of-Town Visitors

We recently had some out-of-town visitors in the neighborhood. They mostly kept to themselves, but the over-turned garbage cans and toppled bird feeders betrayed their presence. I personally have not been a witness to their pre-dawn activities, although the dense woods behind my house may have been playing host. The Neighborhood Association emailed us all some common sense instructions: “Remove food sources and the bears will leave the area.” Some residents worriedly inquired, “Do bears attack people?” and “Should they be trapped and removed?” One morning, my dog picked up a half-eaten piece of pizza that had tumbled from an over-turned garbage can, a food source apparently rejected by our discerning guests. They must have been disappointed by all the Dominoes boxes and convenience foods. Maybe bears don’t really like the suburbs. We think they have moved on.

Out-of-town Visitors, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Out-of-Town Visitors

Detail, Out-of-Town Visitors

Detail, Out-of-Town Visitors

Detail, Out-of-Town Visitors

Week 40: Wild Geese

Every Autumn I hear the musical honking of the wild geese, as they pass through Virginia on their way south for the winter. The sound always stirs something in me, like the changing golden light of shorter days and the burnt orange and red of falling leaves in October. The call of the geese weaves itself seamlessly into the fabric of Fall, my favorite time of year. The sound brings back memories from my childhood, when my father taught me to observe and listen to the natural world. We teased apart the honks and warbles of waterfowl and shore birds, and looked for the identifying white patch on the face of the Canada Goose. Our family liked to visit a nature preserve on the eastern shore of Maryland, Blackwater Refuge, where we climbed the observation tower to look out over the ochre landscape of cattails and marsh grasses, the wild geese calling to each other, flying in their characteristic “V” formation. My young mind thrilled at this sight. “How do they choose the leader? How do they know which direction to fly? How far is their journey?”

Thirty something years later, I hear the sound of the geese flying overhead, and remember that feeling of wonder and curiosity. Our neighborhood sits up high on a ridge, a small network of quiet tree-lined streets, cul-de-sacs, and well-tended lawns.  There is a spot where the entry road climbs the steep hill to our houses, cutting open a clearing that reveals a long view to a wilder place. There are layers of open field, farm, and woodland, the Rivanna River winding its way in between. As the leaves fall, we can see a widening band of the distant Blue Ridge Mountains. The Canada Geese congregate in the field at the bottom of our hill. Sometimes I see their tiny black shapes rising up in a graceful “V” through the clearing, other times they fly directly over our rooftops, calling loudly. I think of my son, who is inside playing on his iPad, and I remind myself, “Teach him to listen for the wild geese. Don’t forget.”

Wild Geese, acrylic collage 12 x 12

Detail, Wild Geese

Detail, Wild Geese

Detail, Wild Geese

Detail, Wild Geese

Detail, Wild Geese

Week 38: Holly’s Escape

Our corner of suburbia is perched on a high hill overlooking woods, farmland, grassy expanses, and a distant sliver of the Blue Ridge Mountains. On my daily walk with our dog, Holly, we enjoy this view from the safe confines of our quiet cul-de-sacs and “no-thru” streets. Despite the fact that we are only five minutes away from Target, Wal-Mart, and Lowes, the drive home might leave one with a pleasant, if perhaps fleeting, feeling of a pastoral escape. The half mile section of country road that connects our neighborhood to the main highway may present a deer crossing, a glimpse of the Rivanna River through the woods, or an open field with a pond. I experience these things from inside a moving car, and depending on the day, they may quickly bounce off my consciousness like a commercial on the television, or slowly seep in like a long, beautiful poem.

One day the front door was left ajar as children ran in and out of the house, and Holly escaped. This is normally no cause for alarm. She will sprint a few laps around the adjacent yards, then come running back to me as soon as I can say, “Come get your treat!” But on this day, Holly had bigger plans. Maybe it was the band of six little boys chasing her down the street and over the hill. Or maybe she just kept running and running and it felt so good she didn’t want to stop. She ran past the last house on the cul-de-sac, through their big back yard, all the way down the high hill to the road, crossed a treacherous stretch of traffic, scooted under a fence, and burst onto the open field and out to the pond. Our boy ran home crying to me, “Holly crossed the big road!” In a moment of panic, my husband and I grabbed the leash, jumped into the car, and drove down the hill, crossed the road, and pulled up along the fence in front of the field. There she was, sniffing around the pond, happy and free.  I was so glad to see her alive, I forgot how mad I was. Part of me even envied her a bit… what was it like to run beyond the familiar boundaries of your world, and feel the exhilaration of escape?

Holly’s Escape, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Holly sleeping

Detail, Map of the Suburbs

Detail, Holly’s Escape

Detail, Holly’s Escape

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

Week 35: Small Wonders

The Amazing Spider Web

We have been observing some interesting happenings in the neighborhood. Spider webs the size of tractor tires are strung up between trees and lamp posts, with threads that sometimes stretch all the way across the driveway. In the morning, tiny beads of dew cling and shimmer on their silky nets. Large white-capped mushrooms spring up in the lawn overnight. The flower beds continually re-seed themselves, and not always where you might expect. Weeds sprout after every rain, as the damp late summer slips into cooler evenings and shorter days. Reinvention and change is all around us, every day. This collage is about nature’s big and little surprises, reminding me that anything can happen. Yes, I know there are scientific explanations, but let’s allow a little wonder in our lives.

The process for this piece was very loose and intuitive. I wasn’t even sure what it was about until half way through. This was a departure since I normally verbalize a clear theme to myself before beginning. I was pressed for time, and I had a kind of brain-freeze of ideas. First there was panic, then I just started making something. I let go of words, and allowed the images to pop up like mushrooms on the page. Then I remembered the actual mushrooms in the lawn, then the spider webs, and soon the seeds of creativity became unstuck, growing like weeds. I’m interested in how words can limit or expand the creative process. Do words pre-empt the unconscious mind that deals best with images? Are words best used after the artwork is finished or underway? But what about illustration, where words are needed to define the purpose of the image? Does the image have the power to take us beyond the words, to deeper understanding? What do you think?

Small Wonders

Detail, Small Wonders

Detail, Small Wonders

Detail, Small Wonders

Detail, Small Wonders

Detail, Small Wonders

Week 34: Flashlight Tag

Flashlight tag is one of the great joys of summer for the neighborhood kids. Just last weekend, my son hosted a sleep-over with six of his buddies. As soon as the sun went down, flashlight tag was the game of choice! This week I had fun creating a collage that aims to capture the thrill of being a kid let loose on a warm summer evening, sneaking around in the dark, running and hiding, laughing and hollering. The result has a bit of a madcap Scooby-Doo-mystery vibe that I find very amusing.

Flashlight Tag, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Flashlight Tag

Detail, Flashlight Tag

Detail, Flashlight Tag

Detail, Flashlight Tag

Detail, Flashlight Tag