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 15: My Neighbor’s Garden

This week’s collage was inspired by my neighbor’s garden, a special place that I pass by regularly on my daily walks with my dog, Holly. After several years of admiring this yard from the sidewalk in front of the house, I was lucky enough to get a close-up tour from its generous creator.  I wanted to capture the distinct sense of place this garden has achieved, mediating between the wooded natural landscape around it and the careful orchestration of plants by human hands. There is an emphasis on structure over flowers and frills: evergreens, handsome shrubs and small trees of many colors and textures define the garden. At the same time, there are exquisite blooms thoughtfully placed at specific moments: the clematis “Josephine” entwined on the lattice by the mailbox, and the unusual grafted lilac that displays its fragrant purple flowers in the form of a small ornamental tree, centered in the front yard.

I began this piece by first painting a varied ground onto my panel, allowing the free flow of colors to guide the composition. I then gathered my drawings done earlier in the week, copied them onto translucent Gampi paper with an inkjet printer, and began placing them in the collage. I also brought back some drawings of small dogwood trees from Week 14, since my neighbor uses dogwoods to great effect on the edge of the woods.  One advantage of scanning and copying my drawings is the ability to use them again in new ways, either in hand-made collages or in digital illustrations or patterns.  In addition to using ink drawings as collage elements, I also drew directly on the panel with archival ink pens. More paint was worked in around the drawings to develop the atmosphere and bring out details like the deep pink blooming cherry trees on our street.

I combined aerial map-like views, traditional landscape vistas, and close-ups of interesting details to create an experiential montage of the garden. My layered experience of this place is a combination of all these perspectives. The garden has different meanings for me in different contexts. It has a place in the physical neighborhood as well as in my own memory and imagination. My love for this garden merges with my love for all the gardens of my past, present and future.  Each tree merges with all the trees that grew up through my history: the towering tulip poplars from my childhood home, my grandmother’s elegant red maples, the golden fringed Japanese maple we got as a wedding gift, the weeping cherry we planted when we bought our first house, the patio peach tree from the summer when I was pregnant, and the young Black Gum with its promising horizontal branches that will one day hold a swing for our backyard.  This collage is as much about all these moments as it is about my neighbor’s garden. I am grateful for them all.

Here is the finished work:

My Neighbor's Garden, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Week 14: Cascading Spring

Palette of Spring Greens

I was inspired this week by the flowering dogwood, a symbol of our community that is now in bloom all over town. I was also interested in capturing the range of beautiful Spring greens emerging in the landscape, from lawns and fields to fresh young foliage in the trees. First I mixed up some acrylic paint to lay out the color scheme for this week’s collage. I actually started this piece by jumping right in with the color, without first thinking about the composition or how I would incorporate the collaged paper pieces. I like to switch up my process whenever I feel I have been over-thinking things, to gain a fresh perspective and avoid being too formulaic. I painted a very loose background using the fresh greens and sky blue, then returned to my ink drawings of the dogwood trees and flowers done earlier in the week. Next I copied my drawings onto Japanese Gampi paper, using an ink jet printer.  This allowed me to use the same elements multiple times, in keeping with my interest in pattern and repeating motifs. Gampi is a beautiful lightweight and translucent paper, with natural fibers running through it. I prefer to tear the motifs out rather than using scissors to create a softer edge to the forms. Here is the work in its early stages, with the background painted and collage elements beginning to be placed:

As I worked on the collage, a landscape of cascading dogwoods began to come together. I was interested in creating a layered structure to the work that reflects both the branching pattern of the individual trees as well as the overlapping groupings of trees typically seen in the landscape. As I arranged the paper elements, I added more paint to help merge the trees into the background. I was not aiming to create a realistic scene, but rather a kind of dream-like homage to one of my favorite trees and this special time of year.

Dogwoods, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Dogwoods, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Dogwood

A mature flowering dogwood (Cornus florida)

A city planting of azaleas and dogwoods

Dogwoods are so important in my town that we have an annual Dogwood Festival, Dogwood Parade, Dogwood Pageant and Dogwood Ball. A stylized illustration of the unmistakable four-petaled dogwood flower graces the new public signage announcing the city limits and promoting the historic downtown and local sites.  We all anticipate this most beautiful time of the year when the purple redbuds are still blooming, the azaleas are flashing their fiery magenta, and the pink and white dogwoods majestically unfold in our yards, our neighborhoods, in strip malls, at schools, and all over the downtown area.  You may ask if all this dogwood over-kill eventually detracts from their appeal, but at least for me, the answer is a definitive “No!”  I can’t get enough of these trees. I will drive out of my way to cruise through the neighborhoods and streets that have the best displays. We planted three in our backyard along the edge of the woods last Fall, and anxiously checked the bud formation at the end of winter, waiting for those beautiful blooms to begin. Do I prefer the white or the pink varieties? We planted the classic white ones, but I really can’t decide.

A canopy of Dogwood blooms at a local school

There is something special about a tree that becomes a symbol for a whole community.  It is one thing that bring us together, that we can all  agree on. Finally, a unifying tradition that is not political or controversial.  Who can object to beautiful, long-lived, blooming trees all over your town?  (While I don’t follow the Dogwood Pageant or attend the Dogwood Ball, I fully appreciate the numerous public plantings.) I enjoy this communal love of the dogwood, but I also have more personal ties to this tree. The house I grew up in had a white dogwood centered in the front yard. My mother loved this tree and taught me to notice it when I was a child. I looked forward to the dogwood blooming as if it were Christmas in April. It’s arrival was like turning a corner in the year, heading toward warmer days, playing outside, the Spring art shows, the May and June birthday parties for my sister and I, the family picnics, and then summer vacation. These memories still stir something in me when I see the dogwoods begin their annual show.

Dogwood drawings, ink on paper