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 1: The First Collage

At the end of the week, I spread out all my little drawings and began tearing them up. This is a little scary at first. But letting go is part of the process.  Some drawings serve only as ideas for imagery in the final collage. Others are cut up and re-assembled in the final piece. Some may be put aside and find their way into a future work.

Inspired by my son’s Lego spaceship as a harbinger of creativity, I experimented with using the Lego pieces themselves as painting tools. I dipped them in paint and used them as stamps. This gave me a way to reference the Legos in a new way other than drawing them.  I used the smallest square Lego to create a little house.  I mixed a palette of acrylic paints in a wintry scheme, inspired by the colors outside in the neighborhood in January.

I envisioned the first collage as a view of the neighborhood from the Lego Spaceship’s perspective.  It hovers above the world in its imaginary adventures, but as a small object in our household, it is also intimately involved with the material ephemera of everyday life.

After playing around with the placement of parts for much of the afternoon, a composition came together.

This first week was a lot about settling into new habits and routines of daily drawing and writing.  I made a small drawing kit that I try to have with me at all times- just a bundle of small paper scraps and my favorite pens.  I kept my sketchbook handy for both drawings and notes.  I found myself shifting into a more alert state each day, anticipating inspiration, and finding it in unexpected and seemingly ordinary places.  Each moment became a new opportunity, no object too simple, a cascade of possibility.

What is achievable in tiny increments over time? The only obstacles between a small work and a monumental one are time and ideas. I have the patience to stay committed over time and the faith that the ideas will come.  I understand how small steps can add up to long journeys, how a slight change in course can take you to an entirely different place over long distances.

Art Meets Life: Climbing down from the Ivory Tower

We designed my studio with glass French doors that open to the playroom, imagining a happy convergence of art and life, and allowing for the practical necessity of being near my playing child while I paint.  Despite this generous gesture of the transparent barrier, I have always been very protective of my studio space and studio time.  I crave the silence and the solitude to make my work.  Given the opportunity, I will shut the French doors. As my son has gotten older, he is more often playing outside with his friends and no longer needs my constant supervision, so the doors are closed more often now.  For many years I have secretly believed that art happens in my Ivory Tower, separate from life.

I am starting to climb down from that Ivory Tower.  I am starting to recognize that the informal drawings I do in my sketchbook, outside the studio, are perhaps the most vital part of my work. These drawings are not separate from life, but inspired by life and imbedded in life.

One day this December, I opened the French doors and invited my husband and son to come in to see my work.  A Lego spaceship came too, and flew into the landscape of my paintings. It zoomed over mountains and hovered above the clouds. It dove into the ocean liked a winged submarine and explored the depths of a crevasse. We were laughing and playing and flying the ship on many adventures together throughout my imaginary lands. This felt less like an alien invasion to my studio and more like a homecoming celebration, as if the paintings were coming alive before my eyes, and welcoming their audience with open arms.  The people I love most in the world were accessing my work on the most intimate level of joyfulness and play.

Can my art be generous enough to allow for the serious and the silly, the awesome and the awkward?  Can I embrace all these things in myself and in my work?

The paintings in the background of the photos above are from my most recent body of work, the Momentum Series.  This group presents a personal narrative as told through an iconography of invented landscape elements: mountains, oceans and clouds conspire with small boats, winding paths and garden gates to act out the story of creative struggle.  This imaginary land is the place I go to explore my conflicting desires for solitude and community, surrender and ambition, safety and risk.  A small boat yearns for adventure far out on the horizon, but always returns home to the safe harbor.  (See images and read more about the Momentum Series on my website.)

In this next phase of my work, I am confronting these themes more directly.  My old avatars may remain, or be replaced.  Perhaps the curtain will drop, the masks will come off. The imaginary world of islands, waves, clouds, and boats will converge with the physical world of Lego ships, coffee mugs, tree-lined streets and neighborhoods.  But form and content must dovetail.  This project cannot be just an illustration of My Suburban Life, but rather an enactment, created in the moment. The subject is the process; the process is the subject.

Here are some new drawings I made this week, remembering to allow room for play, and the tumble of life as it unfolds in the moment: