Alex, what do you do?
I am a collage-ist, a synthesizer, an editor, a tinkerer. When I comb over my surroundings, I find that almost everything can be made better, more… right.
I apply my collage lens to language, to music, to sandwiches, to clothing, and especially to art. In my work, I seek out (and stumble upon) aged, discarded beauty and dress it up with bright, surprising, textured elements, carefully shepherding that object or image into the present tense with focused attention and loving craft. I strive to add life, freshness and layers of meaning, to gently push the beauty quotient to its outer limits, to pile new color and character inside the extant lines until they almost holler, “Uncle!” But not quite. They are strong enough.
For example, my “Trusty/Rusty” series takes old and cracked objects – a doctor’s leather bag, a ceramic teapot, work boots, an early rotary phone – and says to each one, Yes, you are lovely, you are still worthy, I will hold on to you. It also says gleefully, “Let’s play!” First, let’s lay down an impermeable line, a container, an honest portrait. Then, let’s add vibrant dots of paint and magazine cuttings of haute-couture fabric. And, finally, sometimes, let’s add a bubble-letter word, like “Fresh.” These additions – not “there” in the originals – should not feel like intruders to the viewer but rather like friends, breathing new and enriching oxygen into tired-out lungs.
Certainly, this work is an act of love – an homage. But it is also an attempt to feel more comfortable and safe in our swiftly and ever-changing world, a world that too easily sheds the old stuff in favor of the shiny and new. I wear old dresses. I feel better. I mend a sweater visited by moths. I feel better. I spend time with rescued, trusty objects that practically shout at me that they still have strong legs and can be, somehow, useful – I commune with them. I feel better.
In this company, in this work, I can face the changes, the gales just outside my door, with greater calm and bravery.
Who are your gods?
My first artist-love, as an adult, was Joseph Cornell. His boxes, they arrested me, stopped me cold. A world unto themselves, they introduced me to a new and elusive visual language; I gladly jumped into his hot soup of birds and peeling paint and vials of colored sand and long-forgotten dancers. As the saying goes, “Life may be sad, but it’s always beautiful.”
Since then, I have had as comrade-companions William H. Johnson, Alice Neel, JR, ELLA & PITR, Isaac Cordal, Fairfield Porter – especially him – and also, more recently, Paula Modersohn-Becker and Honoré Sharrer. There are so many! Their work comforts and inspires. I also collect local artists: Ethel Poindexter, Robert Kobayashi, Larry Slezak, Nan Salky. I seek out work that has strong voice and is stolid and happy. Occasionally silly. Always deeply committed to craft; to taking this and making it into that; to cutting a fresh path that only this particular artist can cut. With me, lucky me, along for the ride.
Vincent Van Gogh painted all day every day, reading and writing in the evening. Joseph Cornell ate danishes and hammered boxes and ate danishes and paced the streets of Queens and Manhattan and ate still more danishes. Alexander Calder tinkered and amused himself and made small, bent pieces of wire for fleas in a miniature circus. Louise Bourgeois reveled in the violent nature of making a sculpture.
We all leave footprints. With a life in art, we can choose to leave more – we can drape our thirsting, loving, questioning, grasping selves over a little corner of the world, transform and energize it, for a brief moment call it our own, and then move on.
My own story includes childhood abuse, neglect and survival of multiple traumas; though I grew up in downtown New York City in the 1970s, I identify strongly with wartime orphans and refugees.
Making images of sturdy, timeless objects calms my restless and searching nerves. Resilient, confident, containing lines filled almost to bursting with sumptuous texture and rich color soothe my sometimes-destitute soul with messages of abundance and pleasure.
I feather my nest with carefully collected and calculatedly placed twigs – nothing too poky, plenty of cushion, it is built to hug the body and to last and last. This nest, my adult home, is just roomy enough for me and my chosen nuclear family and for the art that I collect and make. Changes, adjustments, additions and subtractions to the nest must be small and deliberate, otherwise my feathers get ruffled. I am susceptible to disorientation. Less so on studio days.
In trying times, making art quiets my inner child’s cries, it whispers, Everything will be alright – here, look at this. On better days, my work reaches for joy, pleasure and whimsy, three things that I thirst for, that I run toward and grab at hungrily, three things that together yell “Boo!” at my demons and scatter them to the four winds.