When I was five, at Mater Amoris Montessori Nursery School, I was very frustrated by being there because I wasn’t allowed to make anything with freedom. There were always limitations and rules. There WAS one classroom that had an easy sewing kit in it. I remember going into that classroom to do sewing, but I got caught and asked what I was doing. I remember trying to explain that I was “snowing”. Sadly, they told me that I needed to stay in my own classroom.
In Mrs. Ivorian’s kindergarten class at Potomac school, we had an art corner filled with an array of exciting materials: old bits of rug and fabric, egg cartons, paper towel rolls, string, glue, etc. etc… Every choice time I would raise my hand to go into that place where I was in my element with all the possibilities.
As I got older, I took every art class that I could: photography, weaving, painting, sculpture, drawing, pattern design, printmaking, design fundamentals. I loved making art. Every once in awhile, I felt truly excited about something that I made, but I didn’t feel that I had found my métier. I always felt constrained by the limitations of each craft. The rectangles were all so rigid. The effects of each material could only go so far.
My senior year at Sarah Lawrence, I focused on monoprint etchings and felt pretty pleased with my results. I showed my prints to Bruce Hooten, the most famous man I knew in the art world. I expected him to be bowled over and send me on the road to success. He wasn’t, and didn’t, but he gave me some of the best art advice I ever received. He said, “These are nice, but a little boring. You should make frames for them.” So that summer, at Haystack school of Crafts, after I made some more boring prints, I began to collage frames for the outsides. Using objects and papers which were sentimental or aesthetic to me, I glued and sewed them together. I quickly decided that I liked the frames much more than the art inside and I started to sew the “frames” together. The outside became the inside. The backs and the holes were as interesting to me as the fronts and the materials. So began my “paper constructions” as my friend Lenore coined them at the time. I finally felt like I could express myself.
Now when I make art, I am not under the constraints of a rectangular piece of paper or a craft or technique. I cannot do anything wrong, except by my own standard. Because I love paper, it is usually the base. Anything can be attached to paper, or paper can be attached to anything. The fronts and backs are equally significant in their conversation with each other. Even if you don’t see one side, the fronts relates to the back with stitches, bleeding ink, holes, burns or whatever. Often I have hated one side of something, turned it over, and used the other side. In my art, there are holes and protrusions. Paper can lie flat or bulge, Nothing needs to be a perfect geometric shape. There are literal and abstract moments. To me, there are endless possibilities.
My first collage series was about rejuvenating, preserving, and displaying sentimental papers which I had collected throughout my life. Soon, I became interested in exploring the physical possibilities papers. I saw a Robert Ryman exhibition where every work was white, but every work was a completely different colour? How could this be? I started to look at the nuances in what we call sameness. I thought, “What if you take away some white paper and leave air pockets? Would it look different from one part to the other?” From there, I just wanted to see what everything I did would do. Every new technique or material brought it’s own characteristics. I played and still play with burning, bleach, photographs, gold leaf, stamps, needle and thread sewing, hobby grass, paper making, hole punches, fabrics, sewing machine, wax, digital images, felting, beading, spirographs, compasses, children’s art, and more. I hope that I will continue to find new materials and techniques to keep me fresh. Meanings unfold out of these explorations.
I think it is very important to address and reflect upon what my “style” of artwork might signify. I did not choose this “style” because of how it might be gender-analyzed . It is obvious that I do not make work like any man that I know. This is not a conscious feminist act, but it is my reality. IF it is linked to being a woman, (which it could likely be, though I am not sure how we could scientifically prove it), I celebrate it. My art is much more interesting to make than all the other constraining materials, techniques and crafts that people are expected to embrace when they study art for the first time. I would like to know what the problem is to say that I make “female art” ? Sadly, calling something “female art” can be degrading depending on how it is said. Also, talking like that, gets complicated because the art becomes ONLY “female art”. It is not taken seriously for anything, BUT being female. Also, let’s call a spade a spade, people are not enlightened. Even women voted against Hillary Clinton for Donald Trump. People do not like women.
I am not sure that I always like men. Let’s use the same kind of analysis and identify “male art”. It is massive, imposing and sometimes intimidating. There are sometimes naked women for the sake of naked women. Feelings are often removed. There is not a lot of detail. Maybe this also should be examined. Sometimes I do find “male art” awesome and moving. It can be great. But I also feel annoyed by the characteristics of the above because I feel like someone is showing their power, indifference, and their voyeurism. Sometimes I feel like the artist is just trying to make me feel small or make me feel like his object. I don’t want to feel some random man’s testosterone pulsating.
Although I live in a world full of cities and technology that are to my benefit, I find it destructive and scary. Because of it, we lose our appreciation for the life around us. We are distracted away from our friends and families and on a greater scale, the times of day, the seasons, our planet, and the universe. We live detached from the earth that nourishes us and are unaware of the cycle of life. Don’t get me wrong, with shame in my heart, I must admit that I am a bleeding heart liberal with a limousine life. I don’t harken back to living in an ancient age. I love my hot epsom salt bath and my warm studio too much. I appreciate traveling all over the world and only needing my passport and credit card. Most of the people that I know and love are still alive which wouldn’t be so if I were actually living a natural life. I am grateful and do give thanks. However, everything has a right to this earth and to live as it was created: the air, the trees, the prairies, the forests, the dirt, the animals, the water, the children, the women, etc. etc. etc. etc… In part, my artwork is an homage to the overlooked and forgotten. I cherish the tiny, the unappreciated, the damned. I believe in the present. I extoll materials. I hope that my artwork should be an eloquent message to encourage the fundamentals of life.
THESIS FOR COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY 1996-1998
Chairman: Archie Rand
Anthropology: Alexander Alland Jr.
In music, a profound relationship between instrument and musician brings forth individual and harmonious sounds. It is not one or the other, but both that contribute equally. It is the same with art. My intimate and balanced connection with the materials I use is the tool by which I express my own voice.
From incarnation to past its completion, each artwork evolves through undetermined cycles. Materials constantly redefine themselves. Different papers burn differently, some bleed, some burn right through and some barely singe. Every artwork demands a different visual language and process. Their meanings differ according to context. Burning is usually destructive and hateful. Painting white means it’s hidden or all the same, (but of course not really). Sewing with twine is an attempt at precious protection (it is different with wire). Turning the back to the front means its life is out of my control and thank God there’s an out. Staples are frazzled. No eyes means the unimportance of being human. Photographs reinforce my world and writing remembers and clarifies my mind. It is these continuous dynamics which guide the work. I trust materials and their constructions like I trust tides or the horizon. Faith makes magic. Natural and unforeseeable sets of stages form each artwork which in turn will inform the outcome of my project.
I see my artistic place through my memory. It is my life experiences and knowledge that I have accumulated which have influenced me and made me who I am today. Jackson Pollock made the first painting I ever loved because I saw that someone else felt the way that I did. Emilio Pucci gave me the urge to create. Matisse gave me a visual goal. Picasso usurped everyone’s style including the newspaper’s. Joseph Cornell made the unprecious precious and melancholy. Robert Ryman taught me that what seems to be a little is so much. Malevitch taught me strength of mind. Berlin taught me funky. Surrealism took the dark side of humanity and made it marvelous. Max Ernst explored his inner-mind with random materials. Duchamp told us the flat truth and kept a sense of humor. Man Ray made the shadows dance. Nadja played her soul like a game. Francesca Woodman helped me to be a young woman artist in my twenties. Louise Bourgeois gave me acceptance of my womanhood, of my memories, of my pain. Kiki Smith gave me female pride. Eva Hesse exploded contradiction by mixing organic and inorganic and making hairy nipples sensual. Cycladic Figures gave me an earth goddess. Ana Mendieta defined nature. Felix Gonzalez Torres defined transience. Joe Brainard and Florine Stettheimer believed in being “Me”. Robert Smithson rearranged my universe and John Baldessari rearranged my self. Writing tablets from Uruk tell me secrets I’ll never know. Asian art tells me that perspective is from above and below, not just in and out. Cases of arranged beads from pharaoh’s tombs tell me its ok to organize my three thousand stamps according to color. Christian Icons show that worship is relative…
To contexturalize myself concretely in history I turn to my blood. On my mother’s side, I have detailed information on my great-great grandmother, my great grandmother, my grandmother, and of course my mother. They were, and are, all creative and independent women, leaders of the household and in the community. I share a part of all of their names. On my father’s side, I have no sense of history, only countries of origin. My father died when I was nine, not formed. I am both absent and present. I am lost and floating as much as I am solidly positioned next in a line of women. This dichotomy emerges in my artwork in more ways than I am aware. I literally create a middle space: both the fronts and the backs are part of the work, but they are not sculpture. Amorphous constructions with holes and protrusions create negative space and shadow that are positive space. A scrap is precious. I canonize insignificant bits of memory and mix them with materials that seduce me. I fight loss through loving reconstruction of ephemeral materials. I destroy and repair to try to possess. Through the process of making however, the materials become banal and my precious content is irrelevant to the viewer. No matter, this desperate salvaging labor proves my existence to myself. I hold onto a world that is gone. I try to preserve time. My work demonstrates futile activity in life and exposes the frailty of being human.
In my artwork, I am looking for something that I cannot explain with words. I search: to find peace, to make precise my articulation, to accumulate knowledge, mental, and visual stimulation, and to continue to search. In the end, tangible self-satisfaction arrives in moments of elation and constant unfulfilled desire.
I have different themes that thread throughout my practice.
DOODLES: Sometimes I just start playing with a technique or material, if I like the way it goes, I might make another big artwork and expand this little doodle. Or maybe not. I save special pictures, and different dots and cut outs that I keep squirreled away. A “doodle” might just be to acknowledge one of those important nostalgic moments with a scrap of paper that I cling on to as my identity. Never mind that it may have nothing to do with my life. A lot of these random doodles are in my Journal Series that I have been making since 1996 on 10 x 8 inch pieces of abaca paper from Dieu Donné. Others are little artworks that have the potential to be big one day.
WOVEN SERIES: The woven series usually use rejected papers and have hidden significance, known only to me. I am devastated to throw away papers that have a personal importance, but nobody cares about them, but me. Woven pieces allow me to save this. Waste also upsets me. Woven pieces are recycled detritus. If I use them in art, I am not hoarding because the memories as well as the papers can be reborn. I weave the papers together and glue them to keep them stuck. The art is surprisingly strong and flexible. Some artworks are woven in a way that air, light and shadow can come through. The woven artworks play with the traditional idea weaving because, of course, I use paper. The artworks also play with the idea of “negative space” in art and what “negative space” really is. It is air. Air is nothing. But it is not actually nothing of course. There is that negative space that is in itself an interesting shape, there is the colour of whatever is behind, and there is the shadow that is cast on the wall behind. The weave is universal in plant roots, in cityscapes, in beehives, and in friendship and family connections etc. etc….. It protects us and keeps us together. *More detail on this in the category “WHITE”
MAPS: Maps are interesting because they can express places in different ways. I like the bustling whole of a map. A lot of my maps are not literal, but are based a lot on memory and feeling. The way that I walk through a place is pivotal to my understanding and knowing that place. It is the whole of a house or a land or a city that makes it emanate in my psyche. Then it is my memories of random details from lost corners that make the maps structure. I also have other, more literal maps. They are not perfect renditions either, but they are less dreamy and each one makes a different point.
FAMILY: My father died when I was nine. There was only my mother, my brother and myself in our household and I was alienated from them growing up. Our family was too small. For that, I always loved being with extended family and having lots of friends around us. As I get older, the bigger my family becomes, literally and figuratively. There is always room for more family, no matter who you are, you can be my family. Having lots of family is a connection to life, a connection your identity, as well as to a connection to your part in a continuum of lives. These family artworks are not just about my family; it is also an idea of what family is.
Just to set the record straight, even though we all live far away from each other, my immediate relationships have been sorted out and I love my mother and brother very much and wish I could live closer to them.
FIRMAMENT: We are just a small bit of nothing dust, but we are an intrinsic part of space. Everything is interconnected. I like to think that what seems to be nothing is something and what seems to be something, is nothing. The possibilities are endless.
RAINBOW: Rainbows are always looked down upon in art because frankly no one can actually capture its magic. I feel like a small child, always coming back to this idea. Every rainbow that I make, falls short. It cannot be ephemeral and where are the elves and the gold?? No matter, I keep making them anyway and I am not embarrassed. Rainbows are hope. They are all-encompassing aspiration. They are joy. They are salvation.
WATER: Water is where we came from. It is most of our earth, but it is secret. It is soothing and scary. It is life and destruction. It is itself.
PATRIOTIC: I am actually not that much of a patriot because I feel at odds with many things that the American lifestyle embodies and the way that many Americans don’t see the world. The xenophobic flag waving American is scary. On the other hand, after primarily living in the UK since 2000, I have a new appreciation for some things American. No one embraces individuality and the possibility of what that individuality can achieve like the Americans. They see and encourage the potential of the human spirit. They give everyone a chance to join in – ish. They believe in the individual’s responsibility to give charity. My flags etc. are a little bit tongue and cheek, but being abroad, I also feel that I have to stand up and be proud of who I am, despite a lot of bad things that go on there.
Ironically, now that I have become an English citizen, I need to maybe embrace that identity of mine too. I feel very proud about England as a country for its fairness, intelligence, and wit. Strangely though, I don’t think that I could ever wave an English flag like it was my own. Although that act would not be very English, so maybe I am more English than I realize. haha.
ON BEING A WOMAN: Some people would ask why I have this category because in their eyes, my art is all about being a woman. I discuss that in my “statement”. The artworks in this category are much more directly about female-hood and explore what it means to be a woman in society and in our cosmos.
Some of my artworks react clearly to being a woman in this world. I am a feminist. I believe in the strength and worth of women. I do not like objectification and I give it back to the viewer, directly. Some of this art looks gentle at first glance, but then is quite caustic. Some things that I make are shocking if you are uncomfortable with naked body parts. I believe in talking about the things that people are afraid to talk about. Sometimes, for me, it is the only way I can get my point across. I have never been considered a subtle person. Unfortunately, my art and I might alienate some people, but I need to be true to my ideals to be alive properly. Power comes from openness. I am not afraid of what I am. I believe in myself and my potential and the potential of all women. “On Being A Woman” might partially be about drawing attention to things that are unfair in our society. It is also about being proud. I DO love the act of being a woman. I appreciate the physical stages and all the things which come with each one. I celebrate my female lineage. I take power in my power.
LANDSCAPE: The horizon is the only constant. Trees may fall, people will build, but there is always the same sky and earth and that thin line in between. The inevitable meeting of the sky and earth that actually never meets. The constant that we can count on, whether we are in the city or in the country. Every moment and every place has its own horizon, which is ephemerally tied together with every other horizon.
Landscape is soothing and meditative and if it has been blocked, it is jarring and disquieting. There is beauty in the strangest landscapes and there are strange things in the most beautiful landscapes. Looking out and having space gives me sanity. I like space around me. I like being alone.
TREES: Trees are my vertical works. They are often my height with my hands held above my head. Trees connect the earth to the sky. Their roots know the earth, secretly, powerfully spread out to claim their space. The boughs reach up to the sky, away. They eat our poison and give us life. Trees can give salvation with food and shelter. Trees are where the magic happens. Trees are older, stronger, wiser. Trees are Rulers of the woods.
FLOWERS: Imagine: a tiny grey seed in the dirty earth, give it a little water and sun and it will sprout. Grounded to the earth by its life giving stem, it shoots up, then forms a bud that blooms, into a multitude of potential perfectly balanced colours and shapes that open and close to the sun. In the middle of the flower is the power of the self-contained stamen- pistil. Flowers are pure and lofty: fragile, fleeting, gay, scented, soft. However, do not be mistaken. Flowers are almighty. They sprout in the coldest weather, they withstand poisons and hoes. Watch out for the thorns on a rose. Do not mortgage your house just for a few tulip bulbs. Do you take heavy drugs to control hay fever? Do you drive 100 miles in spring to see the snowdrops or the bluebells?
FIRE: Fire is so powerful that you cannot express it by drawing it, you can only really use it literally. This is why i sometimes I burn things in my artwork. It is destruction even more than death. Ironically, it is also life.
ANIMALS: I am uplifted by the little creatures: spiders, butterflies, bees, beetles, worms and all…. I am fascinated by crustaceans and anemones in the sea. I appreciate the regal tigers and elephants in the savanna.We share our earth together. We depend on them, they don’t depend upon us. Ironically, we are destroying them.
PLANTS: Plants keep us in tune with our earth cycle. I watch the brown buds turn to chartreuse and burst forth into floppy leaves that then grow and wind and expand to turn dark green and finally brittle brown. They drop and are swept away. What is left is underrated. Hard brown and grey sticks and branches seem dead but secretly are still full of life ready to sprout forth new buds in the circle of life.
LOVE: When I was little, I always loved Valentine’s Day when the whole class would give each other a card. As I got older, this tradition stopped. Sadly, no one ever gave me any Valentine’s or was my secret admirer. Valentine’s Day became one of the most depressing days of the year. When I was a sophomore in college, a dear friend of mine, Kirsty Mogensen gave me a hand made Valentine. That act took all the sadness away from not feeling loved. It was not because she loved me, but because I realized that I could give Valentines again and not be a loser for it. My Valentine project has been going on since I was 19 when I gave a select 10 people cards. I now send to almost 300 hundred people. I start no earlier than January. I doodle with materials. I toil over who gets what, thinking about each person and how they have touched me. I feel grateful for all the love in my life and hopefully give back a little bit.
MAGIC: Magic is something that is around every day. It is in my studio when something magically comes together. I feel it when nature shows its power in a little mossy land growing on top of your roof, or the thirty seconds of dusk per day. Magic is there in other people’s creations too, like my house and the land around it, in Massachusetts. Magic is something that you cannot make. Magic is something that happens that is bigger than any person. It can take any form from Elf to Aura to God. Children often live seamlessly between both worlds. As an adult, it is easy to have lost it from childhood. Maybe it is embarrassing to believe, but if you do, it is there.
WHITE: When I was in my early twenties, I went to a Robert Ryman exhibition at MoMA. It was revelatory. Never before had I understood the subtleties of conceptual art. Every work was white, but every work was a completely different colour? How could this be? I started to look at the nuances in what we call sameness. I thought, “What if you take away some white paper and leave air pockets? Would it look different from one part to the other?” In concept, white is the same as holes. Even when you have two pieces of the same white paper together, there is some shadow or something that makes them different. When everything is white, texture is accentuated, staples, sewing and any tiny colour are accentuated. You can see everything much better. There is nothing exciting and catchy to hide behind.
CHILDHOOD: When I was at Sarah Lawrence, I was interested in ancient writing and mark making. There was a very clear correlation between these and children’s first marks on paper today. This made me feel that there was a universal deep and pure understanding in children that corresponds to an ancient and natural way of life. I was also interested to see that children around the world, no matter what culture, when they first use a writing tool, make the same marks.
Now that I have had my own children, I have had the privilege of being around children’s art. I have been lucky to spend time in my children’s classrooms and to use their drawings for charity projects or sometimes for my own art. It is such an inspiration to see and use the pictures they make of themselves and the world around them.
I hope that my children have a nice safe sense of home and the world and life. I try to make it orderly and simple, to teach my children to believe in happy and good. It is important to perpetuate that feeling because childhood is the foundation for our reality as adults. If I can encourage this view of life, I hopefully can keep at bay the disquieting and stressful reality of what it is to be alive.