Biography and Background
Drawing and making things have always been part of my life. When I was younger I was usually at the dining room table coloring, playing with clay or doing some craft project. There was a real "do it yourself" ethic around our house, so I learned that philosophy and the basic skills needed to do things like rewire a lamp, refinish furniture, make a box, sew a skirt, or make art.
I attended Michigan State University where I majored in both biology and art, with a mind to doing scientific illustration. In 1990 I graduated with a bachelor's degree, started part time work illustrating fossil reptiles, and rented a studio space where I could make fine art. At this time, I was doing primarily paintings, both naturalistic works heavily influenced by my current illustration, and more graphic paintings, often life-sized, of women in historical and outdoor contexts. The women in my paintings were inspired by vintage photographs and magazine advertisements. There was a junk yard right behind my studio building where I could find old doors and windows to frame my paintings (particularly useful for the larger works!), and other odd scraps to make things out of.
I returned to school in 1995 at Wayne State University in Detroit, and received a Master of Fine Arts in 1998. During this time, I continued painting, and exploring the use of different items to frame them. I soon found I had more fun using the wood from the doors and windows as material to build things, rather than just using them as frames. I also started using the actual vintage pictures that I had previously been using only as reference for my paintings, and found less of a reason to do the painting itself.
It's so much faster, and fun, to find the right picture than to have to draw it from nothing! I could draw it myself but that just seems like chore. Painting ended up being a needless extra step, a less direct way to create the meaning I was after. So now I mainly do assemblage (using the materials that once framed the paintings) and collage (using materials that were once reference)!
Material and Construction
There are many enjoyable ways of making art, but the media that I keep working in the most are assemblage and collage. These two media are often treated as separate things, but really they're different aspects of the same technique: both involve pulling together different objects culled from different places into one cohesive whole. Assemblage uses 3D objects; collage uses 2D objects. And, often, I will construct pieces using both collage and assemblage elements.
Collage and assemblage are both art forms that essentially involve adding pieces together to make a cohesive whole. For the collage I use found scenes, such as paint by number paintings or thrift store prints, as background scenes. I cut out people, animals, and objects from old books, magazines and catalogs to populate the scene and tell a story.
For the assemblages, I use many types of found objects as raw materials. These are mainly household items from the thrift store or from the curbside trash. They are taken apart, and refit with other objects to create a new 3-D whole. And, of course, the boundary between collage and assemblage is blurry: I will use collage elements within pieces that are primarily 3D assemblages, and use assemblage elements on pieces that are primarily 2D collages. I try to use objects that create a theme for the art piece as a whole.
Currently, I live in Detroit, an old city where good junk as an abundant resource. If I need something, I can usually find it on the curb eventually. If I don't find it on trash day there are plenty of thrift stores where I can buy much of my art supplies. Furniture and any interesting pieces of wood or metal are useful for building boxes and structures for my works. I use old books, magazines and catalogs for pictures to cut out for my collages and assemblages. The outdated thrift store pictures are used as backgrounds to populate with the subjects cut from the books and magazines. I reuse frames that the thrift store pictures came in for finished artworks. Wooden boxes and drawers are nice for dioramas. Old games, game pieces and toys are fun to transform into new game-artworks. This recycling makes sense not only from an ecological standpoint, but also links the art pieces to a time when people saved and utilized every scrap.
Technique and Catalyst
For me, a piece often starts with a particular object that seems especially well suited to begin the telling of a story. I have bank of basic ideas and themes I use often in my works, and have a collection of materials to build pieces with. One key piece, sometimes a newly found item, or a thing seen in a new light, usually works as a catalyst to bring an idea together with a number of other parts from the shelves to build the artwork as a whole.
Sometimes I draw out a quick sketch of the artwork but more often I don't, since one section is already fully in my head and the rest can only be created by trying out items to see if they fit together visually and thematically. I build around the catalyst piece in layers, fitting more objects into the artwork and increasing its complexity. I add, bit by bit, from my store of pictures and/or wood and metal. The work is finished when the story that I imagined is there, and the work looks visually whole.
That isn't the only method the basic idea for an artwork. Sometimes a different theme, a new experience, or a good opportunity forces me to look at the things I already have in a new way which will beget new ideas.
Elements and Meaning
Working with found objects is fun precisely because the objects come with intrinsic meaning; they aren't blank like paper. I can subvert that original meaning by taking objects apart, breaking them into smaller bits of symbols, then mixing up those symbolic pieces with other things, possibly unrelated or unexpected but somehow right. This gives the artwork a new meaning, built from the original meanings of the added components. In addition, there is an aspect of meaning that comes from way the work created. Cutting things apart and symbolically recreating them is part of the charm and power of collage and assemblage. It's like you are really changing the world, in a way, since you are changing real, everyday things from the world!
It's fun seeing how things are made, and taking things apart. It's a challenge to figure out the best way to build an assemblage, or set up a collage from what is available. Taking an interesting item, and figuring out how to use it is never the same job twice!
Themes and Ideas
How history, women, culture, nature and mythology overlap has been an ongoing theme of great interest to me, whether in the form of a painting, collage or assemblage. There is a huge area to explore with these ideas in whatever medium works best for a certain project. I explore the historical interrelationship of women, nature and mythology in our consumer culture, what is considered natural or ideal, and the forces that govern our lives: time, culture, family, fate, chance, cycles, and divine powers.
One of the basic themes my work explores is what is considered natural or ideal. I use background images that are mass-produced, out-door scenes from thrift stores or paint-by-number landscapes. These show an idealized natural world of groomed trails, tidy views of picturesque mountains, woodlands and streams. These scenes are layered with figures and objects cut from older popular magazines and catalogs which show social ideals of beauty and material wealth. The magazines illustrate cultural ideas about "natural" gender roles and stereotypes. By mixing these unrelated background scenes, objects, and figures together, they are taken out of their original context, bringing to light some of the embedded social constructs of our culture by illustrating presumptions of what is considered ideal.
I enjoy using vintage advertising pictures from magazines and catalogs to comment on how those themes interrelate. The idealized women in my collages and assemblages portray "natural gender roles" and are placed upon outside scenes from thrift store pictures to make fun of and exaggerate the many still common assumptions of those roles. If it's natural for women to do the cooking, for instance, then in a true nature scene there will be primeval women cooking on their stoves out in the wilderness.
I also use household items from the thrift store or the trash heap. Since we live in a throw-away society, junk is an abundant resource. This recycling makes sense from an ecological standpoint, but the idea of re-use also links the pieces to the past when people saved and utilized every scrap.
The ideas in my work come as a way to sort out and explore what's going on in my life, what I am thinking about and my experiences. The issues and experiences that motivate my art are the same issues that many women face: how to balance a career, family, children and stay happy too. Sometimes I have vivid dreams that turn into ideas for artworks. Although the work starts from my particular life, I try to make work that has an implied story or meaning that others can relate to in their own way.
Themes, Techniques, and Ideas
Operation Game with Butterflies (2005) is transformed from the popular game "Operation," which was the catalyst for this piece. The generic cartoon figure of the original game is replaced with a self-portrait, drawing on my own experiences with health and surgery issues. The original plastic pieces used in the play "surgery" are transformed to be butterflies, fruits, houses, and other unexpected items.
Waterfall Lady (2004) is a diorama, with the exterior constructed from an old drawer and furniture legs. The background is a nature scene purchased from the thrift store, while in the foreground collage elements from magazines and nature guides are placed on wooden blocks, giving the 2D cutouts a 3D existence. The centerpiece is the cutout of a woman, removed from her "natural" surroundings and moved out into nature.
Springtime in Shoe Valley (2005) is a diptych collage on an idealized out-door scene from a thrift store showing a flowing river and trees. The scene is layered with women's shoes, butterflies, and birds cut from older popular magazines and catalogs. Displaying the shoes out of their original consumer culture context and in a natural setting alters the original meaning of the shoe pictures. The shoes now contrast with the two women in pink silk slips at the work's edges, commenting on gender roles and expectations in our culture.
Universal Match-Up Game (2005) is constructed from a 1970s-vintage "flip-panel" alarm clock, housed in a box constructed almost entirely from cast-off wood and furniture. This piece is an example of a mixture of reusing good and inspiring items that other people consider junk. The alarm clock was a catalyst for this piece: small collage elements are glued to each panel, and the appearance of the piece can be constantly changed by rotating the spindle, producing multiple combinations.
Following the Map (2004) is a work on several levels. It can simply be a work about trying to reach a goal or a place, or a happy ending, and the wish for a good map when we are lost. It also comments on how, even when we try to follow societies' roles and expectations, our lives sometimes take surprising detours due to other forces. This theme comes from experiences I've had in my personal life.
Feeding the Geese (2005) is a collage on an idealized out-door scene. The scene is layered with figures and objects cut from older popular magazines and catalogs which show social ideals of beauty and material wealth. Mother Nature is not shown in person, but you know she exists by the cooking she has so kindly done for the birds. By mixing the unrelated background and foreground objects, they are taken out of their original context, bringing to light some of the embedded social constructs of our culture by illustrating presumptions of gender roles and what is considered ideal.