My mother is an artist. She's never had a show and the last art class she took was when she was pregnant with my brother over 60 years ago. She quit when she could no longer fit in the seats. It was her love of art that spurred me on in my explorations, that made it tangible. As a child I used to leaf through an envelope of her drawings, marveling at how she used an eyebrow pencil to capture my uncle's Navy uniform. I tried something similar in an early drawing, mimicking her technique.
We would go to the Chicago Art Institute and she would get postcards of her favorite paintings, lots of Klee and Roualt. Her taste was interesting, often quite contemporary and abstract. An Austrian artist named Hundertwasser was one of her favorites. She put the postcards in a little kitchen gallery, glancing up at them as she cooked or washed dishes, her little oasis of personal expression. When we were children she allowed us to each select a plate from her Van Gogh book to post over our beds. I grew up with his sunflowers watching over me.
My mother became a first grade teacher and carried her love of art into her classroom. She was known for her puppets. She constructed them of paper-mâché with carefully stitched clothing, paws or hooves and tails.
Now 87, she is contending with memory loss. Her world has shrunk as her ability to retain the thread of a story has faltered and reading has fallen by the wayside. My mother is a good problem solver however. Her problem was how to occupy her time now that books no longer filled her days. She is a purposeful person and needed a reason to get up each morning. She found that in a new pursuit, collaging. Or as she calls it, cutting and pasting. Each morning she gets her notebook, her newspaper and her glue and scissors and begins to cut. She marvels at how much good material is thrown out each day that she now makes use of.
When she started she was placing discrete images on a page, unconnected to the other images. But an interesting thing has begun to happen. Her images began to overlap, to meld together, color and form juxtaposed in unexpected and interesting combinations. Virtually anything is grist for the mill. Family photos sometimes appear causing me to wince when she uses the originals, even as I rather like the result. I make a frozen dinner for her lunch and notice the image from the box has joined her collage. When we go out she grabs any loose paper, menus, ads, all possible imagery. She works at this like a job, focused and intent, highly purposeful. She knows what she likes. She always did.
I like what she is doing and sometimes envy her ability to suspend planning. I would agonize over finding the perfect arrangement of imagery. She follows her eye and just as a photographer takes many pictures to get the critical moment, she just keeps producing and as you can see her work is often quite interesting. She tells me"everybody has an idea and works it". This is her idea.