Monday, December 20, 2004

Art for art's sake

The Man, who although not in a paying job is never unemployed, is currently working on designing a book for a friend who publishes a book (at least) every year. While most of his books are commercial propositions, the end-of-year one is self-published and more personal. He puts together bits and pieces he has collected through the year, and sells it privately. We always buy it.

One of the discoveries he made this year was of a new collage artist. This woman has been keeping scrapbooks of her collages, and The Man brought two of the scrapbooks home the other day, to scan some of the pictures into his computer in order to make a few pages of the book. He showed them to me.

Now, I'm not a very artistic person. I'm ignorant about art, and not particularly interested (although I feel I should be more interested), but some things will grab my attention. A few years ago The Man and I translated a book about a commercial artist (an acquaintance), and I discovered that I liked his art, although I'm not sure if 'like' is the right word, really. At first I didn't like it, but his pictures and sculptures invaded my dreams, which became wonderfully infested with flying fat women and giant insects and blue men. Art doesn't usually get into my dreams like that, and so I decided that it was probably effective, and therefore deserved to be called 'art' even though it was commercial. It affected me, although I wasn't sure that I'd want to live with it all the time.

This woman's collages are affecting me in a similar way, except the feeling is less uncomfortable. Her collages infect me with sense of wonder. She cuts out pictures from the advertising materials that arrive with the daily newspaper, and juxtaposes them in unexpected ways. Her collages are wonderfully balanced in terms of white space and colour and shape - even a peasant like me can see that - but the images themselves are often startling. You wonder whether she is doing this deliberately or whether she is choosing the pictures purely for their colour and shape. Did she even notice that this is, say, a chicken leg, when she pasted it on top of this car, or did she just choose it for the orange colour? I wish I could put some of the collages on here, but The Man has told me I can't. They're going to be published, albeit privately, and there are copyright issues. So I'll try to describe them, although I don't really have the vocabulary for this sort of thing.

If you look at her collages from a distance they instantly strike you as brilliantly put together. They are vivid. The shapes and colours are just right, and very satisfying, but at the same time not what you expect. They are strikingly harmonious, if that makes sense. Then you get a little closer, and you see that what the images are, and you feel a sort of shock. Because there is a cabbage, and there is some jewellery, and there is a white woman modelling underwear, and there is a sandal with a foot in it, and a bird on a branch - anything at all might be there, in bizarre juxtaposition.

One of my favourite collages is of a carefully cut-out plate of stew with a large piece of daikon in it, and overlapping this is pasted a dinosaur. It's a very simple collage, and I can't figure out why I like it so much.

That sounds odd, and it is. But it is also beautiful, in a strange way. The colours are just right, and the shapes are just right, and there is a lot of white space above and around the collage that is also just right. It is a curiously soothing picture, and very, very weird.

When I started looking through the two scrapbooks The Man had brought home, I expected to flip through them and hand them back. But half an hour later I was still occupied. I was looking through them again, pausing at some, and going back to others. They are powerfully strange. I was wishing that these collages were all displayed on one big wall with a chair in front of it. I thought they'd make a great thinking wall. You could sit in front of it for hours and never be bored.

The artist's eyes are obviously very sharp, and her hands very steady, and to cut out the hands of those models she must have had the patience of someone with all the time in the world. But remarkably, these collages are the hobby of a woman who is 104 years old.

I'm sorry I don't know any more about her than that. I don't know how long she has been doing this, although apparently she has a lot of these scrapbooks. But I don't know whether 'a lot' means ten or a hundred. I can guess that she is not hoping to start a career as an artist, or hoping for recognition of her talents. At 104, I don't suppose you expect very much at all from the future. All I know is that making the collages makes her happy, and that's why she does it.


emily said...

Can you put examples of her work on your blog sometime? It sounds intriguing!