I made a second collage book. It started from a folder kept by Brookline Public Schools with writing samples from grades 1 through 12. I didn’t start going to school in that town till 2nd Grade and for whatever reason there are no pieces of writing saved from 8th Grade on. I took out all the writing (for use later, perhaps) and made twelve collages from the manila separators.
The good thing about this folder is that since the sheets come out each page can be looked at as a separate picture as well as part of a larger whole.
To break the ice I wrote a sentence or two. Whatever came to mind first about the corresponding school grade. These words don’t form a linear narrative page to page but are more of a way for me to begin. In some of the picture more of the text survives than in others. But they are neither secrets nor keys about the meaning of this book.
Cutting up old drawings gives them a new life. This portrait cut in two might’ve languished in the flatfile for decades if I hadn’t used it this way. A few people have been troubled by my “destroying” old work but I think reusing pictures which chances are no one will ever look at isn’t destructive or negative. What use is anything which no one gets pleasure or insight or anything else from? Saving them for a hypothetical future when they’ll be appreciated seems like complete fantasy to me.
I’ve been thinking about the wordless novels of Frans Masereel, Lynd Ward, and others while making these books. How do you tell a story without words? Or what if the words are used the same as drawn or painted marks rather than carriers of literal meaning?
As I finished each page I tacked it on the wall. I sat back and looked at the finished ones to help guide me in where to go next. In this way it’s no different than any other series of pictures I’ve ever worked on. The last one often suggests what comes after.
Four months into my collage experiment I think I’m starting to develop an alphabet. Just as a musician thrives within the restricted means of their instrument a painter confines himself to a chosen palette. I used more or less the same six colors for about thirty years. I know them backwards and forwards. But with scraps of paper, text, drawings, markers, ink, paint, glue, stamps, and various other flotsam the possibilities at first felt overwhelming.
The trick, I think, is to see each element, whether found object or art material, as just a mark. So when one thing is added, if I’m paying attention, a corresponding reaction or counterpoint will become obvious or, at the very least, suggest itself.
Hiding things or covering them with something else is a big part of this work. With text especially, if left as is, there’s a danger it will dictate the viewer’s response. Fragments work much better when the intent is not to let sentences control what the work amounts to. Still, some of their old context inevitably bleeds through. It’s a real wrestling match sometimes.
I spent the past ten years trying to make words work in books. Now it feels like that time is ending and I want to tell most of my stories through pictures again.
Much of my school years were miserable. Thinking about each grade didn’t bring back many fond memories. But scribbling and defacing school materials brings me back to primary activity back then. There are many more doodles and caricatures in my old notebooks than actual notes.
I listened to records I found at my parents’ place while working on this book.
This one felt different than the first. I’ll have to do at least a few more to see themes and tendencies clearly. With other series it sometimes took me a decade or more of working at it to see where it was going. But it’s a start and I will keep going.