BY FIONA BERTIC-COHEN
AIS: You once said “...windows...open us up to juxtapositions in search of a narrative thread...They make us dream, wonder, calculate; they allow us access to worlds…”. What is it about the 1950s vintage era that you want your audiences to glimpse into?
I was born at the tail end of the 50’s. My mother was and still is an artist, but mostly during our childhood she was a housewife, as the times prescribed. I find the 50’s fascinating precisely because there was such a chasm between what women were, or might have been, and what they were expected to be. Women buried themselves beneath social mores and presumptions, and there was such artifice to it: to look at a McCall’s Magazine out of the 50’s is to see lovely, slim, smiling women Hoovering the carpet or applying deodorant or gazing adoringly at their husbands and children, as though that was all that life had to offer. I guess my hope is that people feel that tension in my work – that duality. That people understand both the very particular pressures on these women and the often devastating consequences. The screaming into the perfectly plumped pillows.
AIS: As a novelist and poet, how does language inspire your works of art?
In addition to being a visual artist, I am also a poet and novelist. For me both processes – making art and making poems -- are highly sensual experiences, and both have strong narrative elements. Elements find one another. Metaphors announce themselves. What begins as a moment grows into a narrative. I begin with an image, or a word, or a place -- usually just one thing. I’ll be drawn in by the brilliant plumage of a bird, or the smirk on the face of a Michelangelo statue. In time, other elements find their way to that thing: Easter bunnies find the Christ-figure; wasps find plump child-skin. While these secondary elements are often other images, they may also include backgrounds, textures – small incursions of color. Color and texture have always been central to me; they are what brought me to collaging in the first place. In the end, each piece lives or dies on its ability to bring all of these pieces – image, narrative, color, texture, and design – into some kind of harmony: the answer to the question I didn’t even know I was asking at the outset.
AIS: What is the statement behind such images?
I don’t make my pieces with a statement in mind. The piece comes together and then I realize after the fact why it has assembled itself. That said, I have a need and tendency to force the viewer to see through the surface of things – to confront the uncomfortable, the shameful, the unvarnished truth. So the statement, I guess, is to look beyond the shiny object, to uncover the anguish or fear or shame beneath the veneer of civility.
AIS: Gender roles in the 1950’s were very prominent post World War II and the Cold War Era. How does this influence your works?
Thematically I seem to be focused on the passage of time -- the yielding of one era to another. The handing off, the giving over. I am particularly interested in this notion as it relates to women. In the course of a generation, women have found their voices, taken ownership of their bodies and assumed ever-increasing responsibility for their livelihood and autonomy. But just how have we reconciled the values and mores and priorities of our pasts with the social, political, and technological realities of our present? How has the passing of time colored our feelings about what came before? In short: What is progress? Does it mean we must destroy something of what we were in order to survive the world we have landed in.
AIS: Do you have any words of advice for fledgling artists who also want to engage in controversial topics through the medium of art?
Yes, just do what you need to do…not what you think others want, not what you think will sell. Making art – like making poems – should be like falling backwards off a cliff…it has to have that element of fear and risk and discovery for the artist in order to provoke something visceral in the viewer. I am a self-taught artist and a self-taught poet; I am a practitioner of following my nose. I never know what’s happening two steps ahead of me, but that’s the delight and that’s the magic. So my own personal mantra is to knock the editor off your shoulder and just let yourself inhabit the world of your materials. You can always go back later and fine-tune.
BY SOPHIA DIFRANCO
AIS: There is a large focus on Communism in your artwork. Tell about the influence behind it.
There’s no political overtone intended. I like the iconography and design/art of the Soviet era and a close friend came from pre-Wall Russia. He’s a big influence, as he’s got a huge over-the-top personality. Early Soviet posters are graphically compelling, and I tend to derive compositions, color schemes and aesthetics from these.
AIS: In terms of the cold war and popular cartoons, what is the significance of bringing them both together?
The 1950s were a period of prosperity for American society. Many nations around the world felt the influence of American ways of life and the expressions of its culture. A new relationship was formed between consumer culture and social change amidst the growing paranoia of a Cold War. My work tends to wink at those underlying concepts, daily tensions and slight militarism at times, but also possessing a light-hearted, eye-catching and entertaining, but also playfully subversive juxtaposition.
AIS: The theme of children portrays an aspect of innocence, whereas there is also a contrast through the possession of guns. What is the overlying message in these images?
In many ways, the work is a direct response to the surrounding environment. Everyday experiences are incorporated consciously or unconsciously as a starting point. There’s definitely an ongoing equilibrium that is articulated through the stream of daily events and media oversaturation. Using sexuality, society and the macabre, I try to punctuate the human drama in a multi-layered way.
AIS: Does your work reflect the current debate on gun control today?
Again, there’s no overtone intended but perhaps it may somewhat remind us that the increasingly common media reports of violence often leave us detached and desensitized.
AIS: What do you hope your audience and fellow artists will take away from your works?
The hope is to find some poetic meaning and disconcerting beauty in everyday life, utilizing depicted moments and framed instances that would go unnoticed in their original context.