I went to self-discovery class at Flying Leap this afternoon with the expectation that I would create an interior in a collage. Lots of my paintings begin this way. I flip through magazines in search of patterns, textures, shapes and objects, then compose them. The result is usually some sort of strange perspective and several inviting environments.
But this afternoon there was a prompt: List your strengths and weaknesses. Find images that reflect both. Create a collage that makes a structure out of the strength images, and use the weakness images to create frivolous decorations around the structure.
Wait! I just wanted to cut out pretty pictures of couches and lamps and get my fingers gluey. I wanted an afternoon of escape, not one of self analysis!
I escaped anyway. If I had been working toward a painting, there would have been some pressure to compose, design, scrutinize—can I pull off that chandelier in oil paint? I still didn’t want to think about myself. I simply went on a scissor spree, cutting out what caught my eye.
When I looked at the images together as I glued them to the page, my conscious mind began to make sense of them. As usual for me, an artwork’s meaning becomes apparent and evolves as I work on it. My list of strengths and weaknesses began to populate in response to the images I chose. The list is actually one of characteristics rather than separate positives and negatives. Who can classify them? It depends on the day, the context, the atmosphere. Some completely contradict one another. Now that I’m done, I feel the need to summarize.
Easy things first. The general is bossy and demanding. The red chairs breaking apart and climbing up the brick wall are restless. So is that poor bonsai who can’t grow into a real tree inside his tiny pot, constricting him like the glass cage just right of center. The pile of rich, color-coordinated textiles is organized and balanced—but don’t ignore the mixture of bright, thin scarves flapping wildly in the breeze above. The sheep are snuggly and loving, and so is the momma cheetah. Her babies are needy (but who can resist?!).
I have a need to know. I want to understand how and why everything happens. How things are made, the inner workings of my body, the mechanics of the planet itself. I want to be aware of it all, and I have a million questions. In the collage, light filters through several sets of clear, open bottles. I give honesty, and I expect it in return. I have no patience for people who can’t get to the point or try to suppress things. How’s anybody going to get what they want if we aren’t completely honest? Why waste time on uncertainty?
That big green gator lurking at the bottom can be cynicism, bitterness, and biting sarcasm. Next to him there’s a smooth chair covered in a sheer white sheet. In its lap sits a spiky thing. In one moment my thoughts and words are prickly and cutting, like that spiky thing and the spiky chandeliers above, spiking right into those snuggly sheep. The next thing I know, I’m the sheep or the cheetah kitten. I struggle between the future and the present. I’m anxious and nervous like a manic set of mismatched plates glued to a wall which don’t want to be touching but are. Time is ticking.
Still, I am still. Like the smooth white sheet that trails behind the chair, cool and crisp. Like the empty mirror, reflecting nothing. Hanging like a million crystal droplets of water, bare nerve endings, fragile glass orbs suspended by the threads of spider webs. Aware, sensitive, but still.