Ties That Bind: Exhibition Update

Hello! It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I’ve been busy with a number of collaborative projects as well as a group show in June. Will tell all soon! In the meantime, as promised, here are some photos of my exhibition “Ties That Bind: Collage & Fibre Art” with fibre artist Krystyna Sadej.

Our opening was a great success. Nearly 50 friends and relatives came to celebrate with us! It was fun to catch up with everyone and exchange insight into our work and each others lives. As a result, the evening just flew by! Since then many more of you have visited the exhibition and passed on some wonderful comments about the work. If you haven’t had a chance to see it, both Krystyna and I have done interviews about our pieces in the show which can be found on the links of my Exhibitions Page. So have a look; it’s the next best thing to being there! As they are a little long, please feel free to listen for just a few minutes to get a general idea of the show.

There are so many people to thank for making this all come together (see below). I would like to highlight the City of Ottawa Archives crew headed by Theresa Sorrel who provided us with an amazing gallery, great security and technical assistance during the exhibition.

I’ve gathered several images of the show for you. Pictured here are my friends: Wendy, Sheila, Olive Jones, Sheree Bradford-Lea and City of Archives staff archivist Paul Henry tagging along with me for a tour of the show. It was fun to share the fruits of my labour with them and get some feedback on my work. I was happy to hear that my journal pages still excite viewers and to see my new pieces received with so much enthusiasm.

Also pictured here are photos of a few of Krystyna’s pieces: “Golden Cape”, “Dark Angel” and “Woman Behind the Closet”. I delighted in drawing from the themes in her art for inspiration for my new work. My pieces “The Big Bang” and “Time Traveller” were made in response to her “Dark Angel” and “Teleportation”, respectively; the first two grace the covers of our show postcards. Krystyna’s passion for recycling has rubbed off on me and as such I will be experimenting much more with these materials in the future. Thanks for the inspiration my dear Krystyna!

As well as the videos mentioned above you can also see videos stills of the show at the links below. I hope you enjoy them! If you have any feedback, I’d love to hear your comments.

Putting a show together is such a colossal team effort. I would like to thank the following for helping us put our best foot forward with the exhibition. Every show is a dream come true and none of it happens without assistance. A warm thanks to:

Andrez Sadej
Angie Cambareri
Barnaba Szlunkski
Glenn Charron
Gregory Abraszko
Jason Kohler
Johanne Leveille
Justyna Szluinska
Katarzyna Sadej
Kevin Casey
Liliane Castets-Poupart
Luis Salazar
Margos Zacharian
Mario Lamoureux
Mark Wilson
Meagan Gray
Pat Velte
Penelope Kokkionos
Peter Farris-Manning
Sheree Bradford-Lea
Signe Jeppesen
Theresa Sorel
Wendy Southin
Paul Henry
Kate Pemberton
Nathalie Dupuis
Carla Richichi

Michelle Casey giving tour to friends at the "Ties That Bind" exhibition, July 2015

Michelle Casey giving tour to friends at the "Ties That Bind" exhibition, July 2015

Michelle Casey with Paul Henry (above) & Sheree Bradford-Lea (below), July 2015

Michelle Casey with Paul Henry (above) & Sheree Bradford-Lea (below), July 2015

Michelle Casey with her piece "Fly Girl" (above) & Collage Your World fine art cards & Krystyna Sadej's tapestry samples display (below), July 2015

Michelle Casey with her piece "Fly Girl" (above) & Collage Your World fine art cards & Krystyna Sadej's tapestry samples display (below), July 2015

Views of Krystyna Sadej's tapestry pieces, July 2015

Views of Krystyna Sadej's tapestry pieces, July 2015

Krystyna Sadej, "Golden Cape", Fibre Art, July 2015

Krystyna Sadej, "Golden Cape", Fibre Art, July 2015

Krystyna Sadej, "Dark Angel" (behind) & "Lady the Behind the Closet" (front), Fibre Art, July 2015

Krystyna Sadej, "Dark Angel" (behind) & "Lady the Behind the Closet" (front), Fibre Art, July 2015

Ties That Bind: Collage & Fibre Art Comments book... thanks for filling it with your good wishes!

Ties That Bind: Collage & Fibre Art Comments book... thanks for filling it with your good wishes!

Thanks to you too my members and viewers, I continually draw on your enthusiasm and your insight for support. Without you my dream to continue being an artist would not be complete. Hugs to you all!

Other Related Links:

Stills of Krystyna Sadej’s Work at Ties That Bind: Collage & Fibre Art

Stills of Michelle Casey’s Work at Ties That Bind: Collage & Fibre Art


Ties That Bind: Collage & Fibre Art Exhibition Coming Soon!

Hello! As I type this I’m crazy busy preparing for my exhibition/opening next week with artist Krystyna Sadej. I’ve spent the last month and a half preparing 10 new pieces for the show. I’m putting the finishing touches on one last piece and the rest of the work has been photographed and is in the midst of being framed. Krystyna and I recently scoped out the gallery to determine how we will configure the space. Gallery 112 has moveable walls and this is the first time we’ve ever shown in a space where we decide where the walls will be placed! It’s quite cool and challenging. As you may remember, Krystyna is a big time recycler; her fibre pieces are made out of the most amazing things like VCR tape, wrapping paper ribbons, plastic shopping, garbage bags and even human hair! She weaves these elements into elegant fashion wear and stunning, sparkling tapestries. Her work is definitely a must see. Drawing on each other’s imaginative worlds a number of our pieces were inspired by the earthly, intergalactic and celestial spheres. Seeing each other’s works unfold over time has been a truly magical and eye-opening experience for both of us. We are so proud of the pieces we have to share with you!

We would love to see you at the opening on Friday, April 24, 2015, 6-9 pm. If you can’t make it, the exhibition will be held for two months (April 20 to July 24, 2015), so there’s still plenty of time to see it. For you out-of-towners, I’ll be sharing photos of the opening and new works on my blog and portfolio pages so you won’t miss out on anything. Below are further details about the show…

Marilyn Dreams…


Michelle Casey, Marilyn Dreams 2, Collage/Mixed Media, 3.5 x 6 inches, February 2015

Michelle Casey, Marilyn Dreams 2, Collage/Mixed Media, 3.5 x 6 inches, February 2015

Marilyn Monroe reading in her bedroom, 1951

Marilyn Monroe reading in her bedroom, 1951

Like many artists, when I create a piece, I never know how it will be received. Although nerve wracking at times, this is the most thrilling part of art making. I became an artist, after all, because I love to speak visually to communicate something to viewers. When they respond, whether it’s with positive, negative or constructive feedback, I’m delighted that someone has acknowledged my message! As mentioned in my recent newsletter, I just completed another collage dedicated to Marilyn Monroe, an actress I feel a great affinity to. A double-sided triptych entitled “A Girl’s Best Friend” (Side 1) and “Marilyn Dreams” (Side 2), it elicited some interesting responses from Facebook friends when I posted it in February. Today I want to share a couple of these comments with you.

The inspiration for this collage began with a quote from Marilyn: “The nicest thing for me is sleep, then I can at least dream.” Upon reading it, I wondered how disillusioned she must have felt to find no place for dreaming in her waking world. On the outside it seemed like she was living a dream life as a popular actress, however this wasn’t case if you’ve read any of her biographies. As I speculated about the things that haunted her, I assembled fragments of a possible dreamscape: a wolf, an antler chandelier, a top hat, a nest, an elegant breast and a pair of the floating lips… things that are part of my “Marilynscape”… the surreal territory of her subconscious… the place that questioned her life and career choices.

Upon viewing the piece, two Facebook colleagues, an artist and a writer, were struck by the body parts I’d chosen. One noted how iconic they were; so instantly recognizable as Marilyn’s even when copied by others in film and advertising. Indeed, the parts I’d chosen for the collage also belonged to other fashion models. Pop artist Andy Warhol even immortalized her face. Like the relics of Christian saints, Marilyn’s body fragments have become a sacred part of popular history.

Man Ray, The Lovers/A l'heure de l'observatoire, les Amoureux, Oil on Canvas, 100 x 250.4 cm, 1932-34

Man Ray, The Lovers/A l'heure de l'observatoire, les Amoureux, Oil on Canvas, 100 x 250.4 cm, 1932-34

Full, bright red, those lips reminded me of Surrealist artist Man Ray’s piece, The Lovers (1932-34). Here an enormous pair of woman’s lips floats across the evening sky. These are the lips of his departed lover and muse Lee Miller; many have pondered if they symbolized a nightmare or erotic fantasy for the artist. A similar question was posed to me by another colleague who wondered whether the floating lips in my collage were an invitation to seduction or a silent scream. They reminded him of pair of lips he’d seen in Samuel Beckett’s theatrical production “Not I” (1973). Fascinated, I immediately googled a video excerpt on Youtube. In this piece Beckett projects a large scale film portrait of actress Billie Whitelaw’s lips on a screen to the audience. Whitelaw portrays a woman who’s undergone a series of traumatic life events which she spews out to viewers with break neck speed and emotional intensity. With only her mouth to give guidance to her character, her delivery is frenetic and ghostly. It was both a liberating and nightmarish performance to watch. As I weighed up this piece with my work, images of the unfortunate events of Marilyn’s life sprang to mind… a string of failed marriages; an ill-fated love affair with John F. Kennedy and her futile attempts to prove herself a respectable actress to her Hollywood peers. I imagined how this must have driven her to the brink of madness. Akin to the owner of Beckett’s disembodied lips, I realized that those luscious red lips which so often represented an invitation to sexual pleasure could also be viewed as a cry of anguish and regret; perhaps even outrage for all the unrealized dreams she had locked inside her. It was an “aha moment” for me; one I never anticipated when I created the piece. It was poignant one I would’ve never arrived at without the observations of viewers.

As an artist, besides making a living from my art, there is no greater satisfaction than when my art speaks to people and they are compelled to share their own experiences of it with me. When they do, my work becomes a newer and richer experience for me. And, it’s only then I know that what I’ve created has truly taken on a life of its own. As scientist Victor Frankenstein would say: “It’s Alive!”

Special thanks to Aaron Lubbert and Phil Smith for enlightening me with their thoughts. Thanks too to all those who took the time to send positive feedback as well as Youtube videos and gorgeous photos of Marilyn. It was great to incite a feeling of community around this amazing and talented actress whose light continues to shine brightly many decades after her passing.

Other Related Links:
What’s in a Namesake?
Me, Vanessa, Marilyn & John

Lynne Cohen: Artist & Friend

Lynne Cohen, Photographer

Lynne Cohen, Photographer

These past few years I’ve been blogging about a friend and mentor who had cancer. Last spring photographer Lynne Cohen died after a lengthy and ferocious battle with lung cancer. I say ferocious because although she was given a very short time to live she found ways to beat the odds for a long while, continuing to show her work around the world, publish books and even participate in the making of a film about her work. I watched in awe; not even cancer could stop her indomitable spirit. Lovingly supported by her partner Andrew, Lynne kept on putting her work out there until virtually the very last moment of her life.

I met Lynne Cohen at university while studying fine art. She was my photography professor and I learned much from her. What I loved about her was that she didn’t treat us like students; she viewed us as potential working professionals. She took one look at our portfolios and was able to direct us to significant artists working in a similar vein. Learning more about the lives and work of these artists enabled us to gain insight into our own work and role as artists; this helped us to grow tremendously and eventually find our place in the field. Lynne’s classes were full of lively debate. For her, art wasn’t just about making pretty pictures; it was about transforming the world; taking responsibility for the imagery we put out there as well as engaging with other artists around the world to enlarge the scope of our vision.

Lynne Cohen, Untitled Red Door, 2008

Lynne Cohen, Untitled Red Door, 2008

Originally a sculptor, Lynne switched to photography. The spaces she photographed looked very much like art installations that were already set up: a medical or corporate office, a neighbour’s quaint living room, spas, laboratories even ballrooms, but they weren’t. She ferreted them out from her own neighbourhood and around the globe! Photographing them as she found them and presenting them in the hopes that viewers would carefully observe the details within them and come to their own conclusions about the work. Some photos are disturbing while others offer a humourous glimpse of the world through her observant eye — revealing both sides of her beautifully intelligent and sensitive nature. When I look at Lynne’s prolific body of work, I feel it should have been sent off with the Voyageur space probes because it would give space aliens a pretty good idea of how our civilization is and has been shaping itself for better or worse.

Another facet of Lynne I loved was that she kept in touch with me and she supported my art for over a decade. She never scolded me for being lax but always gently nudged me to put my work out there; push it to higher levels and to apply for artist grants when I was out of work — things I wouldn’t have had the courage to do otherwise. I could ask her for a letter of reference and, no matter how busy she was, she’d have one ready for me in an instant. “I’m just flying to France tomorrow for an exhibition but I’ll have it for you first thing in the morning”, she’d say! When I applied for my masters at a local university she accompanied me to the faculty and highly recommended me as a potential student. With her backing, I was accepted on the spot. Lynne’s commitment to her students even after they graduated from school was exceptional. She never had any children of her own, but I always thought in a way that we were like her kids.

For the past several years Lynne and I had been meeting with our spouses from to time for brunch in Montreal. It was fun to get to know her on a personal level. I continued to be amazed by her generous spirit. While she taught me about creating meaningful art and being a serious artist, one of the things I ultimately learned through her example was the importance of mentoring fellow artists. No matter what level of an artist you are, I feel there’s always something you can do to assist another artist who needs help. This latter issue is important in the field of fine art which is not known for its generosity or mentorship for beginning artists (especially those over the age of 35 and beyond). During my early career I met many professional artists who saw me struggling and never bothered to advise me. Lynne, an exceptionally busy artist, always took the time to look at my latest work, whether it be fine art or craft, and offer constructive critique. If she couldn’t make my shows, she never failed to send her congratulations and support. I admired and appreciated her so much for this. It’s something I also want to extend to you today in honour of her memory… to help mentor or support an artist you know who may be in need. You can give something as simple as recommending a course, a book, a show; offering words of encouragement when they are down… even some constructive critique of their art. Not only will it help them grow, you may learn something in return as well as extend your network of artist friends. In doing so, we can create a good sense of community among artists in our communities and around the world as well as a renewed sense of goodness in humanity.

Thanks to you my dear Lynne. You have been one of the most memorable sources of influence and inspiration in my journey as an artist. Thanks too you too dear Andrew for taking such good care of her while she was here and for helping to preserve her legacy.

Other Related Links:
Part II: The Fabric & Patterns of Everyday Life

Happy 2015 & Catching Up with CYW Events

Top left to right: Sharon's famous butter tart squares; Wendy's sister Nancy; Sharon Michaelson; Michelle Casey; Visitors to the Studio and Wendy Southin, November 2014

Top left to right: Sharon's famous butter tart squares; Wendy's sister Nancy; Sharon Michaelson; Michelle Casey; Visitors to the Studio and Wendy Southin, November 2014

Hello! Happy New Year!!! I hope you all survived the holidays and are all doing well. My New Year’s resolution is to simply catch up with you all and get back into the steady rhythm of blogging again. So today I thought I’d share some photos of Wendy Southin’s Christmas November 2014 Open House with you. There was a great turn out for the event with approximately 40 visitors to Dragonfly Dreamers Studio… a new record!

Allow me to introduce you to the small group of artists and crafters participating…

Sharon Michaelson knitted some gorgeous multi-coloured socks and scarves for the occasion. A cool thing about one of the wools she was using was that it extracted colours from famous paintings for its tones. I was so excited by this that I exchanged one of my collages with Sharon for a pair of handmade socks whose colours were drawn from a Vincent Van Gogh landscape painting! Besides wowing us with her knitting, Sharon also made the most delicious butter tart squares I’ve ever tasted… I’ll be sharing the recipe with you soon!

Joni Newman owner of Quirks and Quilts displayed her handmade quilts and patterns. Known for her striking compositions of Ontario’s Algonquin Park, a long-time Canadian painter’s paradise, Joni’s inspiration comes from her visits to the area. She teaches quilting and embroidery workshops in the city as well as parts of Ontario. A natural born story teller, it’s awesome to hear her recount the history behind the making of her pieces.

Pencil artist, Sheila Cain-Sample, well known for her beautifully detailed black & white and colour pencil drawings, handsome monograms and fine intricate Zentangle designs was also there. Sheila gives Zentangling workshops at Dragonfly Dreamers studio – I highly recommend them; she’s an extremely skilled and warm-hearted instructor.

Our hostess and craft show wonder woman, Wendy Southin, displayed her gorgeous array of steam-punk and nature-inspired copper jewellery. Wendy puts in an enormous amount of time and reflection into creating her pieces. She endlessly experiments and challenges herself with new materials and techniques to work with. I marvel at her ability to balance doing umpteen craft shows a year while teaching fabulous journaling, jewellery and mixed media workshops at Dragonfly Dreamers Studio. Every student that walks out of her place absolutely beams at the results of what they’ve created there… including yours truly.

Although Clare Gallant of Old Farm House Soap wasn’t on hand to sell her amazing handmade soaps, lip balms, lotions and body scrubs, they were a big hit. This time of year, with our frigid temperatures making the skin so dry, it’s nice to treat yourself to one of her homemade lightly-scented aromatic delights!

Last but not least, I was there along with 13 new handmade collage cards, some of which were framed and matted as well as zines, postcards and fine art card prints. I had many lively discussions with visitors all of whom were simply mad about collaging, so much so I’m happy to announce that I’m thinking of holding a workshop at Dragonfly Dreamers Studio in the late spring! Will keep you posted.

A huge thanks to Wendy and Tom Southin for hosting such a wonderful and memorable event!

Need a little New Year’s lift? You may be interested in reading my blog article Put All Your Troubles in a God Jar… .

Exciting News from Collage Your World!

Michelle Casey, "Secret Garden", Collage/Mixed Media, 5 x 7 inches, February 2014

Michelle Casey, "Secret Garden", Collage/Mixed Media, 5 x 7 inches, February 2014

I’m excited to share some great news with you. This spring a collage of mine, “Secret Garden” was selected to be published in Lesley Riley’s new book: Inspirational Quotes Illustrated: Art and Words to Motivate!* After admiring and drawing inspiration from her work and methods for a number of years, it was a real high to be a part of this project. My work is included among those of many artists from various backgrounds (fibre, assemblage, digital artists, etc.). Our goal for the book was to create a piece which revolved around a quote.

As some of you know, I’ve been collecting quotes for some time now on Pinterest.  Although it was hard to pick only one great quotation to work with, I finally did! Guided by my intuition and a statement by author John Green, I had no idea pre-conceived idea of what my final piece would be… I let the paper fragments on my studio table guide me as to where they would go!  Green’s statement: “If you don’t imagine, nothing ever happens at all” intrigued me enough to explore the visual challenge his words presented. In a nut shell I let my activities in my studio take me on a journey back to my childhood. Working with a children’s fashion magazine; tracings from Johanna Basford’s Secret Garden colouring book (which I had been working in at the time) and experimenting with my new Tim Holtz Distress markers, I began to contemplate the implications of the quote and its relationship to collage… for me it’s always such a magical and surreal process.  Whenever I collage I feel like a magician presenting the viewer the various pieces I work with and then letting it all come together in their imaginations.

You know, I haven’t entered work in a competition for a while or put out work for publication so I really appreciated the opportunity Leslie’s project extended to me. If you’ve never done so before, I highly encourage you to take a chance and apply for competitions so you can get your art work out there for all to see. As well as great potential local, national and international coverage for my art and/or business, the opportunity to connect with others who are just as passionate about art as me is the greatest bonus of doing what I do. It creates so many new learning experiences and opportunities to network with some phenomenal artists.

Copies of Lesley’s book are available on Amazon; see link: Inspirational Quotes Illustrated… for more details as well as a sneak peek of some pages – it’s pretty amazing! If you have creative friends who love to collect books about quotations this would make a unique and wonderful Christmas or Birthday gift. Speaking of Christmas, this winter I’ll be sending out a postcard print of my collage to all those you whose real world addresses I have… if you’d like to be included, please send me your mailing address. Special thanks to my photographer Peter Farris-Manning for dealing with the challenges photographing this piece presented… he did such a great job!

*Note: The book will be available in mid November 2014.

Visual References for Secret Garden Collage:

Mountainscape fragment from photo by Hiroyuki Masuyama, Sleek Magazine, 32, Winter 2011/12.

Headless girl fragment from photo by Karal Balas from H&M ad in Milk magazine (English edition), no. 37, September 2012.

Flower drawing fragment by Johanna Basford from Secret Garden: Laurence King Publishing, 2013.

Head of young girl fragment may have been found in above-mentioned Milk magazine reference in a smaller ad.

Other Related Links:
Awakening the Secret Garden Within
Awakening the Secret Garden Within Part II
Artist Mentors I: Paul Lowry, Madman or Genius

Fall 2014 Daily Ephemera Workshop

Artist Johanne Leveille incorporates her practice of Shodoo and passion for Japanese culture into the Daily Ephemera Workshop (fall, 2014)

Artist Johanne Leveille incorporates her practice of Shodoo and passion for Japanese culture into the Daily Ephemera Workshop (fall, 2014)

This September I held a one-on-one daily ephemera workshop with student artist Johanne Leveille, a CYW list-member and friend. Johanne and I have kept in touch these past few years and finally found time to take each other’s workshops. In the summer, after visiting a Shodoo art exhibition of hers, we decided we loved each other’s mediums so much we’d exchange workshops. Johanne teaches Shodoo (pronounced Shodoe), the practice of painting Japanese words. Not exactly calligraphy (although it does resemble it), Shodoo captures the visual essence of a word; it’s like a pictogram or hieroglyph. It was a valuable experience learning from Johanne because not only does she instruct this Japanese ritual, having studied and lived there, she’s also very knowledgeable in the country’s cultural aspects making the class a much richer experience. Excited by what I had learned from the workshop and her deep passion for Shodoo, I encouraged her to come to my workshop holding the medium close to her heart to see if she could utilize some of its aspects in her daily ephemera collage journaling.

Johanne Leveille's journal pages are inspired by Zen gardening and Shodoo. The characters on the top left page signify the words filial and kindness or a positive feeling related to thoughtfulness.

Johanne Leveille's journal pages are inspired by Zen gardening and Shodoo. The characters on the top left page signify the words filial and kindness or a positive feeling related to thoughtfulness.

Like many students, fearing she hadn’t done enough collage, Johanne wasn’t sure how she’d fare in the class; even still, she diligently collected items for her journal over a month and was courageous enough during the class, to challenge herself using collage bits I’d offered her as well. Creating three pages in about an hour, she was surprised and pleased at how much she’d accomplished in such a short time. I was sure her minimalist style which was so evident in her Japanese painting would make its way into her collaging, and it did! Johanne’s speed was facilitated by the fact that she had practiced a painstaking form of Japanese collage called kimpaku and that she was familiar with gluing various Asian hand-made papers. Integrating her understanding of Ikebana and Japanese gardening into her pages as well, she created a fascinating rose/maze garden. She also brought Japanese word forms into play too by blending characters with each other creating cool hybrid mixes with them… such an amazing and innovative gesture! How many times have we as artists used Japanese or other exotic characters or words in our pieces without knowing what they meant! I’m so guilty of this! Although it’s fun to use foreign languages to create mystique in our art, it’s even better when we can use them to their full effect by understanding the meanings behind the words. I think Johanne’s ability to use her intimate knowledge of Japanese writing is something unique she can use to extend the boundaries of using text and visuals in collaging; I hope she’ll experiment with it some more. She’s made a great start by committing to journal twice a week. Just recently she shared the addition of eight new fabulous pages in her journal with me! Finding the process both uplifting and stimulating, she sent me this spontaneous poem she wrote inspired by the workshop:


Collaging away
Pictures, paper and colour
Vivid expression

Other Related Links:
Tapestries of Time: Refrigerator Door Art
Daily Ephemera Collection List for Journaling
Creating Collage Using Daily Life Ephemera
Going Gaga for Magazine Textures

Having a Good Mail Art Day

Michelle Casey, Frida Kahlo-inspired collage mail art, 2014

Michelle Casey, Frida Kahlo-inspired collage mail art, 2014

Earlier this year artist Tina Morris (UK) sent me a fabulous package of mail art. It contained several postcard prints of her awesome abstract paintings as well as a Frida Kahlo-inspired collage she’d recently made: a provocative piece in which she skilfully adorned an image of Kahlo with a jewelled crown instantly transforming her into royalty! When I agreed to exchange mail art with Tina, I was expecting one handmade postcard; I never expected to receive so many souvenirs of her art! It was a magical feeling and it gave me a better sense of her art beyond what I’d seen on Facebook (where we met). Naturally, I was bent on sending her something equally wonderful and surprising. So, as Tina is a HUGE Frida fan, I thought I’d concoct something Kahlo-inspired and came up with this diptych (in progress). As a big fan of the Mexican painter myself, I admire the her for leaving such an impressive legacy of art despite the physical and emotional pain she endured during life.

Tina Morris, Frida Kahlo-inspired collage mail art, 2014

Tina Morris, Frida Kahlo-inspired collage mail art, 2014

It’s so thrilling to receive real mail art in this age of email . Tina is one of a number of on-line friends I’ve never actually met except through the pieces of art we’ve exchanged. As a result, I’ve gotten to know to the depth of their creative spirits better. Each one of them has inspired me to extend the boundaries of my art making. For quite some time I never even realized mail art existed as medium. Last year, I picked up a great book on the subject: Good Mail Day: A Primer for Making Eye-Popping Postal Art by Jennie Hinchcliff and Carolee Wheeler. I whole-heartedly agree with the book’s authors when they say that receiving mail art transforms your mailbox into a gallery! Their very comprehensive text covers the subject from practical and historical dimensions; as well as, featuring numerous exciting examples of the craft. Conceived in the twentieth century with the birth of the postal system, mail art has been practiced by several fine art movements since the 1920’s: the Dadaists, Futurists and Surrealists to name a few. Today a whole host of fine artists and crafters practice it. It’s a very inclusive genre; like artist trading cards (ATCs) anyone can participate in creating and exchanging mail art (for free, of course).

Since I took the mail art challenge, my “gallery” has been filled with works by artists from Canada, the USA, the Netherlands, the UK and France*. Mail art encourages and deepens friendships as well as fostering art making. Even if you live in the same city (as the authors of Good Mail Day did), you can still cultivate your skills and relationships by sending mail. Besides, it doesn’t hurt to receive a gift of art in the post every now and again instead of bills and junk mail! If you’ve haven’t got anyone to exchange with, I’d be happy to trade with you! * Note: Mail art works include: custom-made envelopes, letterhead, postcards, artist trading cards (ATCs) and zines. I’ve even received miniature assemblages in the form of small mint tins filled with tiny art works, books, notes, Chinese fortunes (from cookies), beads, badges, even a lemon-scented tea bag… all from my good friend Diane Salter. One day soon, I’ll be making a sample to trade with a lucky reader… perhaps it will be you!

BONUS!: I’ll give away a free sample of my latest collage stationary to anyone who leaves a comment on this blog entry.

Other Related Links:
Frida Kahlo: Wielding the Brush of Anguish
My New Collage Stationary
How to Make a Collaged Envelope
Collage Your Own Stationary
Rebecca Henretta’s Design into World Blog: Kitsch Design

Tales from the Observer: Everyday Inspiration

Each year, I turn to numerous books to inspire my collage and mixed media work. While a handful prove extremely useful, the rest end up being added to my library of cool books I never finish reading! As I begin to use my cell phone camera on a daily basis, taking it with me wherever I go, I find that life provides me with free design examples everywhere; ones I can draw on for my art. As an avid walker and public transit user, I encounter these visual gems on my excursions throughout the city and in moments of everyday life: at home; on the sidewalk; in the sky; at the mall or on a bus. For me they’re like finding hidden treasure. Although I don’t always seek them out, they always pop up, even when I’m just standing in my bedroom figuring out what to wear… I’ll see a pile of stuff on my dressing table and suddenly have an aha moment! Here are some examples:

As discussed in my previous blogs, store windows offer amazing compositional insights. Their transparent reflections allow us to see a variety of layers of reality: sky, architecture, nature, our own reflection, etc. all fused together to create stunning seamless effects. When it comes to collaging with your camera you can use your photos of reflections straight or reproduce similar effects by printing one or more images on transparencies and layering them on top of each other on your piece. In this photo I was struck by the image of a Bat Girl poster in a display window which was located behind an ad (on the glass) for coffee. The light rays (lines) emanating from the cup lent the super heroine a saintly air – for centuries these light rays have been used to indicate a kind of heavenly or supernatural light in art. (See Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s sculptural installation: “Ecstasy of Saint Theresa” for a stunning use of this). Jerry Uelsmann’s is one of the masters of mixing realties through his collage-like photography (photomontage); see Legends Online for more on his work.

Imagine my surprise when I entered a change room and discovered this life-sized Dada-inspired collage! The 1920’s Dada art movement jump-started collaging as a popular medium in the twentieth century. The collage here reminds me of a popular Raoul Hausmann piece: “ABCD”. I love the in-your-face exaggerated scale of the eyes and teeth of this headless character and the way the diamond’s clenched between its teeth.

Cruising past a funky teen clothing store, I was excited to see fashion photos and a mix of text styles integrated on a magnetic board. I like the fun, casual, feel of the playful writing and how it contrasts with the more polished fashion images beside it.

A stroll through my favourite fashion accessory store provided me with this brilliant idea for showcasing jewellery. I love the mixed media feel pinning the earrings onto a drawing has here; it ignites all kinds of card-making and journaling possibilities for me.

I stumbled upon what looked like a kind of funky Egyptian wall mural in our downtown market area. This large wooden board painted with hundreds of eyes rests in someone’s living room window! I love the way it anthropomorphizes the house and at the same time acts as a kind of ancient hieroglyphic warning to the onlooker that they too are being watched!

I love to walk through Ottawa’s Chinatown; it’s covered with a wide variety of cool graffiti and murals. This one I discovered shortly after taking a Shodoo workshop with artist Johanne Leveille; Shodoo is the practice of painting Japanese* words.  Unfamiliar with Asian text and encountering something akin to it on this electrical box intrigued me. I wonder, Johanne, do you know if this an actual character and, if yes, what it means?

This ad of an astronaut seems to be custom designed for its location floating among the trees! It adds a surreal and comical air to the photo with its allusions to the real and cartoon worlds. This creative strategy of mixing realties is what makes collaging and mixed media so exceptional. Artist/illustrator Claudine Hellmuth uses it effectively in her collages; see The Sister Project for examples of her work.

As jewellery and other found objects pile up on my dresser, things get as messy and as beautiful they do on my collage table! It takes me a while to put things away but as they start to pile up I begin to see interesting patterns emerge; ones I can use for future compositional layouts. Here, I like the way the line of beaded jewellery and pearls connects with the race car or the curve of the tear-like shapes found on the vintage necklace (lower right corner).

I hope these examples will motivate your collage/mixed media making. Has everyday life inspired your art making? If so, I’d love to hear your stories and see your pieces.

* Note: As well as Japan, Shodoo is practiced in China and Korea.

Other Related Links:
CYW: Collaging With Your Camera
CYW: Tales from the Observer: Art, Display & Installation
MoMA Learning: Dada

A Symphony in Thread: The Tapestry of Anna Torma

What do gardens, anatomical figures and monsters all have in common? Among other motifs, they all happily inhabit the fibres of Anna Torma’s embroidered tapestries. Reminiscent of a frenzied personal graffiti, the Hungarian-born artist’s dynamically composed pieces never fail to completely captivate viewers’ imaginations. Influenced by the work of artists: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cy Twombly and Kiki Smith, Torma’s tapestries are a synthesis of the everyday rituals of sewing and embroidery she learned as a child from her mother and grandmothers. Along with painting, they form the basis of hundreds of personal narratives which literally explode and even dance upon the layers of her silk and organza tapestries. Comparing herself to a composer, she tells me she “orchestrates” her life experiences and knowledge into the coloured threads of her art which lays bare fantastic, whimsical, primitive-style imagery and diary-like stream-of-conscious thought.

Last year I had the opportunity to view a small exhibition of Torma’s pieces at the Lafrenière and Pai Gallery (Ottawa) for the first time*. I was amazed at their large scale and intricate designs. I was also very impressed that they were sewn and embroidered so that they could be viewed from both sides. After seeing the show, I was excited to take in a much larger exhibition of hers, Bagatelles, which was held in July (2014) at the Karsh-Masson Gallery (Ottawa). In conjunction with the exhibition, Torma gave a talk in which she animatedly relayed her creative process. Many were surprised to learn that, like painting or sculpture, embroidery too was considered a fine art/craft. After seeing the exhibition I, for one, am definitely adding embroidery to my wish list of skills!

Bagatelles: Highlights & Details of Anna Torma’s Tapestries

The term “Bagatelles” refers to the domestic rituals of women: embroidery, sewing and gardening, etc..

Layering thread, paint, fabric and text, Torma’s work is a kindred spirit of collage and mixed media art. Having internalized sewing at young age, it’s fascinating to her hear speak of embroidery as a basic skill like “writing.

Shunning a cohesive narrative (story) her dynamic compositions act as memory triggers inviting viewers to become active members in making sense of her work.

Inspired by a trip to Paris where she visited several gardens, this motif crops up again and again in her work. Pictured here is detail of Eden, the garden of biblical fame.

Drawings of dinosaurs, monsters and other scary creatures that lurk in the recesses of her tapestries are made by her children.

The human body is another striking theme in Torma’s art. Using anatomical drawings from nurses’ reference charts, she transforms these cold, rational scientific drawings into ones charged with emotion.  It’s interesting to note she had once dreamed of joining the medical profession.

For me as well as the local critics and viewers (see review below), Bagatelles was a tour de force. I went back to visit it three times because it gave me so much to contemplate and revel in. Many thanks to Anna Torma for giving me permission to take and use photos of her show for this entry. Also, thanks to my good friend fibre artist Krystyna Sadej for introducing me to Torma’s work.

Other Related Links:
Anna Torma: Bagatelles: City of Ottawa, Karsh-Masson Gallery
Anna Torma’s Bagatelles is a triumph in silk by Peter Simpson
Kiki Smith Sewing and Drawing
Bayeux Tapestry