Thursday, February 25, 2016

People Become Stories When They Die

work in progress: Who Were You, Who You Were 30 x 31.5 inches, archival stamp ink on paper

Two years ago I'd asked my dad if he could send me a few photo albums all the way from Wisconsin. I requested one album in particular which had an achromatic photo of my mom's sisters in creepy halloween masks which was probably taken in the late 50's or early 60's.  My dad searched through endless photo albums and, distracted by the halloween request, instead sent me a few from my brother's childhood--which for the record included an amazing picture of my brother and his friends dressed as a gorilla, a Smurf, and Garfield--the latter two the kind with a hard plastic mask and shiny plastic bag for the costume.  I laughed and scoffed (like a crappy teenager) at our game-of-telephone, but thought there might be something special in the mix-up.

I'm a sucker for the color ochre. All of my brother's childhood photos have a lovely patina of gold or sea green.  Although we are nine years apart, there were a lot of overlaps in the things we did for fun since we grew up in the same tiny town, and looking through these photos made me smell and hear and taste all the things I remembered from my own.  It mostly smells like grass and dirt and sun. Do you remember how your knees smelled when you were a kid?

Several of these photos were used as inspiration in 2014 in my series Your Shadow's Shadow. They feature my brother (who's very much alive and expecting a babe with my lovely sis-in-law) and our mom who died of cancer in 2010. They were so young and so alive in the photos. Both have the sweetest teeth-concealing smiles. Mischievous.  It's so strange now, nearly six years later trying to re-materialize this woman. Who was she? Every relived memory I have of her degrades itself and disappears each time I recall--my new memory superimposing itself on the original, like the cancer that took over her brain and body. On top of this, there are so many missing stories.  Who this person was before she had us kids, who she was when she was a kid herself, how did she personally navigate the gossip and smallness of Waubeka, Wisconsin?

I have vague ideas of the answers to these questions.  She raised me, after all.  I have so many traits and behaviors that I can see translating directly from her in myself.  From the stories I remember, I can imagine how she felt after the nuns made her drink spoiled milk, and what she did when she discovered my brother's bio-dad was cheating on her, the cute story of how she and our dad met through their mutual mechanic, or how she'd go dancing at Wyler's on Saturday nights with her girlfriends.  But for us, naturally self-centered kids, she had to emit such a gleaming, endlessly caring M-O-M; we can only wonder what these experiences were to her.  These thoughts and actions simmering in her quiet, secret strength behind her kind and meek exterior. This woman who made us butter-heavy meals, had laugh-attacks with us, and dozed off on the couch while we played with her hair even though she woke up at 3am to build engines in a factory.

I reopened these albums again this year.  This latest grid-based series is based on family photos, allowing me to excavate these wonderings in a superficial way, I suppose.  I found a few of mom and I in my brother's album--I'm guessing this (above) is from 1989. I say superficial because I'm not going to find the answers to these questions here, but it's been interesting and reflective for me to re-draw photos from my own family.  Maybe I'm a shit-head, but I always thought our family photos looked boring. They were recognizable, things I experienced in real life. When I go to Smut and flip through their suitcase of Instant Relatives, even the mundane looks exciting because I've never seen it before. 

This drawing is allowing me to illuminate the mundane. Now that I don't have access to knowing our mom in real life, it's no longer mundane because people become stories when they die. 

I began by scoring a grid into the paper using my etching needle. Using quarter-inch diamond stamps (hand carved from a polymer eraser--thanks to the lovely JJ from PDXCC for the tip!) as my only tools and four colors (CMYK) of archival stamp ink, I slowly and methodically tiptoe from the bottom to the top. Everything about this process is like a last-ditch effort to be a printmaker, but not.

It's been so fun to navigate through the color and to carefully try to make the most out of as few marks as possible.  I can't go backwards once the stamp is down, just like with the typewriter.  I like having the opportunity to make irrevocable mistakes, which is probably what led me to printmaking in the first place.

But am I painting?  I'm stubbornly labeling myself as a printmaker/drawer; plus the methods I'm using are a departure from my typewriter drawings, so I really don't think so. It could be a monotype. It's definitely a drawing.  I feel like it can't be a painting because painting is loose, and you can paint over it, and you can use an endless variety of tools--but there are endless ways to make prints and draw and maybe my lack of painting-knowledge is making me pigeon-hole what painting is. Hm.

In any case, I am super thrilled to be near completion with the first piece for my upcoming solo show: Who Were You, Who You Were on view at Café Lulu, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, from April 15 - May 31, 2016.  The opening reception will be held in conjunction with Bayview Gallery Night on Friday, April 15 from 5 - 9pm.  So excited to share this work, in particular, back home.

Postcard (coming soon!) for my upcoming solo show.

If anyone would like a postcard sent to them, please email me your mailing address:

Detail shots below.  Have a beautiful day.