In Flight Behavior, author Barbara Kingsolver astutely details the differences in class in America. In one scene, the main (lower class) character is talking with a (socially privileged) environmental crusader. The environmentalist preaches about air travel, restaurants, bottled water, but she doesn't ever fly, can rarely afford restaurants, and drinks well water. It made me think about my own class, and how that affects my art.
The artist (in back) and her younger brother, Louis.
Although my family was 1950s middle class economically (a house, a car, a lawn), we were several steps down culturally. Our only newspaper was the local rag. The Reader's Digest and a few technical manuals for my Dad were the only books in the house. My Mom did take us to the Clifton library, where we were confined to the kids section. My very strict Catholic family kept us morally safe and culturally deprived. I remember when I got old enough to babysit, waiting until the kids were asleep so I could check out family bookshelves - my only early access to adult literature. Starting as a freshman art major at the local college, a professor was amazed that I had never been to the Museum of Modern Art, in nearby NYC....but my family didn't go to museums. My Catholic high school gave me four years of religion classes and Latin classes and not one art class.
I'm admitting all this to explain how it influenced my art. While I didn't have access to what should have been readily available culture, I did have some tangible materials and enough lack of supervision to develop a strong sense of bricolage. I built small villages in the backyard with twigs and stones. With friends, I used discarded lumber to build a clubhouse with lots of rusty nails pointing in. Give me some cardboard and enough masking tape and I can build anything.
Remember the scene in Apollo 13, where the workers on earth are given a bunch of materials and told that this is what the astronauts have available on the spaceship, and told to figure out how to clean their air using only what you have here? YES! That's exactly my skill set! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ry55--J4_VQ
In last week's post, I explained how I use photoshop on collected images to create my designs, copy from the masters for my colors, and steal the African armor style for my backings. It's all bricolage - making art from whatever I can get my hands on. As a child, I wore a LOT of hand-me-downs. As an artist, most of my materials are found at garage sales
A few years ago, in a small museum of tools, I saw a display of shivs - weapons created in prison using only the toothbrushes, forks and other materials available. I suppose my reaction was different from most people. I saw a fierce creativity that I could relate to. What if your environment was so impoverished that your entire life had to be created form scratch?
This is a photo of my shiv person in progress. I was using photoshop to move images around - the sock stretcher has just been lifted from the right side of the page and placed on the figure. The outside frame is constructed from roadside political campaign signs that I harvested after elections. All the pulley, kitchen utensils and tools are connected with wire, duct tape and strips of denim.
The finished piece. The rib cage is an old multi-layer hanger, upside down.
The head, constructed inside an old lampshade section, is stuffed with toys, tools and religious paraphernalia, then painted white.
We all have advantages and drawbacks in our upbringing. I've known 10-year-olds in inner-city schools who had trouble reading but could cook a full meal from scratch. And educationally enriched students who don't know which end of a hammer to hold. The other members of my crit group have cleaning ladies and gardeners. They have better art vocabularies and are totally at ease speaking with gallery owners. I can fake social skills pretty well, and I have built a happy life stitching together the gleanings of my world.