Collages by Sheena, Queen of the Hallway aka Jo Ann Tunnell Muench

 

I think of growing old more often than I ever did before. To be honest, before I turned 60, I managed to compartmentalize growing old into one of those things that I just did not allow myself to think about. But, at 59 I found I had breast cancer and time suddenly became more relevant. 

 

I was fortunate. My breast cancer was in the very early stages. I had surgery. I had radiation. I go every six months for a terrifying mammogram and sonogram (terrifying because I've never lost the fear that the cancer will return). I manage to keep that thought at the back of my mind until about 3 weeks before my scheduled appointment. It's always a trauma. Probably it always will be.

 

I'm 65-1/2 now and I have grown used to thinking about being old. I guess some people would say I am old now but I don't think like an old person, act like an old person, or dress like an old person. But, there's no doubt, I am getting older. That makes my art and the creative aspects of life all the more important. I don't have years and years of time to express all the feelings I have and the things I want to say and the things I want to do. 

 

Little things become more precious. A "normal" day is to be savored. Aches and pains are just part of the territory. In some ways, I feel as awkward as a "young old person" than I did as a budding teenager. It's really a similar experience to going through adolescence.  The body that you thought you knew so well suddenly changes and becomes unpredictable. Your emotions are heightened and everything seems just a bit more special. You need sleep and good food and safety but that is always true. 

 

I quit painting for many, many years because someone who was very important to me said things that I construed to be negative things about my art and my potential. Looking back after all these years, I realize the naysayer didn't cause my block. I caused my block by giving him way too much power. I have grown to trust my own gut instincts and my intuition and pay less attention to what so-called know-it-alls have to say. Yes, the person was wrong to humiliate and shame me. I hold him accountable for that. But I could have ignored what he had to say knowing that he was known to destroy peoples' dreams. I had been warned. But, of course, I thought things would be different for me. This should serve as a warning to trust yourself when it comes to creativity. Do what you know and what you feel. Be you. Don't try to be anything other than who you are. The sum of all your experiences will come through in your work. 

 

And, never, ever, put all your trust and all your hopes on one person...unless that person is you. It's unfair to the other person and it will only make you inauthentic. One reason I love folk art and truly love naive art is that there is no pretense. Lord, I hate intellectual pretensions; especially when connected to creativity. It's so damn boring. I am off the subject of getting old but the belief in my own true self is something that has evolved slowly through my life. I think that is something you, who are young, can all look forward to. We evolve and our creativity evolves and life evolves. And, we do the best we can. 

 

 

 

 


 

Once, many, many years ago, a woman read my palm for me. She said that I would have a long and interesting life and that my life would be divided into two parts..almost a double life. That made little sense to me at the time, but now I have come to see the truth in her prediction. 

 

For 47 years I was an East Texan. I was born in East Texas, went to school in East Texas, went  to college in East Texas, married in East Texas and was a college professor in East Texas.  Then, at 47, I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, to marry the man of my dreams. I have led two lives. In one life I lived in a medium sized city, knew everyone in town, and was known by many. I had dear, beloved friends. I had a rich history in those piney woods. Then, one day I found myself living in the desert of Phoenix and living a totally different lifestyle. I had no friends other than my husband. My family lived far away and the change has been interesting to say the least. 

 

There are many, many things I miss about my former life. Above all, I miss my family and my dearest friends who were so close that they counted as family. I miss the southern cooking that I grew up with. I miss the wildflowers, the azaleas, the roses and the lush greenery of home. I also miss people who talk like I do..with a strong southern drawl. And, I miss the closeness of a smaller community. Sometimes I find myself longing for the green trees, flowers, and richness of my native environment. I always long for my friends and my family. I miss the traditions that I grew up with. I miss going to the grocery store and seeing at least ten people that I knew. 

 

But, I also love and embrace Phoenix. Of course, much of this is because I am very happily married to my soul mate and he grew up in Phoenix. This is his spiritual home as much as East Texas was mine. I now live in an enclave of older homes in a historic district in central Phoenix. It's a bustling place and reminds me a bit of New York City. There are a diverse mix of people living here and my liberal ideas are the norm rather than something that I have to downplay to keep from being harangued by conservatives. We can walk from our house to the light rail which will take us downtown or to the suburbs. We can walk to restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores, and boutiques. There is an energy in the air and I love that. 

 

My color palette has changed since I moved to the desert. As an artist, this has had a tremendous impact on me. In East Texas, the colors I responded to were rich and lush just like the landscape. I loved jewel tones and deep colors. Now, in Phoenix, I am surrounded by a vast sky and moutains and palm trees. My favorite colors are now coral and turquoise and saffron. I am always moved by the desert sky. Sunrises and sunsets are spectacular and the sky is a shade of blue that is hard to capture but makes me happy. I love palm trees. When I was a child, my late grandmother took me on a my first big trip to South Texas to visit my uncle. I was immediately seized with a love of palm trees, bouganvillia and oleanders. Now, I have palm trees across the street, a huge bouganvillia growing in the front yard, oleanders along the back fence, and real orange trees in the backyard. I have come to love the smell or orange blossoms as much as I once loved the smell of honeysuckles and gardenias. 

 

It's hard to compare these two lives because there is just so much difference between one and the other. My core, my soul, my spirit remains the same, but so many things have changed. I feel a sense of freedom here that I never felt before. Perhaps it's because I am not known by many and I can think and speak and wear what I want without fear of ridicule. I have, however, run into some very troubling things about being an East Texan living in Phoenix. The most maddening is that some people stereotype me because of my accent. They think I am either 1) a wild conservative 2) a racist 3) uneducated 4) unsophisticated and naive or all of the above. On my good days, I realize that these people who stereotype me are the unsophisticated ones. They are as provincial in their mindset as they perceive me to be. On bad days, I will admit that I become really, really angry at people who typecast me. I've learned something about being discriminated against. After all, I have a southern accent, I'm slightly chubby, and I am, by many peoples' weird standards, "old." Well, I'm not going to change my accent; even if I could. My voice is the sound of my mother and my father and all those I hold dearest. It's a part of my ancestry and a part of who I am and where I was raised. The chubby part can be remedied and I have begun dieting to loose the extra pounds that I put on when my thyroid went kaput in 2013. As for being old, I wear it as a badge of honor. I've made it. I didn't succumb to the dangers of my wayward youth and have been blessed to be relatively healthy as I age. 

 

I miss the food I grew up on. Homegrown tomatoes, Noonday onions, black eyed peas, turnip greens, chicken fried steak, barbeque, hot links, fried okra, cream corn, biscuits and gravy, blackberry and peach cobblers, homemade peach preserves, and a thousand other dishes that I dream of. Most of our produce comes from California and I haven't eaten a tomato in 17 years that compares to the tomatoes we used to buy at the farmers' market. No onion on earth can compare to a Noonday onion. It's impossible to find fresh okra or fresh green beans or fresh black-eyed peas here. Canned and frozen ones fill some of the void but they are a poor substitute.  Yes, you can go to restaurants and buy barbeque and chicken fried steak but, believe me, it's not the same. 

 

On the plus side, I have discovered foods that I love in this big city. I wait impatiently each summer for the 6 weeks or so when we have access to white California peaches. We buy them by the box and I overindulge always. I've come to love fresh dates filled with cream cheese and rolled in coconut. I love the Arizona style of Mexican food which is somewhat different from my beloved Tex-Mex but is equally good. I never dreamed I would have a craving for shrimp tacos but now I do. I have come to love and appreciate all the different varieties of fresh salmon that we have here. Sadly, catfish is nowhere to be found, however. Oh, how I love catfish and hushpuppies. But, I now love jalapeno bagels with salmon, cream cheese, onions, tomatoes and capers. I've come to appreciate sun-dried tomatoes and love them on sandwiches and pizza. My tastes are a bit more adventuresome than they were in my East Texas days. But, I still loathe organ meats, eggs (except for omelets), giblet gravy, and the dark meat on turkey and chicken. Some things just don't change. 





 

I returned to school the Tuesday after Kennedy's assassination as if in a walking nightmare. The other students didn't appear to be as affected as I was by the tragedy. Maybe they just had a stronger emotional makeup or maybe they didn't see the full meaning of what that death in Dallas signified. 

 

I had always been withdrawn and shy, but now those traits were much stronger. I had no close school friends. I wasn't invited to the birthday parties and slumber parties. I didn't have friends to sit with at lunch. I had become something of a pariah and I didn't know why. 

 

Along with the reaction to the assassination, other things were happening to me that made me uneasy. My skin had become oily. My long hair became lank and lifeless. My forehead was a mass of pimples. I was no longer a cute little girl. I was gawky and tall and very, very skinny. I began to feign illness so that I could stay home and not have to deal with my feelings of being an outsider at school. I remember one winter afternoon, waiting in our living room for my ride to Mrs. Brown's dance class when I thought to myself: "Jo Ann, you just have to face the fact that you are never going to get married or have a family. You aren't pretty enough." 

 

I was having difficulty with my school work for the first time. My first four years of school, I had been in a special class for gifted children. In the 5th and 6th grades, our gifted children' class was split up. I was surrounded by strangers. I was still in the gifted English class and the gifted math class, but I became confused by math for the first time. My teacher was a macho coach who catered to the cute girls and ignored those like me. I had always made straight A's but now, I was making C's in math. My intelligence, which I had always taken for granted, was being called into question. I was, quite simply, a mess that spring of 1964.  

 

Finally, the school year was ending. I would have the blessed relief of being nurtured in the warmth of my family. The last day of school we were to have a class picnic at a classmates house. I remember putting on my white shorts, tennis shoes and madras blouse. And, then it happened. When I went to the restroom prior to leaving for the picnic, I saw blood on my panties. I had been told in vague generalities about getting your period, but I had assumed since my figure was undeveloped that that day was in the far future. No, it began the day I wore white shorts to school. I somehow got the courage to tell my teacher and she helped me with getting a sanitary napkin. I was terrified. Mother and I had never had a discussion about sex. She had handed me a book at the beginning of the year entitled "For Girls Only" and had asked me to read it. We had no discussion about the information that was in the book. Now, I would be forced to tell her that my period had begun. 

 

The walk home from school that day was the longest walk of my life. I dreaded telling mom the news. I didn't know if I could even form the words to tell her what had happened. I walked into the house and blurted out, "My period began." She rushed me into the bathroom and helped me arrange things and said: "Now you will have to be more careful around the boys." That was all she had to say and I wasn't really sure why I had to be more careful around the boys. I went into the den and lay on the couch like a zombie or an invalid. Mom wandered through and said, "You don't have to just lay there, you can do what you normally do." But, I didn't feel normal. I felt weird and I felt embarrassed and I was somewhat ashamed that my body had betrayed me this way. I remember walking into my bedroom and looking into the antique mirror atop the marble-topped dresser and trying to see if I looked more mature, a bit more sophisticated, somewhat more womanly now that this drastic change had occurred. I still looked like the lanky, skinny, pimple-faced girl I had become at 12. There was no relief in sight. 

 

Thinking back on these memories as I prepare to turn 65 years old, I feel such compassion for that young girl and what she went through in her 12th year. Looking back, it was the year of blood. There were my dreams of blood red moons, there was the blood that was spilled in Dallas, and there was the blood that had ushered me, totally unprepared, into womanhood. I would not trade places with that young girl. Yes, I am by some definitions old, but I have a sense of self that was missing as a 12-year-old. I have weathered tragedies. I have loved and been loved. I've been broken and lived to tell the tale. I have the strength that that little girl never guessed she possessed. So, ends the tale of my 12th year on this earth. It was a momentous year. And, much of who I am was formed in that year so filled with pain, confusion, and loneliness. 





 

While working on my art, I have discovered so many things about myself. And, these discoveries are visable in my work. The "Apocalyptic Childhood Dream" series stems from the late winter of my 12th year. Every time that I make a collage that has a misplaced moon, sun, or planet, you know that the imagery stems from the strange series of dreams that I had at age 12. 

 

The years 1963-1964 were monmental years in my young life. That year was when I truly lost my sense of innocence. My family were huge supporters of John Kennedy and I particularly loved the President and Jackie. In October of 1963, the month I turned 12, we learned that the Kennedys' were going to make a trip to Texas. My family was so excited. Mom and Dad were invited to the Texas Welcome Dinner for the President and First Lady on the night of November 22, 1963. My dad was very worried about the reception the President might receive in Texas. In fact, he wrote to his former boss, Robert Kennedy, asking that he use his persuasive powers to keep JFK from going to Dallas. Dad received a letter in return that said the President couldn't hide from the people and he thought he would be safe in Dallas. 

 

Mom and Dad decided to take my brothers and I out of class that day and take us with them on their Austin trip. They planned to stop at my Aunt's house, about 75 miles from Austin, have lunch and leave us kids there to spend the night as they proceeded on to Austin. I woke very early that morning and was filled with excitement. Next to my bedroom was a small bathroom with a windown looking out on the western horizon and towards Dallas. I tiptoed up to the window and looked outside. The western sky was blood red and I was frightened. I don't really think that I saw this as a premonition or omen but some part of my psyche was unnerved. 

 

I went into the den and watched tv with my dad. The President and First Lady were in Ft. Worth at a breakfast and we watched it being televised. Soon, we packed up the car and headed for Austin. That would be the last time I would ever see my hero, President Kennedy alive. I didn't have any inkling of that at the time, but I was strangely unnerved. I remember our drive to my aunt's house so well. Mother was making Christmas decorations and covering styrofoam balls with sequins. Tucked away in our storeroom is the Christmas ball she made on that long ago trip to Austin. 

 

At about noon we stopped at my Aunt's house. Mom and Dad had lunch and waited for their friends, dad's law partner and wife, to join them. The adults went into my aunt's kitchen and drank coffee and talked. My brothers went to the other part of the house to play. I sat in my Aunt's den and watched a live fashion show on channel 8 tv in Dallas. 

 

The next few minutes changed the course of my life. As I was watching the fashion show, a man suddenly appeared from behind drawn curtains. His appearance was strange and he seemed out of breath. I remember him saying that the station had received word that the President had been shot, possibly in the head, and that he was being taken to Parkland Hospital. I ran into the kitchen and told my parents and their friends what I had heard. My dad rebuked me strongly for "making up such terrible stories to get attention." I was caught in a moral dilemna. On the one hand, I recoiled at being charged with having made up such a hideous story to get attention and, on the other hand, I hoped beyond hope that the story was untrue. I began to question whether I had heard the bulletin correctly. Maybe it WAS my imagination. In tears, I ran back into the den. The fashion show continued. I began to think I had lost my mind. 

 

I began to turn the channel to "As the World Turns", a soap opera that my mom liked to watch. Nothing seemed unusual and the soap opera was proceeding normally. I was afraid and I was confused. Part of me knew that the words of the reporter were true and another part of me hoped beyond hope that I had imagined the whole episode. But, if I had imagined something like that so vividly, I knew that I was mentally unbalanced. I really didn't want to be crazy but I didn't want the President to have been shot either.

 

Suddenly, the soap opera was interupted by a bulletin from CBS News and Walter Cronkite was reporting that three shots had been fird at the Kennedy motorcade in Dallas and that JFK had been hit; perhaps fatally. Now, my parents and aunt ran into the room. I had never seen my parents so upset. I had never seen my father cry but tears were running down his cheeks. Soon his law partner and his law partner's wife arrived at my aunt's house and they were greeted with the tragic news. I can remember exactly what I was thinking when Walter Cronkite broke into the bulletin to say that Kennedy was dead. I thought, "what a sordid place for all the beauty of the his presidency to end." Later, I would read that much older and much more intelligent people had the same thought. 

 

My parents must have needed some time alone because soon my aunt was taking us toy shopping. As we wandered through the almost empty store, you could see people suddenly react as they heard the news. Everything was eerily quiet. I was heartbroken but I was also very,very frightened. In the thirty minutes that had just transpired, I had lost my innocence. I now knew that terrible things could happen for seemingly random reasons. I realized that life was fragile and that relationships were fragile. I understood that my parents were not the great stoics I had assumed them to be, but were people, just like myself, who made mistakes in judgment and who also could be brought to tears. 

 

Writing this, so many, many years later, I can still feel the cold stab of pain that I felt when my world exploded. I still yearn for the little girl who didn't know that the world was a dangerous place and that heroes can be taken from us. And, I long for my parents, themselves long gone, who tried, the best that they knew how, to shelter me from the harsh realities I had just witnessed. I was never the same after JFK's death. I became more introverted. I became more fearful. I was haunted by nightmares. I knew that, like John Kennedy, others that I loved could be taken from me in the blink of an eye. I learned that the world holds much sadness for those with tender feelings. 

 

 





When I was in art school, I never had to really search my soul for creativity because we were always handed assignments that gave us a range of creative responses. As an apprentice, it was a bit harder to decide on subject matter and how to present it. As a young artist, I had this burning desire to "say something" to the world,but I really didn't know what I wanted to say. And, if I did know what I wanted to say, I didn't always know how to say it in my work. So, I often sat around the studio drinking coffee and waiting for the muse to hit me over the head with a hammer and tell me what to do. My muse didn't work that way. I never had any "aha!" moments while sitting around drinking coffee and waiting for my inspiration. All of my "aha moments!" have come while working through a problem, making mistakes, and trying to turn mistakes into something other than disasters. 

 

Looking back, I see that that's just the way inspiration works for most of us. Despite what people may think, art can be hard work. The inspiration comes from the process itself. No muse whispers in your ear while you are lazing around and waiting for the great idea. The muse is a much harder taskmaster. She whispers in your ear when you are trying to solve problems and searching for ways to make things work. In other words, the muse requires you to work, work, work.

 

Now, I know that the only key to making art is to sit down at my table and start working. It really doesn't matter what I begin working on. I just have to begin. Then, I let my mind wander and I carry on an ongoing dialogue with myself about all the experiences I have had, the symbols that mean something to me, and the muse begins to whisper in my ear. I hate the cliched phrase of "the zone" to describe the creative process, but it is apt. I often find myself in a kind of zen-like state where ideas begin to flow easily and I rush to put them onto paper. Any conversation or interruption can interfere with this zen-like state. Therefore, making art is a terribly lonely business. It's also a business where you have to face your own strengths and weaknesses, your shortcomings, your joys and your sorrow. 

 

I have no clue if other creative types operate like I do. I just have learned what works for me. Sometimes, what appear to be disasterous experiments, suddenly turn into something really creative. I think you have to continually stretch your mind and your thinking processes. You have to always be open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. The worst thing any artist can do is to begin copying themselves. Every piece of art that you create is a springboard for something different. 

 

I am a loner by nature. I am not comfortable with chit chat and cocktail party chatter. I am essentially a very shy person. This does not mean that I don't have strong opinions. I am very opinionated and will spout my opinions when necessary. But, I think I a still somewhat socially inept. I admire people who can mesmerize others with their stories or who have the quick repartee with a stranger. I can only really talk comfortably with those who I know very well and who I love. 

 

I was a misfit from the day I was born nearly 65 years ago. I've never felt like a part of a group. It's always been just me and my few and treasured friends and family. I am sometimes mistaken as being aloof or even snobbish. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am just very, very  shy despite what others may think. That is one reason art is a means of communicating the deeper feelings I have to others. And, sometimes words are inadequate to explain feelings. That is one reason I rely so heavily on the collective unconscious. I believe that we all share certain symbols that evoke the same feelings and emotions across cultural lines. Using those symbols is a kind of shorthand way to reach other people. 

 

Years ago, while working on my Master's degree, I had to read all the great philosophers ideas about what constitues art and beauty. At the time, I thought this was a total waste of time. Why read what Plato said when I could be painting? Like so many things that I thought when I was young, I didn't have enough sense to know how important a solid grounding in the thoughts of great thinkers was. Now, I am so glad I read those books and I'm glad that I became fascinated by existentalism, jungian psychology, symbolism, dada, and surrealism. These concepts have helped form my personal approach to art. 

 

I know I am rambling on. I tend to ramble when I write. Some of my barriers are removed when writing that stand in my way when talking. But, even when I talk, I tend to ramble. I think it's because my mind is set-up to function with a stream of consciousness type of thinking. And, so, it makes sense that the art I create also is very much stream of consciousness. 

 

Ok, I've intellectualized much more than is necessary in this blog. I will go ahead and publish it, but with the proviso that the reader knows that I'm not really a pedant. I'm often rebellious and sometimes a bit subversive. Frankly, I like those qualities in myself. I think it's always a good thing to question "the way things are done" and to want to find new answers to old questions. 





 

 

I've been asked by several readers about the details of my weird moon dreams. Actually, I have had weird moon dreams, weird sun dreams, and weird star dreams. These dreams began in the early months of 1964. I remember the date because I had my first one of these dreams a few months after the assassination of John Kennedy. I also know that the first dream happened prior to the 1964 Easter Earthquake in Alaska. (I'll explain how I know this in detail below):

 

Sometime in January or early February of 1964 I dreamed that I was walking across our back door neighbors house on Barbara Street to our home on Dulse Street in Tyler. As I crossed Barbara Street and began to walk up the driveway of our backdoor neighbor, I looked at the eastern sky. In the dream it seemed to be near dusk. When I looked at the sky I saw a full moon hanging low in the eastern sky. Next to the full moon was a crescent moon which appeared right next to the full moon. I remember seeing this and feeling alarmed. Something was completely unnatural. I began to hurry across the driveway trying to reach our backyard. As I stood halfway across the neighbor's driveway, I looked at the sky again. There were odd clouds in the sky and I became very frightened. Just as I reached a stage of panic, I began to float up into the sky. The next thing I remember was dreaming that I was in our living room on Dulse and I was looking out the bay window onto the street. Suddenly, a long black limousine began slowly gliding down the street. Inside were a driver and a passenger dressed in burkas. The woman on the passenger side was holding a newborn baby. As the limousine passed I looked at the license plate and read the words " Al Fatah." 

 

I woke up from this strange dream drenched in sweat and scared out of my mind. I didn't tell my parents about the dream; probably because I thought they would think it was all nonsense and it seemed very real to me. I could not shake the fear this dream caused. The sidenote is that something in the dream  told me that the date when I saw the strange moons (in my dream) was Good Friday. 

 

You can imagine how nervous and shaken I became when Good Friday finally rolled around in real life. I was watching tv and heard the bulletin about Alaska earthquake. I was so scared and shaken that I ran outside to look at the sky and to make sure that the moon "was in the right spot." The moon was in the right spot, but the dream haunted me. It's been 52 years since I had that dream and I still remember it as if it was yesterday. 

 

In further dreams, that followed over the next few decades, I would dream of the full moon and the crescent moon many times. Sometimes the moon was blood red. Sometimes the stars began falling from the sky. Other times I dreamed of two suns in the sky. But, always, I was most shaken by dreams of two moons being in the sky at the same time. 

 

I have no more idea today what those dreams were all about than I did when I was 12 years old . I haven't had the dream in over 20 years now. 

 





 

 

When I begin a collage, I almost never have a theme or a statement that I want to make in mind. I usually reach for a batch of pictures and images and select the ones that speak to me. Themes and recurring images emerge only when I look at a finished piece. 

 

However, I do know that I have a number of recurring themes in my work: 

 

1. "My Apocalyptic Childhood Nightmares": These always depict great calamity and are often associated with nuclear war. This stems from a very real reality in my childhood. I was a child of the Cold War. I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s. My generation was the generation that practiced "duck and cover" in case of a nuclear attack. I had just turned eleven when the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred. I was a bit precocious and understood the gravity of the situation. My parents tried to keep us from worrying about the crisis but I could read their faces and I knew that things were very serious. I remember walking home from our neighborhood drug store one afternoon as the world stood on the brink of extinction and thinking how unfair it was that all of us children would never have a future because of the actions of men in power. 

 

I often had dreams of bombs going off and sirens sounding. These dreams haunted me for a long, long time. And, the fear of nuclear annihilation appears in many of my works. 

 

2. Strange planets in the sky or a moon that is too large or the wrong color. At the same time as I feared nuclear war, in my childhood, I also had recurring dreams that frightened me. They always were dreams of looking into the sky and seeing two moons or two suns. Sometimes I dreamed of looking up and seeing a moon that was dark red or a sun that was too close to the earth. Other times I dreamed of the atmosphere being enveloped in a strange yellowish light. I often use this yellowish light in my works to convey a sense of the unnatural. 

 

3.  Innocence is another theme I use often. As I grow old, I am more and more struck by the sheer innocence of children. And I am also moved by their innate wisdom. Sometimes I look into the eyes of a young baby and imagine that their eyes have already seen much and understand much. I think I feel that the very young are closest to the thin veil that I believe separates this reality from other realities and dimensions. I also believe that the very old can sense this other reality as well and I often portray the aged in my works. 

 

These are just a few illustrations of recurring themes and dreams that have influenced my art. There are many more things that I draw upon when I work: the circus, butterflies (I will write an entire blog on my butterfly series), people sprouting wings, vanity, women with who are strong, death, heartbreak, loss, and fear. These are commonalities I share with most humans. We all celebrate birth and we all mourn death. We are all touched by joy and broken by pain. Life is full of moments of great emotions and seasons where you either perish or you survive. 

 

Life is what intrigues me. Dimensions of reality intrigue me. Skirting the barriers between one reality and another intrigues me. The outcasts, the rebels, the freaks, the weird ones always intrigue me. I am comfortable with ambiguity and my work often is ambiguous. There is often a cognitive dissonace that occurs in my art. I like to take figures from one era and place them in an entirely different era. I like to have my images defy time and space. I like to see people who can fly. Hence, the butterfly wings and angels' wings. And, I believe in angels even if they are not the kind of angels that are depicted by established religion. Angels walk among us. The impossible occurs with regularity. Life is always full of surprises and nuances and amazement. Life is beautiful. Even those things that are classified by society as "ugly" have a certain beauty. I like to elevate those things so that others can see the beauty of imperfection. 

 

People often ask me why I use scissors and paste to make my collages when it is possible to make digital collages that are technically superior. I have a simple answer. I cherish those things that are made by hand. I love to see the human touch. I collect handmade pottery, embroidery, needlepoint, art, handmade books, handmade jewelry etc because it bears the personal imprint of the maker. I find beauty in the imperfect and am a believer in the wabi sabi aesthetic. And I do tend to ramble. I am rambling now so I think I will do what I love best and make some art. Ciao 

 





 

 

For those who have read my earlier blog posts, you know that I received my BFA and then apprenticed with a practicing artist in his studio.  I have been drawing on this experience, long ago, to help explain the path my creativity has taken over the years. 

 

As a young and starry-eyed apprentice, I was in awe of the technical prowess of my mentor. I also was moved by the symbols that he used to paint works that spoke to people. I learned to paint using his symbols, but, I realize now, that those paintings were pale imitations of his work. It may be that,in learning from a teacher, you adopt some of their tools and their symbols as part of the learning process. But, there comes a time when you must find your own symbols and your own technique. 

 

I was once told: "Jo Ann, something must occur that will knock you to your knees and, in picking yourself up and learning to stand on your own, you will acquire your own symbols." At the time I didn't understand these words. Was I supposed to suffer for my art? That was the message I drew from the words. I came to the wrong conclusion. "Suffering" for art is like "suffering" for love. True love and true art aren't a form of suffering. That's a romantic and harmful myth. What is true, however, is that through the obstacles, the heartaches, the moments of crisis, that we all have as humans, we grow and our artistic vocabulary can expand. 

 

As you live a life, there will be events that hurt you, that sadden  you, that make you despair. The trick is to rise above those events and then incorporate them into your own consciousness as a means of expression. That is far different than "suffering" for art. It means to pour all the joys, the sorrows, the setbacks, the victories you have lived through and use them to spur your own creativity. You develop your own set of symbols. These symbols are powerful because they come from deep within your soul and your heart. 

 

Some symbols are almost universal. Think of the idea of Jung's collective unconscious and you will realize that there are symbols that are archetypes for civilization. Each person has the power to find their own symbols and to use these symbols to convey emotion through their work. 

 

I don't like to over-intellectualize art. That's the domain of pedants and pseudo-intellectuals. True art is something that flows freely and joyfully. It can be spontaneous. Sometimes you don't realize that you have used your symbols until you finish a piece of work. Then, it all becomes clear to you. But, it's my thought that these symbols that we allow to flow from our mind are powerful and allow an artist to express their own feelings and transform them into feelings that touch others as well. 

 

Sometimes I think the best advice I can give a young person who is entering the world of art..whether it is music, drawing, painting, acting, collage or whatever, is this: Just do it!!! Sit down and do what you love over and over and over again. Do it when you don't feel you have anything to say. Do it when you are depressed. Do it when it seems impossible. Don't wait for the muse to hit you on the head. That will be a long wait. The muse lives within you. Open up your mind to your own stream of consciousness thoughts. Then, you will find your own symbols and you will be your true self as an artist. 

 

I don't mean to sound like a know-it-all. The fact is that I am a person who is still learning, growing, and uncovering new ideas. In many ways I know nothing. I only know what I have learned from my time on earth. The jouney is the process. It's as simple as that. Just do it and listen to the sound that you hear in your mind. Never, ever, stop growing and questioning and seeking. 

 

Ok, it's time for me to stop being so frigging philosophical. I am who I am. And I just get up out of bed each day and do the best I can. 


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