Sunday, February 15, 2015

Cutting and Pasting

Cutting and Pasting Acrylic on Canvas by S. Weinberg
I've been busy developing my paintings on loss of memory with many in interim stages.  I've debated a bit on what to share with you as they are all subject to change at this juncture.  Sometimes I think a painting is done until I come into the studio and suddenly decide to totally rework it.  So the point of that intro is to keep in mind that what I share is likely to continue to change and evolve.

I am always fascinated by process and as I am in the beginning stage of a new series,  I find myself reflecting on the process that underlies it.  I read about a subject, observe closely, test out some concepts by writing about them in this blog and finally put brush to canvas.  Then I work and rework.  Part of the process is learning how to share what I am working on with other people.  Later in my process I give talks on my work, in fact I am busy speaking about my Jewish Identity and Legacy series currently on exhibition.  For the memory series I am still testing how best to share the stories behind this series.

This weekend we had an open studio where I got to share some of my stories with visitors.  It is part of my process that begins long before I give formal talks.  I think of it as testing the market, learning what people respond to even as I learn how to tell a story in a way that engages the listener. While writing about it helps,  there is nothing like a live audience.

My mother's collages
One of the questions that drives this visual exploration is what happens to identity when we lose memory.  I've written of my mother in Everyone Has an Idea  as she does what she calls Cutting and Pasting.  My mother was a first-grade teacher, known for her artistic talents and love of reading.  As her memory has deteriorated, her past-time of reading became more challenging.  No longer could she remember what she just read to connect the thread to what followed.  While she has aides who come in to assist her, she still has a lot of time on her own, time that once was filled with reading.

More of her collages
My mother is an intelligent and purposeful woman and even with an uncooperative memory she brings her coping skills to bear.  Everyday she would get up and get her newspaper.  This was a very important part of her day, so important that if she didn't get it, I immediately knew I had to call the paper to assure a delivery.  This took on added importance when she began to "cut and paste'.

Now each day she gets her paper and sits down before a notebook, scissors and glue in hand, and begins to collage.  She works at this purposefully, as if it were her job.  It is an extension of her long-time identity.  It is no coincidence that she calls this "cutting and pasting" and that her wall where she puts things up is called her "bulletin board".  She uses the terminology of her career as a first grade teacher and embraces the artistic process that was always part of her life.  Observing her, I can clearly see that identity is persistent.  Just as the Mississippi floods and remembers its original boundaries, so do we return to the familiar etched route from which we came.

I have great admiration for my mother's skills, both her creative skills and also her ability to identify the challenge, find a solution and work it persistently.  That is the woman I admired when she returned to college as an adult and later when she began a career in middle age.  It gives me pleasure to realize that she is still there with all the strength and determination that I have always respected even as her world becomes more difficult to navigate.

When I thought about how to capture this story, I knew it needed to be a portrait.  It also needed the location in which she does her cutting and pasting, at the same kitchen table where she used to type her papers for school.  I decided that I would deconstruct her collages and put the elements in the lower third of the painting, smaller pieces closer to her hands, growing is size as they reach outward, probably more pieces to still add.  For a long time I was uneasy about gluing them down until one day I just did so in a flurry of activity, prepared to paint over them and re-collage if necessary.  It is a collage after all where such things are permitted.  It would have helped if I had a bit of my mother's ability to ignore that part of the brain that worries about making mistakes.  She just keeps going, taking pleasure in the moment with no judgment except if it pleases her eye. Like a photographer who takes a lot of pictures knowing some will work, she actively creates each day.

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