Almah LaVon Rice, Pittsburgh-based writer, mixed-media maker and creativity coach, documents her Postal Collage Project No.12 experience.
Final Blog Post (Feb – March 2023)
In all my years of participating in postal collaborative collage, finishing this particular starter was the most difficult.
First of all, I was steeped in my annual bout of the seasonal sads. And then I was trying on a new, scratchy identity: Person-With-Chronic-Pain. (How can something be ill-fitting and fitting, simultaneously?)
I’m better now, thank you.
When my starter returned to me, it was much, much heavier. Which was apt, in a way. My starter had been just a wooden wedge, on which I had painted brightly and collaged triangle-ly. Months later it came back affixed to a big collage’d rectangle of wood.
Usually I don’t intervene too much when my starter arrives back in my hands. This time, I felt the need to Make My Mark. I needed the period at the end of our collaborative sentence to express me better.
Making My Mark looked like:
~using dye stains and sprays for the first time, and learning their qualities (quick verdict: I like how they react to non-porous surfaces, but not so much with porous)
~creating my own paint color! I thought about dyeing with tea or coffee dye (which I have done before). Instead I took the leap and mixed gesso and quinacridone nickel azo gold paint (which I hadn’t done before). I didn’t absolutely love the result, but the process of applying it on wood was buttery goodness. No failures, only experiments. No failure, only findings. Information.
~ adding tissue from vintage sewing patterns to wood…chef’s kiss! It is extraordinarily satisfying to have the tissue melt back to tree. A kiss indeed.
~ adding three dimensional items to the collage–i.e., rusty letters and a little brass frame. Also, other items: used vintage ledgers, painted deli paper, copper acrylic ink, gold paint, a snippet of sheet music, flowers cut from wifey’s garden catalog, Victorian cat heads, and more.
The object lesson? Sometimes a bit o’ ease and pleasure arrives. Sometimes art-making communion and flow aren’t forever fugitive. Sometimes the twin solvents of time and experimentation work their magic.
This particular piece landed in my mailbox innocent of collage. Just paint, presumably acrylic, splotched in abstract symmetry.
It reminded me, instantly, of a Rorschach test. What does what I see say about me?
I spied… a light-hearted crime scene.
………...…a pair of lungs in bloom.
………..…a figurative painting fractured by rain.
………..…dream carrots, an antelope head, a melting kaleidoscope.
I said spied because I don’t know if the images consented to being seen, decoded.
At any rate, I was inspired to respond to these ciphers with bold silhouettes: a paint-kissed hummingbird, along with a dragonfly and butterfly triplets. Collage as bright shadow.
I never know what universe I will find in my paper scrap cache.
I stuff and stuff, collect and collect, and squirrel away and squirrel away papers in my magpie’s nest. There’s precarious rhyme and provisional reason in my drawers of “collage fodder.” (h/t to The Fodder School for that coinage!)
The mixed media gods of chance will toss strange yet compelling combinations together: say, a slip of 1930s ledger paper will rub fibery shoulders with last week’s grocery flyer. While I sleep the collage fodder seeps into each other–an alchemy does not require my industry.
My orphanage of papers. (Headed to loving homes, one day.)
My paper biome and rhizome.
This month’s collaborative collage was already a universe before it landed in my mailbox, a mashup of earthworlds and aboveworlds. I just climbed into my nest and found catalog images of hummingbird figurines. Celestial sky beings. We all come from starstuff but hummingbirds remember that more than most. Collaging is just the craft of mirroring and remembering our original stardusted coherence.
This might be my most exuberant collaborative postal collage experience!
It might be because the collagists before me used a delightfully anarchic collection of papers–paper doilies, wrappings from tea, maps, scraps of tape, labels, and other fragments of mysterious provenance. None of it precious, all of it pleasing. The festival of papers inspired me, so for my part I added:
* a sparkled square
* shards of dried acrylic, leftovers from a printmaking project
* a security envelope piece
* a triangle of painted foil
* a particularly colorful, geometric corner of an old brochure
* detritus from a cardmaking workshop I led years ago
* a triangle of jaunty packaging from a box of markers
* a rectangle of spray-painted paper
* a length of sheet music
* fragments from forms in various languages
The finishing touch was adding dimensional paint in lines and dots. The thing is, it was near-impossible to stop! I could spend a few eternities wandering among this wonderfully fractured landscape, this archipelago of papers, shapes, and colors. It reminds me of the first night sky, after the Big Bang. The aftermath of a piñata, detonated. The interior life of a kaleidoscope. This is a world I didn’t want to let go of. But off it must go to the next postal collage accomplice. I dispatch it with kisses, memories of apocalypse, fire. New worlds will come. They always do.
Indeed and forever, Black Lives Matter.
Black collagists, like me, matter.
Right now I’m listening to piano music drifting from a nearby apartment, a stranger’s song hovering gently over all the notes. I’m not at home. Or, more accurately, I’m at home in my home away from home–the home of my friends. Right before I left for my trip I added to Morgan’s starter collage from California but had no time to mail it before it was time for my train to whisk me away. I just packed it in a plain mailer in one of my traveling bags. Now I’m here in Maryland, ready to send this now Almah+Morgan collage to Mac in North Carolina. The friend I am staying with is also an artist so I asked him for supplies to festoon the envelope. He came up with a box of markers and stickers and I got to work (nay, play).
Before I left: Because the trip was imminent (breathing down my neck) and my studio was in disarray, I didn’t feel too jazzed about contributing to a collage. In another room in the house–not the briar patch of my studio–I found a magazine that a friend had sent to me awhile ago. Maybe a year or two ago? In it, I was drawn to vintage images of flowers. Morgan’s starter was a map with ancient gods collaged all over it, a map that included many stats about the ruinous things we are doing to the earth. Yes, the flowers were there and much more accessible than the supplies in my studio, but they also made me remember something I had read about the co-evolution of flowers and humans. So I thought, if we can spread flowers across the globe, what other emblems and artifacts of beauty can we leave around the earth, sea, and sky? The magazine images called to me, and then my memory made a metaphor from that call.
Without knowing it, I am practicing Availablism. I just learned the name of this movement by Kembra Pfahler. But I have been practicing it my whole life, in fact. Found-object aficionad@s, the underresourced, the bricoleurs, the magpies, the collagists, and the assemblage artists–we are mavens of make-do. If necessity is the mother of invention, availability is the father. Just like the neighbor’s singing wreathing my head, I will make use of the available music.
I didn’t know how to start my starter collage.
Well, at least I knew the substrate: a half moon wood panel, already painted yellow. I picked it up in the giveaway pile at a local makerspace, knowing that I could put it to good use one day. Durable are the joys of upcycling and found-object adventuring.
But what collage-y jazz could adorn my wooden .5 moon? I considered the shapes that I loved–whether they appeared in murals, earrings, tattoos, collagraphs, or the spaces between awake and asleep. So: I love stark black and white punched&punctuated by color. So: I love layers that wink, transparencies. So: I love broad continents of color. So: I love lines serpenting all over surfaces. So: I love all dialects of dot, circle, spiral, sphere. I let those loves lead me and my hand, because my brain had no real plans. Think with your hands: a collagist’s credo. As I worked on the collage, I talked to my best friend over video chat. When I told him that the next collaborator in the chain could totally change the piece, he was taken aback. I said, “It’s an object lesson in letting go and enjoying the process.” It appears then that my collaging self is my best self, the most evolved. It’s also the most intuitive version of Almah, the one who knows when to stop adding to the starter. I am trying to leave kindling for the next artist. An ellipsis rather than a period. Paul Gardner said, “A painting is never finished–it simply stops in interesting places.” May my first offering in this 12th postal collage season have stopped there–in the thicket of interesting places.