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On Art and Being an Artist
with permission and much gratitude to Frederick Xavier Noble, Taos, NM, the following is condensed with his approval from his 2007 interview of me following exhibition of the series, TELEPSYCHOPATHICAL & CHEAP It’s all dope to me.
One of the reasons I began making art was because I thought I didn’t have anything of value. Oddly enough, that wasn’t even close to the reality of what I had, but it was a profound belief given to me by my first years of formalized education. It was a nightmare that I haven’t, all these decades later, thoroughly forgiven or recovered from.
Looking back, I see me differently now, of course. Luckily, I always had incredible support—a mother who indulged such dubious activities as my invention of a language at 5 (she transcribed it) and a father who would take a bullet for me and plant “brainseeds”—anyone can have unlimited access to money if they think they can and women can do anything they want.
That’s not even close to deprivation or poverty of any sort, but I was immediately at odds with the world at large and quickly discovered that my type of thinking and feeling and behaving was going to be a problem not just for others, but for me, too.
Even now my thinking can be very troublesome to me. It runs off through the wilderness. It’s late to work. It makes assumptions and it makes a fool out of me.
My thinking is sometimes consuming and cumbersome. It can be dangerous in the sense that it lifts me out of my shoes and takes me to South America or New Zealand or makes me incredibly irritable and glued to detail. So…
I’ve learned to distrust it.
I do better following the ley lines of instinct and intuition. I like feelings and hunches and skipping over the details. The details live in a part of the brain where there is a STAT flight of ideas—sometimes glorious, sacred, fascinating and sometimes scary, tedious, obsessive, relentless and thieving of sleep.
I think how our brains work is what our art is. Those questions people ask artists are difficult but helpful, too. I don’t like explanations to askers or in conversation in general, but I do ask a lot of questions myself. I want to know what you believe. Do you believe in sin? Is there redemption? What about love? Do you think it’s a feeling or a verb?
Did you ever see visions?
Do you believe in evil?
I talk to a lot of people and I get a lot of information. Luckily, I can earn a living doing this, but I get overloaded with my own thinking and the info I collect in my day job. My work here helps me process that out in huge bundles and bales. I may not remember your name, but I’ll remember your story and how it felt pretty much forever. You can’t really think too much about a chunk of info like that so I go in another direction for survival.
Basically, I’ve learned to swim in the nonverbal process and I’ve come to trust it. Practice has made it effortless, delightful and consistently interesting enough to lure me back. I like the in between of things, the unsaid, the not known, the not-thing, unmatched pairs, a horizontal groundline that flies off the handle, the world on a tilt.
Photographs are like that for me. That’s why I take them. They let me walk in and walk out of this reprieve I’ve been talking about here. They let me do so willfully. I suppose they give me a key to the mental hospital of my mind!
I’ve been told I speak the language of ‘psychosis’. I don’t know about that, but I do seem to understand it. It is beautiful, poetic, tender and startlingly real to me. I’ve studied it a lot—up close and in books and pictures. It comes from the forbidden zone where polite people aren’t supposed to go. I say the hell with that. I love it there. My art keeps me ‘grounded’ in that forbidden zone and a lot of people have told me its scary and they can’t get a grip on it. I don’t get that. My work has always had some humor in it for me, but I do like the margins—I believe that’s where not only powerful art comes from, but where real power, authentic personal power comes from and I do get that personal power is scary.
I’ve spent my adult life studying art—mostly the drawings, paintings and poetry of unknown artists. Most of them have been termed “mentally ill” or at least severely traumatized. These artists overall have been more exciting to me than the masters (except for Matisse, Basquiat and Picasso, of course!) The ‘unknowns’ were messier and I liked that. They lived at full tilt and in the in-betweens and margins—in instinct and raw feeling. I get that. I have always gotten that kind of art. It bypasses thought and for me and my incorrigible mind, that is where relief lies. It is a cause for celebration.
From studying I’ve learned that art is a way of life and that being an artist is a choice not a profession or the natural consequence of natural talent. I think making art over a lifetime is an act of will done over and over. Making good art I think is doing all that while deeply rooted in the mystical and magical, making the unseen seen and the intangible something you can hold. For most, it’s certainly not going to pay the bills, but it makes billpaying much more digestible. That’s what I mean about it not being a profession. You can’t count on it for money. You have to count on it for more important things or you’ll give up.
The work itself and what I’m doing in the specific images? I choose compositions that seem haphazard, but they never are. What seems like chaos isn’t. I labor over these seemingly random things. Who knows exactly why? My art teachers didn’t like this about me. They hurt my feelings a lot, but they never fixed me.
I do know that every madness has its truth and perhaps this is mine. Perhaps the camera catches mine. It comes to me like breathing—I’m very fortunate. If I didn’t need sleep or food or have to work for a living, I would keep clicking, jabbering, asking questions of interesting people and writing stuff down. None of that is work and now with digital this and that it’s virtually free once you get your equipment! It’s play and living life on vacation. It’s the best living I’ve ever done.
I left my childhood’s invented language behind although I see new ones creeping in under the guise of intuitive math whatever that is. In grade school, and in my second major creative phase, I dressed paper dolls in my own designs. I couldn’t crank them out fast enough—lots of modern art mini dresses and boots as I recall. Mondrian and the Campbell’s soup can had already caught my attention It was 1964.
When my interests turned to espionage (!) I began to create worlds with secret workings and secret code/math and at the same time “amazement parks” (influenced by The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Disney, i suppose…I had a spy camera that turned into a gun). I continued these activities because they healed my child pain—a mysterious pain that took me decades to decode. Art helped with that, too, but more importantly in my story these days is that when I found my parents’ Brownie camera and pulled out the film to touch it (I was 6) I began to plot my life as a photographer. I had to suffer for some years before they’d let me touch a camera again—I think they were quite offended by my first encounter. Finally, I owned an Instamatic which I still have and then, with so much delight I blacked out and can’t remember much about it, a Polaroid! That’s how I started this picture making business and it’s been on ever since.
People ask me what my work means, how I get ideas and just what am I trying to say in my photos. I don’t know. I use words a lot—some say too much—the photos always seemed like ways to express what words can’t. When I found photo masters like Arbus, Dater, White, Stieglitz, Steichen, Evans, I fell in love with that world of no words. I cried the Christmas my roommate gave me a book of Steichen’s work. I’ll never forget that moment. I knew something big in my life had happened and that I would be saved. Shortly after, when I found Meatyard, I knew salvation was just around the corner. These were distinct, nonverbal and profound turning points in my life.
I was a ‘disturbed’ child— always too energetic, always too loud or fast or late or independent or needy—always just at a tilt and fumbling for connection. The grown ups at home understood me and the world at large was astonished when I showed up. I had to learn really fast to do things differently. I learned to sit on my hands so I could be still. It helped me not dance about the penmanship lesson as it rolled and scrolled and pranced across the page. I was a natural at isomorphism.
I wanted to draw angels because no one else could see them.
I wanted to teach others how to levitate like I did at night floating up over my bed, swimming in the air.
At school they wanted me to stop talking, stop laughing , stop dancing, stop coloring. I refused—not from defiance, but from not knowing how to please them. I was a good student anyway and art absorbed a lot, They were so grumpy! Art created a buffer between me and those so easily disturbed by my joy.
To wrap this all up for now, if I had to leave you with one thing about art and all the business of art-making, I’d simply say this: if you love art, hang onto it as hard as you can. It will save you.
there are beings that guide us out of hell. they are telepsychopathicals
RedBubble’s CHONCHY Interview
my written response to prepared questions
“Alright! I get a chance to say this out loud—very fitting for CHONCHY, I think, a place where we get to be loud and folks just smile about it (so my fantasy goes) plus I don’t get smacked with a ruler or stuck in a corner for it.
Yes, I’m old enough to have had nuns who were in that HABIT & believe me, I’ve cleaned it up here, being too tired of hashing out that childhood horror…but anyway, what I want to start with (thank you very much for this interview, by the way)…what I wanted to start with is this:
What’s art therapy all about? You asked (let’s make that clear). I gave up this conversation years ago, but…well, after 25 years of doing it, I’m very certain that I don’t know anything at all about it. Too bad you didn’t ask me this in grad school. I would have, very authoritatively, told you exactly what it’s about. Thankfully, I’ve gotten better over the years. I really know very little about art therapy now and that’s not for the lack of trying. For a more thorough description of this profession you can find plenty of practitioners who have boiled this down. They know the answers. That annoys me quite a bit as many things are apt to do. I suppose my quick irritability is one reason I chose CHONCHY in the first place.
Back on point…the fact is that if I could tell you with words what art therapy (or what art is, for that matter), we really wouldn’t need either one of them, would we? I mean art is art and words are words. Oh, yes, I wholeheartedly believe that words can be art, but then they are then art not words. It gets complicated. So, art therapy? It’s about art. That’s all I know at this date which is a late date & I have, proudly although blindly I now see, dedicated my career to it and its related shenanigans, but let’s move this into the larger thing. Let’s talk, or try to get to a place where we can, about art, for god’s sake.
The more I do it, look at it and live in it, the more I don’t have words for it—at least none that satisfy me and I hate dissatisfaction! Hmmm…I hear the ominous clacking of rosary beads…control the drive to find satisfaction, child.
I think we use art with people in pain for the same reasons that artists become artists. So, there you have the core. I’ve known many fine folks with schizophrenia, depression, bone-numbing trauma and the like and my job was to do something for them. I thought the very best thing I could possibly do was to help them become artists. What else was there to do? I thought art would save their lives and that’s borne out for some. Fortunately. I did not want to be totally mistaken.
What kind of art saves us? All kinds. I don’t care if it’s stick people (stick people have feelings, too) or if it’s a masterpiece of draftsmanship, that works, too. There’s something about starting out in pain, creating such things and getting somewhere else. People in pain (and these are not always patients!) do whatever it is that “real” artists do when they create. The question becomes then, “What are these artists all doing anyway?” What’s that about?
I don’t know. It is a mysterious, transcendent, non-tangible thing. I love it.
Do artists start out as crazy or does art make them crazy? Yes. That much I do know and thank you for asking.
I was crazy when I started—very desperately crazy and 6 years old, I think, when I claimed art to be my own: “I’m an artist!” I told the significants. They, thankfully, approved and gave me space to be it. It was really all just about paper dolls. I hated those pre-fab clothes they came with. I wanted well-dressed dolls, dolls of Mary Quant and Carnaby Street, but in the middle of all this art business, years later, I’d say art has made me exceedingly crazy! Later in the game, it’s made me happy to be as crazy as I am. It’s a wondrous thing: self-acceptance.
The “citizens”, people who don’t make art, they’re alright people. Some, in my extremely expert opinion, are more tightly wrapped than others, but I’ve got issues with all of them, all the citizens. I’m fraught with issues despite my increased comfort. In fact, I go about in the world in stealth mode hoping to conceal these issues or, at least, to function with them. I may have let someone use my toothbrush or I may have worn dirty underwear one day—these are strange things that you wanted to know, but now that I think about them, they’re really good questions. They do say something about how I separate myself out so that I know who I am. Individuation and autonomy are two of my vices.
What I mean is, I go sneaking about the world in my disguises because the world and its citizens typically bother me (I told you I was irritable). I realize this is all about me. What isn’t?! I don’t blame them (the citizens) for my irritability, paranoia or mood swings, but I do have to wear sunglasses constantly or I might engage, frenzily, in such blaming. I used to remove them (the sunglasses) when asked. I don’t do that anymore. There’s such freedom in age and I have realized that I do not have to answers questions because they are asked.
Anyway, about the toothbrushes and underwear, it has to do with losing time, losing anchors, flying off from behind my shades to more easily viewed scenery. How grateful I am when that happens! It’s glorious and disquieting. After holidays, for example, I sometimes have to sneak around to find out what day it is. Sometimes I’ve pretended to be reading the newspaper headlines just to steal a peek at the date. I’m constantly worried that I’ll forget to go back to work…a little weird, but that’s when life is good, when I don’t care if you brush with my toothbrush and I can’t remember if I changed clothes today or not. That is perfect freedom for me so I’m glad you asked. I liked revisiting it. I also liked the self-disclosure. So…these bouts, fits, episodes, interlopes or whatsit usually mean I’ve been making art. There’s the real point. When I make art I get to be totally unself-conscious and free. That makes me happy.
So…back to the citizens. They often stare at my work rather than see it with some responsiveness that thrills me. I like responsiveness. It helps me feel un-invisible. Some citizens have liked my art. Some smile. Some have actually said they’re frightened by it. These are the people who usually don’t buy it, of course, and having more and more crank out of me and pile around can spiral me. I mean, what do you do with this stuff after a few decades and I could really use some money to ward off this “Victorian decay” phenom I’ve got going at my house. But I circumambulate…so, the citizens ask me, “What’s this mean?” and I just want to slide out the back, in my shades, in my black car, thinking thoughts that disguise my thoughts so no one can find me.
A good friend of mine said, “Marie, people like a good back-story. Give it to them!” He meant well. He thought I could sell my stuff better if I’d cooperate. I wouldn’t. Something foundational in me wouldn’t. That may be my demise in the end. I may never sell my work beyond the trickle, trickle of this and that, but it just doesn’t make sense to me. The back-story is everything that’s ever happened and everything that hasn’t. Uh…I don’t like people who go to the gallery to read the cards. I don’t want to enable that thing.
Those are some of my issues with this bubbling we’re doing, not literal red bubbling, but the cooking/boiling away as making art. I find even more to say about the viewers/non-buyers/non-getters/citizens, though. I don’t do very well with them. I try to, but in the end I don’t. In a way, I use my art to screen people out of my life anyway. I mean I have to screen people out of my intimate workings where some investment and vulnerability lives. I am naturally so full-tilt wide open that I must have artificially imposed respite and I have to work hard to install it. Not all of those non-getting-it citizens who live on the other side of the proverbial soundproof booth must leave…some can stay, but mostly it is the really sinister ones—the really flat ones—that I cannot interact with very much. If you see my art and you don’t get it, or you want to get it, but can’t or you’re (for some unfathomable reason) frightened of lightwaves toned down (for chrissakes) to paper, please don’t bother me. I’m bothered enough already. The unmitigated lightwaves are attacking me and yet though there is pain there is no fear so I can’t much get it. The repetitive noise is attacking me. Where are the glories of silence to frame the music of noise? My arms hurt from all this work. Where is my Factory? Oh, and…
My man misses me and I’m usually low on sugar free cherry popsicles, trying desperately to titrate my dose to extend the dwindling stash. Long, long story short: I’m usually busy or exhausted because I do these joyous, non-frightening, extremely meaningful, stand on their own things that need no back story (they are the story) and so, I’m really booked right now is all. No offense intended.
I think words are the easiest part of my creative work. They fly out of me endlessly, crazily. Doctors have names for that. There’s medication for that, but words are, for me, just the social graces and visual art is something deeper. Art comes from the heart of the little girl punished and stuck in a corner by something truly frightening: women living in heavy black clothing. That’s where you have to deal with me verbally, I suppose, at the child threshold (sorry, but it’s gifted child). As for explanations of why I’ve done something or what process is being explored…I have little else to add except that wordplay is my one modality and sightplay is my other. They both have gifted me with great joy and passion—that’s why I presume to say I was gifted as a child. Let’s move on.
Who would I delete from Red Bubble? Ha! Put me on the spot. Evoke the frightened little girl who wants to stay out of trouble because she’s already got enough trouble. There are tons of candidates. It’s a big site. I’ve obsessed over this since getting that question put to me. I can’t pick one. There’s an army out there out of potential delete-ees. I know some of the markers of their work, but I don’t know the artists’ names. The markers go something like this:
Their work has tried to kill me.
I’ve flown past it as fast as my crampy hand can click and scroll and I’d like to speak to them for a sec…
You live in the most fascinating geographies on the globe and you’ve try to kill them, too.
You chalk these paradisos up to sunrise.
You nail them down to postcards.
You make me sad.
You think “treatments” are clever and you think angst is where it’s at.
You think shock value is valuable.
You think macro close-ups are poetix.
That’s a good start.
Technique and clever titles…
Leave my brain alone!
It works on its own!
I have compassion for this army of delete-ees.
They are at least looking.
They can’t help that they’re lost, stuck on veneer, wandering in some experiential wilderness of something, something, something.
Anyway, to wrap this up, you asked what 3 pieces of mine represent me best. It has to be 3 I flip to right now and identify because that changes from moment to moment. As of this moment they are: Nightsea, Dangly and Daniel.
They are good examples of why I support CHONCHY and of what I’ve been babbling about here. These works are confrontive, particularly Daniel, for many people. It is a page torn out of a hotel Bible and used as medium. It says nothing vulgar. It depicts no adults/only content, but it feels vulgar and XXX to many who see it. That type of covert astonishment is very satisfying to me. The vulgarity for many people is that I tore the page out of a mass-produced, translated to dirt and distortion, book. It is not the book defiler in me that so outrages, but what book I have chosen. That’s very interesting to me. It tells me that the paper on which an artist works is not sacred. I see that differently.
Nightsea captures me today not only because it is of enormous scale in my eye, but also in the swell that rushes in, the very word “sea” itself and the script that writes out a loud and important something to be said. It is more important here that the writer has written than that it is fully readable in all its content. That this site we are in for this interview is like that for me is enough reason to include it. For more on the nightsea of the soul, I refer you to your own.
Dangly is a push of many envelops. It has angered several people. I did it without permission to alter it from its models. I had permission to have the image. Obviously, they have posed for me. The image is mine. I don’t need permission. Some assumptions about what a photographer/artist might do with an image got in the way here—socially, emotionally, psychologically—for some viewers. That is the way art, true creative action, springs into this world of mine. It must come, surprisingly. The artist must take permission not ask it."
SOME FEATURED WORKS
CARDS HOME SERIES
BLACK AND WHITE
for the victims of pain who have beautiful spirits too tender for their worlds and so evaporate into the ethers through addiction: there is hope.
I’m just saying.
IN RANDOMNESS WE IGNITE
Member of the Random Art Movement since 2008
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SOME OF MY FAVORITES:
Angel Genetix 11:11, for my sweet mom
Thistle Field, just because I have magic i’s
Angel War, for All Earth Walking Angels
Tangible Gift, for those still suffering
With a handful of prints to thumb through, Galley’s vision sneaks up to say, I am an important staple in this city…my eyes are an axis around which London’s ephemeral, somehow confrontive streets are spinning out their days.