Henry David Thoreau
In an interview in the New York Times, Foer said, “It was hardly an original idea: it’s a technique that has, in different ways, been practiced for as long as there has been writing—perhaps most brilliantly by Tom Phillips in his magnum opus, A Humument. But I was more interested in subtracting than adding, and also in creating a book with a three-dimensional life. On the brink of the end of paper, I was attracted to the idea of a book that can’t forget it has a body.”
As usual when I work on my blog, I can't help but link writing and art.
Another of my earliest memories is of finding a drawing my mother did of the Gerber baby. I could not have been more than five or six, and I had never thought of her as an artist. But one day I was playing with an old suitcase and found the small drawing. It was attached to the ad from which she had copied it in pencil. I wonder if she wanted to be an artist. I don’t guess I will ever know. You see, my mother died several years ago. She lived a very unhappy life and was not very good at expressing herself or at truly being in touch with her own thoughts. About fifteen years ago I came across a sepia toned photo of her when she was about ten years old. She looked so young, so optimistic, so full of life. I painted a portrait of her—just head and shoulders—which measured about 4’ x 4’.
During the process of painting the portrait, I prepped the canvas with Gesso, and then because it was close at hand and I was still uncommitted to the final form the image would take, I roughed in the painting with white paint. With the mat finish of the canvas and the ever so slightly contrasting gloss of the acrylic paint, the crude white on white portrait touched something in me. It was almost as though I had captured the spirit behind the face. I left it hanging that way on the wall of my studio for about a week. But then, unsure of myself, unconvinced that I would ever be able to put into words what I had captured, I painted over the white sketch and turned it into an accurate sepia toned portrait that was true to the original. I then cut one inch dots from some colorful fashion magazines and place them on the surface of the painting at one inch intervals in a diamond studded matrix. In a sense, I refashioned my mother’s sad life into one of beauty and titled it A Revisionist History of Glenda.” I have included a photo below.
CAN I GET A WITNESS?
One of my earliest memories is of a board book illustrating opposites. Big puppy. Small puppy. My brother was two years older than me and liked trying to teach me the secrets of the stiff pages.
Up. Down. I depended on him a lot in those days; our household was always in a state of turmoil.
Happy. Sad. And Mamma was usually glad to turn me over to him. She always thought of me as being an overly sensitive child.
Good. Bad. And she was afraid I spend too much time worrying about things I couldn’t change.
My mother was a stunning woman, the kind of woman you would expect to see on the cover of a magazine. I used to dream of being as pretty as she was. But I was also disturbed by the way her beauty came and went with her moods. When she was happy, she dressed the part in every way. She wore beautiful clothes, had the latest, most glamorous hairstyle, and adorned her beaming face with cosmetics. When she was sad, she looked like an impersonator of herself. She shuffled around the house in an ironically orange caftan that floated uncertainly about her body as though reluctant to make contact with her washed out skin. Her wide blue eyes refused to sparkle and the outer edges of her disappointed lids drooped under the weight of unshakeable sadness. Mamma was sad a lot.
As the years of my childhood progressed, I watched her as she tried to mask her sorrow. The photo albums in our den were filled with Easter pictures set on our impossibly green, sloping front lawn, carefully crafted photos of Mamma dressed in a costly pastel suit with matching hat and gloves and handbag and shoes. And she looked as lovely as a cover girl. In some of the pictures she was really smiling—the kind of smile that is almost always followed by a little laugh. I could tell because her teeth were showing.
Not everyone knew it but Mamma hated her teeth. They were delicate, like a child’s teeth, and though they were perfectly straight, they had tiny spaces in between. She was self-conscious about them and always tried to hide the small gaps as though they were small gateways allowing minute whispers of her soul to escape, or openings that would leave her vulnerable to invasion. I liked it when I saw Mamma’s teeth; it meant that she was really happy, so happy that she didn’t bother to hide behind a shuttered mouth.
But in most of the photos, Mamma’s eyes were unable to hide, for even the fraction of a second that it took to snap the annual Polaroid, the determined shadows of her emotional desperation. I guess she was stretched too thin to protect herself, and as the years went by, she stopped trying, until the camera was put away in the hall closet, eventually becoming an obsolete model for which film could no longer be purchased.