Now That I Found It, Where Do I Put It?

"Oh no, not again." Molly Larson Cook, 2014
“Oh no, not again.”
Molly Larson Cook, 2014


Working as I do in mixed-media collage, I’m an avid ripper and clipper and scanner – old magazines and books, old photos, images I love and want to use more than once, things I pick up on my walks – most recently a beautifully dried and partially shredded shiny brown palm frond.  I am a keeper of the scraps.

Like others of my ilk, I have boxes filled with bits and pieces, remnants along with books and magazines still intact but with pages ripped out for my arcane purposes.  When I buy used picture books, the sellers often note how beautiful the pictures are.  I hate to break their hearts by telling them I’m going to rip them up for art.

The upshot of all this is that about once a month I decide to organize my collections.  I have boxes and files and little drawers and all manner of places to store my bits, but I never get it right.  “Put all the people in one place,” I tell myself, “and all the plant material in another,” but as soon as I begin, I know I’m in trouble.  So I regroup and decide to sort by color.  This leads me nowhere as well.

The problem for me is that my mind and creative spirit don’t put the pieces together this way.  Other collage artists may be more organized or know exactly where they’re going, but I’m not there.  My eclectic mind wants to have fun with the work and I don’t know when I begin what I might want to put with what.  I work slowly and add images and color a little at a time.

Case in point:  I have a small collage in the works. I prepped the background in a new way to get some color combinations I haven’t tried before, rather quiet combinations, then I added the tissue scraps I use, a scrap of a dress pattern and then a bird I’d had in mind for this piece.  All in all a pleasant little piece, but I’m not about pleasant little pieces and something was missing in the upper left space.

While going through one of my boxes, I found just the thing and have now added a smallish image of a happy accordian player behind a row of red geraniums. I had no idea he’d show up here, but he’s quite perfect and it makes me laugh to see this guy with the lovely bird.

I realize once again that I can continue to buy boxes and drawers for all my treasures, but my collection will still be stored in my quirky random way because I never know what’s going to inspire what.  Or make me laugh.

My world has never been perfectly organized like some cosmic underwear drawer.  My boxes of treasures are, in my old professor’s words,  rich and complex to me, not complicated or confusing.  And that’s good enough for this fledgling.



The Riches of the City

It is only fitting
“It is only fitting…”

I can’t say I wasn’t warned.  Friends from many places told me I was going to find a spiritual home in San Diego – a home for my creative spirit – and sure enough I have.

When I look through the local newspapers, my one lament is “so much to do, so little time.”  Of course, I’m not a participant in all those activities.  I don’t play an instrument or sing (except in the car, alone), I’m not a dancer (except late at night in my living room, alone), and I’m no longer on any stage (except the private theatre of my mind, alone).  But I’m a writer and a fledgling artist.

These days I lean toward gallery openings and art classes and conversations with working artists whenever possible.  To my great pleasure, this is indeed a city of riches.  To paraphrase Alexandra del Lago in Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth, I’m not old, but I’m no longer young, “not young, young” anymore.  So the pressure is on to work at the visual art as much as possible, and there are so many ways to do that here.

I’m exploring all possible avenues and finding much encouragement in the city in which I now find myself.  Add to that my own late-hour willingness to explore and experiment, my new-found willingness to make mistakes and hope for “happy accidents,” and my memory of the words of an artist friend from many years ago:  “We are all richly gifted with inexperience.”

I remember those words every day, including the days when nothing goes right, but then again, nothing goes really wrong.  Learning to be a collage/mixed media artist is much bigger than simply putting pieces together.  I’m learning a whole new philosophy of life.

For a collage artist, every misbegotten scrap of paper or picture or tiny leaf or bit of detritus can be used to make something new – with luck something beautiful.  If that isn’t a life lesson, I don’t know what is.





“But What Does It Mean?”

'You can run but you can't hide."
“You can run but you can’t hide.”                Molly Larson Cook

This past week I was subjected to the question many of us hope never to hear about our work:  “But what does it mean?”

My collage work is generally abstract.  I’ve been doing more painting and less pasting recently and the more I do this, the more abstract things become.  But even when I’m using images in the work – cut, pasted, pasted over, pieces of this and that – the work never approaches realism.  In fact, I look at the collages the way I look at dreams – recognizable objects, people, words, places – juxtaposed in odd and unexpected ways.

They’re like the dream about your grandmother when her kitchen table turns into a swimming pool and your granny is really Esther Williams who swims away while your car gets stuck on a mountain of ice and the telephones don’t work no matter how hard you try to talk to the Dean of your college.  Like that.

So I was reluctant to take on the question, but when I did I learned some things about my work that I had not known before.  It was a little like E.M. Forster’s line:  “How do I know what I think ’til I see what I say.”  I don’t know that my work is “about” anything.  Maybe this is because I’m still a fledgling artist or maybe it’s because I like what Sam Goldwyn said about motion pictures that wanted to be more than motion pictures:

“If you want to send a message, call Western Union.”

So far, that works great for me.