“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”
Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale
I have always loved words and language. When I was in high school in Toronto, Canada, my English teacher was obsessed with the word “linoleum.” He announced that if he ever had a daughter, that’s what he would name her. I can relate to that.
The journalist Richard J. Needham visited our school to give a talk. In Wikipedia Needham is described as “a kindly man who enjoyed the company of teenage misfits with intellectual pretensions.” It was the early 60’s and I was one of those misfits. I regularly attended his weekly luncheons in a downtown restaurant and said witty things, so he would quote me in his column in the Toronto Globe and Mail. I still have a yellowed copy of one of these columns, where he included me as one of the “People on the side of life…. right in life – affection, cheerfulness, inner strength.”
That was fifty years ago. I was young and naïve. Like everyone, I’ve suffered my share of blows and often struggle to keep that pro-life spark from burning out. As the French poet Antonin Artaud said, “No one has ever written or painted, sculpted, modeled, built, invented, except to get out of hell. “
I’ve always worked with words, as a freelance journalist, technical writer, editor, and translator. But in the beginning my collages were mute. One day the letter A appeared. Word fragments spilled out, from the beak of a bird and suddenly, my silent period was over.
Newspaper headlines are meant to grab our attention and they are composed of words with spunk and presence. The idea of incorporating them into collages was formulated when I was visiting my mother in a seniors’ residence. To keep from going stir crazy in her little apartment, I would cut out headlines, chop them into words and phrases and put them in a box. Then, at home, I would take out some words and move them around until I saw an unusual combination. Because of my dyslexia, I often misread words, seeing things that others miss, like the word “together”, which contains “to get her”; or the word “abundance”, which has the word “dance” in it.
The word “therapy” comes from the Greek word therapeia, which means “to be attentive to.” In ancient cultures art was considered to be a form of discovery. And that’s what I consider collage, a means of discovering myself.