While cleaning out my deceased father-in-law’s apartment in Madrid,Spain, my husband and I came across a myriad of items the 91-year old man had saved in the course of his life. He had lived in New York City for some time, having worked for the United Nations, and he had lived through the Spanish Civil War, at one point having to eat laundry starch for lack of available food. He was an interesting man who had countless old books, magazines, and newspapers from that era.
The apartment was large, but had little natural light. In the shadows, I could not help but feel the weight of time and history invade my senses as we gradually sifted through the old man’s possessions. At one point, I took great interest in finding a large drawer of blank papers. I was drawn to the empty, time worn surfaces. Most of it was writing paper, some having very old letterhead at the top, but there were a few pieces of heavier paper suitable for art making. These intrigued me, as no one in my husband’s family drew except his cousin who is an artist. But the paper looked so old that it was probably older than she, and much of the other written material we had found was from the 1920’sthrough the 1940’s.
I appreciated the tenuous existence of the old paper, which looked on the verge of disintegration. It did not appear to be acid-free rag paper,although the water mark would make one think it was. I kept this paper for a few years until I finally felt I could address the ephemeral nature of the materials and deal with the issues of time. Due to the quality of the paper, these works may be gone in 200 years, as perhaps everything could be.
Over the years, as an artist, my design skills have been honed, but here I focused on invention over design. Feeling very European and embracing the freedom of the Dadaists, I sought to stay true to the nature of the materials, manipulating the browning paper to give it new life. The imagery I use relates to intimate spaces in nature, old and new materials, and permanent and ephemeral materials. While working on these papers, thoughts of the old man and his apartment were pervasive. I felt invasive about having to do the necessary work of dispersing the secrets and dust of a life gone, but I have tried to charge that event with renewed creative force.