A False Start: T. S. Eliot, Snoopy, and the Art of the Artist’s Statement

Do I dare to eat a peach? Does starting a blog count as eating a peach?

The third question of the false start: for poets who also practice some other kind of art, what is the relationship between the poetry and the other discipline? In the case of my poetry and collage, are the two in dialogue? I pondered this issue as I struggled to write a meaningful statement about my collages in preparation to contact galleries about a possible exhibition. I thought it relevant to mention my work as a poet, and found myself also making connections about my readings in cognitive science. Here is what I came up with:

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Artist’s Statement: Camille Martin

I am both a collage artist and a poet. The two media are not mutually exclusive; they inform one another. My approaches to language and images are closely related: I gather materials (in the case of poetry, words or phrases; in the case of collages, backgrounds and cut-out images) and try different combinations until something larger than the juxtaposed elements emerges. After creating the collages, I digitally scan them and create enlarged archival prints on fine art paper mounted on white dibond.

The startling juxtaposition of images is key to my work. Lautreamont, a nineteenth-century writer, described beauty as “the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissection table.” That statement, which became a sort of anthem for surrealists, speaks to me of the mysterious charm that ensues from the dialogue among the images that I marry with scissors and glue. The images might start telling a narrative, or their meaning might remain mysterious and absurd.

One thing that we humans do best is to fill in the gaps of seemingly illogical juxtapositions: to “confabulate,” to tell stories in order to explain. Confronted with oddness, the mind rushes to fill the aporia between the unlike images, like water rushing to fill a depression in the earth: a snake levitates in the air, lifting with it a marble staircase; a mountain breaks apart to reveal to a climbing statue a secret city with buildings adorned with feathers; a broken puppet falls from the sky like Icarus; a naked mole rat watches enviously as two mating turtles fly across the night sky. The gaps that we fill with narratives are openings for the creation of our very selves, which is unending.

It is equally possible, confronted with the illogical, to allow the strange gaps to remain a mystery and to experience what the poet John Keats called “negative capability”: the capacity to allow the presence of uncertainties without trying to rationalize them, to allow “mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.” The snake carries the staircase: that reality can exist in its own world, resistant to the attempt of any brain to reason with the oddness of it.

It’s important for me as an artist to allow both possibilities: interpretation and mystery; narrative and an irrationality that resists narrative. The interplay of these two possibilities constitutes for me the richness and playfulness of my work. There is magic and meaning—and poetry—in both states.

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I recently sent a portfolio to the Women’s Art Resources Centre in Toronto in order to get a critique from a knowledgable artist and curator. I am still basking in her assessment, which was very positive in regards to the art (she writes that she is “impressed with the quality of the execution and the composition of the collage work” – woo-hoo!). Her main suggestion had to do with my artist’s statement: to situate my collages in a more contemporary context in order to place my work in the stream of a more recent tradition. Excellent advice.

Sage advice also from Snoopy, who responded to sourpuss Lucy’s refusal to dance the day away: “Four hundred years from now, who’ll know the difference?” That’s as good a response to Eliot’s weary despair as I’ve ever heard.
. . . . . .

I record here my website address, in what is probably a useless attempt to get Google to index it:

http://www.camillemartin.ca

Camille Martin

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