Exploration Is the Heart of the Creative Journey

Consider the Lilies (top) and Hot Summer Night
copyright 2022, Molly Larson Cook
8″x10″ each (including mat)
Acrylic and art tissue on illustration board
$40 each

I recently interviewed three artists for a show opening here in May. All three do beautiful work with textiles, but it turned out in the interviews that each one of them had started their art lives doing some other kind of artwork.

A truly creative life is not stagnant. Musicians start playing one thing and end up happier playing another. Writers do the same. Creativity requires – demands – that one keep the door open for wherever the work might lead you. This is an old story. And it’s my story, too.

The pieces here are from my collage work rather than the painting. They’re recent unlike the rest of my collage pieces which were my official beginning in art.

(When did you become an artist? Who knows the right answer to that?)

Collage is an interesting form, described by one arts author as “democratic and unthreatening.” Children’s art sometimes focuses on collage – putting pictures and scraps of paper together to make…something.

Serious collage, however, the work of artists like Picasso, Georges Braque, Kurt Schwitters, Hannah Hoch, and Louise Nevelson is described beyond “democratic and unthreatening” and certainly more than just “gluing things onto paper.”

In his fine book, Masters of Collage, Randel Plowman writes,
“The best collage artists have strong composition skills, a definite sensibility regarding the use of materials, and an innovative approach to the organization of visual components.”

His collection of forty collagists, each different from the other, is a great resource for anyone interested in the subject.

As for my own work, I picked up collage when I eased back into art after a lifetime of writing and other artistic pursuits – theatre, a brief run as a jazz singer, a long run as a jazz aficionado, writing, a little dance. I lived in a small apartment outside Seattle and collage, small works, were the right thing at the right time. I had long been drawn to the collages of earlier artists and felt my way along with it. I had even written a novel in which the main character is an artist who creates assemblages – another word for large collages.

To paraphrase the Willie Nelson song, art was always on mind.

Collecting the materials was an adventure in itself and I ended up with boxes of pictures, old postcards, dress patterns, tissue paper, odd items everywhere, whatever caught my attention. I collected books not to read but for the pictures. The act of putting these together into something that spoke to me and perhaps to others stimulated the creative juices, and my first art show entries were collages.

Then I discovered the paint, and I didn’t look back until recently. I’m still painting and will continue to do so, but I’m also enjoying the collage work again. Like the artists I interviewed, I know that there are no boundaries around our creative work.

Cezanne painted picture after picture of his beloved Mont Sainte-Victoire. Georgia O’Keeffe painted picture after picture of beautiful flowers. Monet painted his water lilies. But each of them painted other things as well: Cezanne’s oranges, O’Keeffe’s skulls, Monet’s haystacks. Each of them wandered in and out of their familiar territory in pursuit of artistic ends.

Robert Rauschenberg is a quintessential example of an artist who walked more than one path, and he did this with intention. Rauschenberg used the word “Combines” to describe what might otherwise have been considered collages. I rather like the word. Rauschenberg saw beauty everywhere and wanted to give even discarded found objects their due by giving them new life in his work.

I don’t see myself as either a Master of Collage or a Rauschenberg-like artist. I have miles to go before I sleep. But if Willie Nelson can sing jazz, I feel mighty comfortable exploring with my own work.

6 thoughts on “Exploration Is the Heart of the Creative Journey

  1. Fine story, Leo. I was there for the World’s Fair and saw that glass piece. Thank you for mentioning it and the artist. Good art story…

  2. One artist that you might consider reviewing is Paul Horiuchi. Born in Japan in 1906 and coming to America at 14, Paul worked for the Union Pacific Railroad for 2 decades the wilds of Wyoming and was painting in his free time. When WWI broke out, Paul and his family managed to avoid being sent to an interment camp. During the war, their life was a struggle with the anti-Japanese sentiment even though his wife was a US citizen. In 1946, Paul and his family settled in Seattle. Paul had an auto-body shop in Seattle as his “day job” and continued producing art. In the mid 50’s, his artwork shifted from painting toward collage. His most famous work is a 60′ long wall at rendered in colored glass for the Seattle World’s fair. This installation stands today and is known as the Mural Amphitheater. He continued to produce art up to the age of 90. He died in 1999 at the age of 93.

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