Where Worlds Collide

The dependence of light on darkness, whimsy on pathos, the sacred on the profane, forms an enigma we call life. My goal is to unite these extremes by forging them together, melding highly diverse elements to create new and startling graphic images.

In my first trials to create this tension, I was struck by a core memory: "Oh, my God," I thought, "paper dolls!" I recalled being mesmerized by the delicate cutouts. I deliberately put the wrong clothes on the figures, even exchanging their heads. I couldn't have been more than 5.

At 17, an astrologer told me that "paper" would have a strong influence on me. At the time I was fully committed to life as a dancer. The reading made no sense.

In a dream a few years later, I saw a black space where walls of paper stretched ahead of me in endless layers and I had to dance my way through them. This dream became the basis of "Paper Weight," an improvisational theater piece that recreated the dream and ended in a blizzard of white paper confetti.

At age 26, while looking through a picture book from my childhood, I impulsively picked up an Exacto knife and began dissecting its pages and gluing them back together. It felt like sacrilege to cut the book, but then a benediction to make something new from it. The first image I created was called "Darwin's Library."

This led to a busy career as a commercial illustrator. Before long, though, I began to view the pastiches I was creating - under short deadlines, about subjects of little interest - as meaningless. I walked away from a budding career.

Then, in 1986, after the loss of a loved-one in the first grim days of the AIDS epidemic, I withdrew from the world to grieve and center myself. I remembered some beautiful bound editions of 19th Century Victorian magazines that had been a gift from a fellow dancer. As I paged through them, the urge to cut and reassemble was reignited. I wanted these new, Gothic flavored efforts to reveal dichotomies, riddles, cryptic symbols, and mysterious messages - unsettling and absurd - and to challenge preconceived ideas about reality, the same way that dreams do.

I accomplish this paper art using surgeon's scalpels to silhouette a variety of antique and, occasionally, contemporary imagery culled from engravings, lithographs, and prints of all kinds. Scientific, botanical, and anthropological material is of special interest to me. All cuts are carefully inked to make a seamless composition which is assembled with acid-free bookbinding materials. I sometimes scan these montages to make high-resolution digital prints, selectively colorizing them. I have also experimented with adding rhymes to accompany some of these pieces. Examples can be found in my Parallel Universe Blog. Those experiments evolved into my 2015 book Brain Child, a fairy tale told in an epic poem with over 100 collage illustrations.

My early background in theatre - from amateur tap dancer to professional modern dancer - provided a wide range of illuminating experiences: from sequins and pizazz to the darker mysteries of the heart and spirit, and the theatrics of heightened states of being. In this sense, I approach each assemblage as a piece of choreography, a theatrical event occurring at the point where worlds collide. As for my writing, my father knew dozens of limericks and could recite all of "The Rime of Ancient Mariner" by heart. I was intrigued by the sounds, cadences, and wordplay. This, nursery rhymes, and the rhythms and percussion of tap dancing are early sources of my attraction to verse.

Alliteration, animation, anthropomorphism, black comedy, fairy tales, fantasy, magic, mysticism, mythology, penny dreadfuls, phantasmagoria, puppets, Romanticism, science fiction, Steampunk, stream of consciousness, Surrealism, and Theater of the Absurd have all colored my sensibilities. If I were to list the names of eclectic personalities that have influenced me, it would include Guiseppe Arcimboldo, Frank Baum, Aubrey Beardsley, Hieronymus Bosch, Tim Burton, Joseph Campbell, Lewis Carroll, Jean Cocteau, Joseph Cornell, Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Max Fleischer, Terry Gilliam, Edward Gorey, The Grimm Brothers, Alejandro Jadorowsky, James Joyce, Carl Jung, Buster Keaton, Stanley Kubrick, Ogden Nash, Alwin Nicolai, Auguste Rodin, Ken Russell, Stephen Sondheim, Dr. Suess, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Mae West.

For the past 30 years, I've been repurposing ephemera to create images that feel three-dimensional, play with scale and content, disregard norms, and manifest the inner life of characters. If your mind is plunged into unknown territory and your imagination sparked with shock and humor, I will feel I have succeeded.

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