September 10, 2008

New Art: Alphabetical Order by Catherine King

by Jerome du Bois

The banner above (here, when we change the banner) is a photograph of Alphabetical Order, a new 20" x 5' collage by Catherine King. It is composed entirely of images taken from magazines: letters, numbers, and hair. She has meticulously cut the areas around the letters and numbers into the shapes of tombstones. Formally, the artwork has the same layout as a Ouija board (which she has made before; and no, we don't use it). A Ouija board is a means of communicating with the dead. Here, it is as if all the spirits of the departed lingering beneath the surface of the board had been made manifest and visible, a veritable army of the dead, filling the entire area with their poignant message: Don't forget us. They march toward the viewer, in wave upon wave, growing larger as they get closer, crowding the mind. Conversely, they emerge from the viewer's mind (the living, moving hair along the bottom) as we remember that we wouldn't be here today, or who we are today, without those who have gone before us, who are now behind us, above us, and around us.

Catherine and typography go way back. She used to set type by hand. She used to use stencils to create letters. She used to cut and paste for advertising. Now here she is, returning to some of the same techniques. But she marvels at how typography has evolved, at how advances in technology and printing processes have enabled graphic artists to enhance, to enflesh, the enduring skeletal forms of the alphabet, to create emotional and evocative responses using color, shading, layering, auras, and distortion. So this piece is also a testament and homage to the ingenuity of those who took advantage of those advances.

Alphabetical Order rewards close examination. See those hands there? This is another homage, to the hard work of handwork. More importantly, though, it expresses the longing of the dearly departed to be embodied again, to touch, to grasp, to embrace, and to move a small part of the world as they used to do and can do no longer.

Catherine tells me that originally she thought of merely cutting or tearing the letters out of the magazines and gluing them to the surface. But after reflection the tombstone idea came to her, and she took out templates she inherited from her late father --templates that are no longer made in these computerized times-- and carefully carved out the varied shapes. Tombstones are made to endure, far outlasting the body below them. They mark the last visible vestige of an individual life, with a name and two dates to denote this person who was here for this long on this Earth.

"Good Bye" is a contraction of "God Be With Ye," and I infer two other Biblical references from this piece, though they were not necessarily Catherine's conscious intention: "Every hair is numbered," and Jesus' admonition to "Let your Yes be Yes and your No be No." Every one is unique. Every letter here is an individual, and even though some look alike, their size, their placement in space, and their tombstones differ. Everybody counts.

Posted by Jerome at September 10, 2008 05:45 PM | TrackBack