Here are two collages I made for the first and last pages of a new diary. (The majority of the image above comes from a chopped up copy of Durër’s Apocalypse.)
Filed under: Sunday collage
I was bored of drawing blind contour self-portraits in my diary, and then, as often happens in my projects, I switched out the tool I was using, and suddenly the practice became new again.
The only trouble with the brush pen is that it doesn’t give you much feedback. The brush glides over the page, and if you’re not looking, you sometimes can’t tell if you’re actually making marks:
In order to orient myself when drawing blind with the brush, I have to be absolutely silent so I can hear the slight swish to know I’m actually making a mark. No headphones, no music. I even have to keep the edge of my hand from resting on the page because it makes a scraping sound as I move around. This turns drawing into even more of a multi-sensory experience than it already is…
So with the brush, so with life. The world is shouting, but there is a voice inside, waiting to be heard. Shut up and listen. Decline to comment. Hold thy tongue, loosen thy pen. Noise is fascinating, if we give it our attention. Silence is a space for something new to happen.
Because I use the same brand of notebook for my diary, I thought it’d be funny to have a weigh-in. This diary, from December 25, 2019 through March 1st, 2020, gained 103 grams, or approximately 5 human souls. (Kidding.)
I’m reminded of what Italo Calvino wrote in the “Lightness” chapter of Six Memos for the Next Millennium:
[M]y working method has more often than not involved the subtraction of weight. I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structures of stories and from language.
For the rest of the lecture, he attempted to explain why he considered “lightness a value rather than a defect” in art. At some point he became aware of “the weight, the inertia, the opacity of the world… At certain moments I felt that the entire world was turning to stone: a slow petrification, more or less…”
He said if he were to choose “an auspicious image for the new millennium” he would choose:
[T]he sudden agile leap of the poet-philosopher who raises himself above the weight of the world, showing that with all his gravity he has the secret of lightness, and that what many consider to be the vitality of the times—noisy, aggressive, revving and roaring—belongs to the realm of death, like a cemetery for rusty cars.
I don’t pretend to understand everything that Calvino was talking about, but I’ve always loved this idea of lightness. (Bill Murray: “If you can stay light…”)
(I should probably read up on physics before I mix metaphors — does light not have weight? — but I feel that my other job is to be the light or reflect it.)
Coming across this portrait by Gjon Mili reminded me of how much fun I had researching Sterne’s work about 5 years ago.
Here’s a LIFE magazine profile of Sterne and Steinberg, where they’re billed as a sort of powerhouse art couple (they later separated, but never divorced):
Here’s a drawing of Steinberg she did in the 40s:
Here’s another photo of her posing for LIFE magazine with with a bunch of Abstract Expressionists, aka “The Irascibles,” many of whom didn’t want her in the photograph because she was a woman:
She outlived every single one of the bastards.
As Sarah Boxer points out, the photo is ironic, because “Sterne thought of herself as an anti-Abstract Expressionist, someone with no use for the cult of personality and personal gesture.”
In an interview with Art In America when she was 96-years-old, she explained that her art was not about ego, but about sharing what she had seen:
All along it was never imagination of self-expression. I always thought that art is not quote self-expression by communication. It is saying, hey, look! Of course, what you react to has to be transformed, without a doubt, or otherwise it is not art, but you do that whether you want it or not. The intention, the purpose, is not to show your talent but to show something. This is very important. Because I grew up and lived in a period of ego, ego, ego. And I was always anti-ego… I was always trying to reduce the ego… I had a very great urgency to show, to share… I discovered things and wanted to share them.
She conceived of her work as an act of pointing:
In our time, artists are inclined to believe that art is like honey, the product of their own subconsciouses, their own minds, and I do not. I see myself as a well-working lens, a perceiver of something that exists independently of me: don’t look at me, look at what I’ve found.
(I’m reminded of Corita Kent, who said, “I just make things I like bigger.”)
As a girl in Romania, she said, “All I wanted to do was stay home and draw and read. I taught myself to read and write when I was five. By the time I was six I read for pleasure. I had already read Dostoyevsky at eleven.”
From an interview with BOMB:
You see, one really doesn’t change that much. In many ways, I have a feeling that I am exactly as I was as a child, when I spent my life reading and painting. And then, erroneously, for a while, I was involved in trying to live like a grown-up, and then I got old, and now I’m back doing what comes naturally. I just read and paint.
She met Antoine de Saint-Exupéry not long after she arrived in New York. He would call her and read chapters of stuff he was working on at 2 or 3 in the morning. When he was working on The Little Prince, he asked her for the name of a good illustrator, and she convinced him to draw his own illustrations.
When they were married, she and Steinberg would cruise around:
We looked at everything, everything. Every Sunday when there was no traffic, we went motoring through New York. I was crazy about New York. Then in ‘47, I went to the country and I discovered agricultural machines. I had a feeling that machines are unconscious self-portraits of people’s psyches: the grasping, the wanting, the aggression that’s in a machine. That’s why I was interested to paint them.
She called herself a “kept woman,” and noted that because she was always married and had money, she didn’t really worry about fame or getting noticed, “I didn’t have to make concessions to be liked. If they liked me, it was OK. I never looked for a gallery.” She explained that staying away from fame was a way to protect her work:
I’ll have some terrific shows posthumously. I want to tell you something also, a little secret. Last summer, I read a book by David Bohm, the physicist, called Order, Science, and Creativity. They gave chimps paint and found that they’d rather paint than do anything else, they even forgot to eat. The only thing that stemmed the flow of the hated word, “creativity,” was when they began to reward them for painting. I have seen in my life again and again what fame does to people and I think that, subconsciously, I blundered to protect myself.
For her art was all about looking:
Whenever you reach a condition of true concentration, you do achieve an anonymous state. And, as a matter of fact, this is true for the onlooker, or the reader of a poem. Unless you can forget yourself when you look, there isn’t a true relationship happening between the work of art and the viewer. The same thing goes for work. The more anonymous you are and the more you lose yourself, the more you add to yourself. It sounds absurd, but that’s the way it really is.
She thought you could find inspiration everywhere:
I heard once about a Yiddish poet who lived in utter poverty and misery, a teenager, who never had seen anything beautiful in his life, and he made splendid poems about vegetables jumping into the soup pot. My idea being that for the sublime and the beautiful and the interesting, you don’t have to look far away. You have to know how to see.
Sadly, by the end of her life, she’d had a stroke and couldn’t see and spent her days in a wheelchair. (“I do my best work now… Only in my imagination!“) She said she had to learn to be idle:
Now that I am so old and incapacitated, I don’t do anything with great enthusiasm. You know, thinking, dreaming, musing, become essential occupations. I am watching my life. As if I’m not quite in it, I watch it from the outside. Because after so many years of working unceasingly, and enthusiastically, being idle is a tremendous effort of concentration and adjustment.
The luck is that there is less energy. That’s a compensation. It makes it easier. Just sitting. I saw peasants in Romania, you know, on Sunday, when they get up all summer at 4 and work incessantly until noon, let’s say. And Sunday they just sit, and their resting is so active like an activity, resting. It’s a beauty to behold, you know. It’s not just doing nothing. It’s being and existing in a certain way. In a way old age is a little bit like that. It has its beauties.
Here she is on the importance of her meditation practice to her work:
I’ve been meditating since 1966… I didn’t have a guru ever, but I read all the books. I gradually worked out my own system. It’s very, very much a part of my life… It has to do with cleaning the lenses, you know. Developing and taking care of your mind. A mind has to be both reflective and transparent. I do not separate any form of apprehending, perceiving and understanding. Let’s say the intellect is like going through the jungle with a machete, and the meditative mind is soaring above the jungle.
Here’s her unique way of keeping a diary:
I started doing one on my floor. I had a large canvas, and I divided it into days and months, and each day I put in one quote I was particularly fond of that I found in a book. And that was the diary. I did it for a year and a half, and then twice for two and a half months. The one for a year and a half is an enormous affair. I rolled it up because I can’t clean it without erasing everything. So now I don’t put it on the floor anymore. It was very good looking.
She was a truly fascinating artist. I encourage you to learn more about her work from these links:
Jeanne Marie Laskas once asked her friend Fred Rogers if the show was his church.
He thought a moment. He said it was easier to say what it wasn’t. It was not a show. He used the word “program,” never “show.”
“An atmosphere,” he said. What he was trying to create with “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was “an atmosphere that allows people to be comfortable enough to be who they are.” He continued: “I really don’t want to superimpose anything on anybody. If people are comfortable in that atmosphere, they can grow from there, in their own way.
“A lot of this — all of this — is just tending soil.”
Jesus told a parable about about a farmer who went out to sow seeds.
Some of the seeds fell along his path and got gobbled up by birds. Some of the seeds fell into rocks and sprouted almost immediately, but since they had no soil to take root, they scorched when the sun came out. Some of the seeds fell in deep, fertile soil, and those seeds took root and yielded much fruit.
I think Jesus may have left out at least one potential scenario: Later, the birds shit out the seeds, and by chance, some of them land in good soil elsewhere.
Sometimes I feel like, to quote Dylan, I’m just like that bird!
See also: Beautiful things grow out of shit
Some of them are drawn from life, some from my camera roll.
This one started by copying a drawing of Charlie Brown and letting my hand go.
I really love drawing chickens. (The cigarette is a nod to Lynda.)
This one started with a swiped drawing from my 4-year-old.
More “Good morning, diary” on Twitter…
To warm up for the past couple mornings I’ve pulled out my trusty ol’ Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and filled a page in my diary before writing. (Hard not to be influenced when reading Lynda Barry!) The pen is probably half a decade old, and still works like new. Something magical about drawing with this thing…
Every time I finish a diary it feels like I should mark the occasion. People ask me what I’m up to these days, and I say, “Working in my diary, mostly,” and they probably think I’m insane.
Looking back through this one, I notice how filled it is with drawings by my four-year-old: he is in that irresistible period where every single drawing they produce seems to be vibrating with life and you want to save them all. The ones in the diary are mostly discards that I “rescued” from the recycle bin to use in collages…
Collage, collage, collage. So many collages. That’s what I do when I don’t have anything to say.
If you want to see more, head over to Instagram, or I’ve posted the photo sets below.
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Pages of a finished diary. (1 of 3) #kleondiaries 1. I always decorate the cover with weird stickers 2. I usually do a “guardian spirit” on the inside cover, but this drawing of a skeleton from my 4-year-old worked better I thought #juleskleonart 3. Drawing of poison ivy by the 4-year-old and real dialogue 4. Beethoven obsession 5. Sometimes it’s just quotes and collages 6. Phone doodles while talking to my friend @johntunger 7. I draw angry comix so I don’t say mean things out loud 8. When I have nothing to say i collage. Especially good when I have a daily paper with the comics section 9. More collages + 4-year-old’s drawing More: #kleondiaries
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…and set two…
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Pages from a finished diary. (2 of 3) #kleondiaries 1. I like to glue the four-year-old’s thrown out drawings to magazine backgrounds 2. Spider collage 3. Big feelings collage 4. Collage and quote about redwood roots 5. Sometimes I wake up with words in my head and even if they’re “bad” or “offensive” words I do something with them 6. Linocut prints by my six-year-old 7. Pretty standard page: longhand brain dump + doodles 8. More 4-year-old drawings (they’re irresistible) + comic dialogue 9. Epic Batman collage story #kleondiaries
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…and set three:
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Pages from a finished diary (3 of 3) #kleondiaries 1. Sometimes I will work on a new talk by drawing a comic and let it go wherever it wants to go (you can tell how much I’ve taken from @thenearsightedmonkey) 2. Tape collage / writing about what I’m reading 3. Abandoned collage 4. Grey’s anatomy + sheet music from the thrift store collage 5. Drawing of my son in his lucha mask 6. I like to take text ads and make new messages 7. A postcard of @valeriefowlerart‘s work + stickers and a torn note from my friend’s daughter 8. Back matter 9. I don’t always decorate the back cover but I couldn’t wait for the next notebook to bless it with Bucee Hope this isn’t too boring. When people ask me what I’m up to, I say, “Working in my diary.” ? #kleondiaries
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