Sunday, April 29, 2007

Why Maché Artist?

A few years ago when I first got on the Internet, I noticed all these fascinating noms de guerre people had created for themselves… names like “Lips2Sweet4U” and “2L8_4myLuv” for the girls, which, once I thought about it, really made me feel pre-rejected by people I didn’t even know and whose lips I had no interest in anyway; or names like “superSTUD4babes” and “Guy2Hot2Handle” for guys with some serious superiority complexes, which, for some neurotic reason, made me feel surprisingly inferior. For a long time I humbly went by… well, Jim Bohannon. Nothing like using your real name to throw people off! There came a time, however – a fateful time – when I decided I should set up yet a second Yahoo! account, and since my real name was already taken and I was already having to use it with the number “1” attached to it, instead of going for Jim_Bohannon2 (and since “studmuffin879” was also already taken and I had little interest in trying to remember “studmuffin880”) I decided I’d call myself something that represented me to the core. So Maché_Artist it was (Maché is pronounced “mah-shay…some people have trouble figuring it out).

Why would any self-respecting, net-surfing e-mail hopper name himself after a French adjective that literally means “chewed up”? Simple. I love paper maché. When I was boy I discovered a recipe in The Family Book of Games, which I had gotten in an introductory package from Doubleday Book Club (which I had inadvertently forgotten to tell my mama I’d sent off for…but that’s another story). Well, I didn’t care much about soaking strips of paper in a galvanized washtub, boiling them down, and beating them to a pulp. I decided what I would do is tear newspaper (and we always had a stack) into tiny pieces and stick them together with glue made from flour and water. I used this method to make toys for myself. The first thing I made was a very detailed Lunar Excursion Model (LEM) which stood about 5 inches tall and actually came apart so I could both land on the moon and take off from it. The poor LEM – after dozens of landings on the dining room table (aka “the moon” – the white tablecloth was perfect), I hopped off the couch one afternoon forgetting about the lander, and it met with a cataclysmic force from my foot, rendering all future moon explorations unfeasible.

In later years I began to wonder if I could make art with this method, so I began gluing these pieces of paper together to make more detailed works, including an elephant complete with tusks and a long-neck, cartoonish turtle. As the years went by, I made various starts and stops with this art form until I decided to pulverize paper in a blender and mix it with flour and water to make a moldable mash. This worked very well, and my skill increased, until I had a bout with clinical depression and gave up art for a while. Recently I have returned to my passion for sculpting in paper mâché with the enthusiasm of a teenager who’s just discovered girls (maybe that’s a bad analogy, but you get the picture). I made a half-hearted attempt to do some things with clay, but it left me uninspired – and it also cracks very easily.

The problem with working in paper mâché, at least the method of building from scratch that I use, is it takes lots of time. Each meager stage of production has to dry completely before I go on, so keeping the motivation for major projects such as I have in progress now requires lots of patience – and it’s perfect for somebody with a short attention span, because I can work on a piece, then set it aside for days and work on something else. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so it takes endurance, coupled with downright mule-headedness, to keep going. I've also had to change the recipe – I no longer use flour, because those same beetles that love breakfast cereal also love flour...even when it's mixed with pulverized paper. Now I use Elmer's glue, which makes an incredibly strong product when dry, and an incredibly sticky mess while in progress, but one must suffer for one's art.

Something that I really like about my art medium of preference is that I take trash (literally) and turn it into a work of art. There is something profound in that for me – it’s a metaphor, much like what I try to do in my other job as a teacher of inmates at a state prison. Where you see trash to be dropped off at the dump, I see dragons lifting their wings to fly, Civil War soldiers haggard from war, frogs playing musical instruments on lily pads, a country baseball pitcher in mid-windup, and…well, lots of possibilities.

So…I figured that would be the perfect “other name” for myself. How appropriate, because life has a way of leaving us mâché-ed (chewed up) and spit out, and I’m no exception. It’s just that I want to take the chewed-up experience and turn it into something beautiful – and if not exactly beautiful, at least a whole lot of fun!

[I've included a couple of pictures here – an older work (a dragon perched on a rock) and a piece in progress, Dragonlock Holmes, who will sport, when completed, a trenchcoat and the typical Sherlockian cap, and will hold a magnifying glass in one hand and a Calabash pipe in the other.]

1 comment:

aiken said...

Wow! I loved your analogy and your art. I can't imagine sculpture--it fascinates me for that reason. It IS interesting that we leave and come back to our art, and sometimes have a greater passion for it the second time around. I wondered if you'd thought about putting together more pix of your work and posting within your blog. That would be great. There's a web device of some sort that does that . . . I've used it . . . and I will look it up. I can't wait to share your blog with friends.