Floating Collages

Kate's "floating collages" are 3-D visual narratives told though multiple layers, to depict simultaneous space and time. Paper punches of various sizes and shapes and other objects create the collage pieces, almost like mosaic tiles. These pieces are mounted on nails, sandwiched between cut lengths of vinyl tubing, to hold them in place at varying heights and angles, on visible wood panels.

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As a writer, I think in narrative. As an artist, I depict stories, events and concepts not through words, but through 3-dimensional "floating collages."

Transforming 2D into 3D is like reworking a sentence from passive to active voice, and adding adjectives and adverbs. It's like changing "The moon is obscured by clouds" to "Dark clouds obscure the moon." Or changing "My work suggests the flow of time" to "Time flows through my work."

Briefly, I begin at the center of a 2-dimensional paper image, using paper-punch tools to cut out pieces of varying size and shape—a bit like mosaic tiles. I "float" these pieces on nails by sandwiching them between short lengths of vinyl tubing (slipped over the nails). I hammer them at varying heights and angles into a wood panel. The wood grain is visible through the empty punched-out area of the original image, which I glue to the panel.

The floating layers pull the eye across the piece, adding depth and shadows. I use these layers to inject what writers call "the movement of narrative time." How the collage pieces are stacked, and their relationship to other pieces, tell the narrative—they create action and define relationships. The visual equivalents of adjectives, adverbs, and subtexts float in adjacent layers.

The individual paper pieces act like words in sentences: some are for description, others are for action, and others are to inform. Time is dimensional: By stacking pieces on the same or adjacent nails, I create phrases, and can literally hammer together past, present and future events.

The wood, which is often cut into two or three sections, adds continuity from one panel to the next; the grain can flow like water or clouds or time. Other elements—copper, leaf skeletons, bones, beads, acrylic skins—add texture and meaning. The sum of the parts creates the meaning of the whole.

Subject Matter

I choose subjects that spark an emotional connection, and leave me puzzled or impressed. If I find myself thinking about an event or topic for more than a few days, I usually discover larger observations about people, issues, and themes—the stuff of literary essays.

For instance, I still can't fathom why the only nation to be so devastated by atomic bombs would allow the possibility that a "friendly" nuclear catastrophe could ever occur, especially one of their own making. This led to "3 Days of Tsunami," where each panel represents the same geographical area over three consecutive days (like a legend on a Japanese scroll): Post-war stability...a sea monster awakes...finally, kimonos and people "drowning not waving" toss and turn as the waves recede, while traditional symbols of clowns hover at the nuclear site.

Another example: Historically, there's a connection between the moon and lunatics—and between artists, geniuses and insanity. The moon's brilliant side dazzles us like a painting; it's so romantic we even christen the dry waterless features as "seas." The other side of the moon is dark to us; we never see it. And perhaps what's on the dark side is indeed the other side of brilliance. These thoughts led to "Lunar Seas and Lunacies," where the dark side of the moon drips with brain ganglia, and artists and geniuses suffering the same insanities (dementia, schizophrenia, OCD) cluster together on the same nail or adjacent ones.

Not all of my work is so serious. Nature and science fascinate me. In the Arctic, it takes two weeks for the sun to rise. Wow! That must be spectacular. I tried to capture this performance in "Arctic Sunrise," with all the colors, textures, lights, and shadows that must gradually emerge, especially at the Arctic's central point where no land mass exists. (This two-week dawn launches one "day" of daylight that lasts half the year.)

I've been writing books and articles since 1994, and am the only writer in a family of visual artists. I continue to write, and now through my "floating collages" I've got a whole new way for putting thoughts on paper.

—Kate Heyhoe


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This page modified July 2011