I have always been fascinated by collage, and Jane Maxwell’s creative use of collage truly intrigues me. By layering her surfaces and then cutting through to create female forms, there is an opportunity for surprise in her process. This is something I would not usually associate with collage.
Maxwell’s artistic voice grew out of a passion for vintage materials, modern fashion and design – mingled with a deep fascination for pop culture and female icons. The issues of body image and perfectionism that pervade her work have been informed by her own experiences, ambivalence and frustration, chasing the elusive myth of beauty.
I recently interviewed Jane and asked her about her process, materials and her advice. Here’s what she had to say:
Tell us about your process and materials?
I love to work with found and vintage papers, particularly old movie posters, ledger sheets and mechanical renderings. I like the way these materials have their own history and unique patina. I am interested in experimenting with how materials can be manipulated, layered, glued down and peeled back.
My process begins with a panel canvas. I typically glue up to five or six layers of unique papers to create the base of the piece. I then use a variety of ‘templates’ to create the figures through a process of decollage. It is always exciting to see what text and imagery is unearthed as I peel back paper. I use beeswax throughout the process to create translucency and overlapping imagery. As a final step, the canvas is coated in resin.
Does your work have an inherent message you are trying to convey about women?
I wish I could say that I was trying to convey a particular message or spark political debate. In the end, though, my art is really about my personal journey, struggles and ambivalence about living in a society where there is an inherent pressure to conform to a specific feminine ideal. It may feel as though my work has an inherent message because so many women struggle with this same issue — there is an epidemic in the United States of women who are unhappy with their bodies and who struggle with what it means to be a woman today.
Plus, it would be hard to deliver a concrete message because my feelings are so ambivalent. I vacillate between engaging full force in the media rhetoric and hype, and simultaneously resenting and fighting against it. I am at once a pop-culture junky — I read all the magazines and watch all the current TV shows — and yet I suffer a ferocious hangover from the powerful messaging, that ends up filling me with negativity. Then, I get up and do it all over again.
Has the message changed over the years since you have started making this work?
My work has certainly evolved over the years to mirror my personal growth. This can be seen most clearly with the evolution of the figures. In the early years, my work featured mostly figures cultivated from paper doll forms. The figures were stiff, uniform and repetitive — in a nod to our cultures insistence on uniformity.
The figures then began moving, asserting more power. They became more engaged with the world, as I too, began to really try and understand the implications and fallout from aspiring and adhering to the myth of perfection.
In certain pieces, the women are more contemplative, even sad, other times sexy and fierce. It really depends on the mood that I am in on any particular day in the studio. In my most recent series I’m calling ‘Free Fall,’ figures are spinning, jumping and falling as I begin to explore what it might mean to surrender the control that feeds the quest for perfection. As I get older, I am learning more and more, in countless ways, that I can’t control nearly as much as I think I can. I think this realization will have huge implications for the art.
Do you think that working in collage has either opened or closed any doors to you as an artist?
That’s an interesting question. In certain ways, I think that working in collage has both opened and closed doors. Collage gets a bit of a bad rap for riding a fine line between craft and fine art. I have strived to elevate the medium through innovative processes, unique materials and a concept that speaks to my personal journey.
In certain ways, being a collage artist helps open doors, because it is a category that isn’t fully saturated, and it can be applauded for its originality and uniqueness. I do hear, however, of collectors who feel that collage or mixed media works don’t hold their value as do paintings — making paintings a better investment. I hope in time that will change.
Tell us about your family and how you balance your creative life with your family life?
When I began my art career, my three children were young. I set up a studio in the basement of my home and would work diligently during school hours, then free up for the family.
But, there were certainly many days when I was building a show, and my kids would have their after-school snack and do their homework down in my studio. And, many times when I heard my kids say ‘mom, stop working and pay attention to us,’ having a set schedule was key. I also had a lot of babysitters.
My kids are older now, and they are part of my creative life in a different way. We visit many art exhibits together, and I have had the pleasure of watching their creativity and artistic talents blossom, and I have been so lucky to have an amazingly supportive husband who has always really valued the work I do.
What type of advice would you give to an artist who is trying to get their work out their in the professional art world?
I tell all aspiring artists to dig deep to find their individual voice and in doing so, create something compelling and unique. It’s really important to go to exhibitions, visit New York City and other art hubs to know what is being exhibited. The art world is a tough business, so it’s important to find your competitive advantage.
I come from a business and marketing background (I didn’t take my first art class until I was 29 years old), and I am a true believer in addressing the art business like you would any other business. It’s imperative to ask and be able to answer questions like: what makes your art special or different? Does your work have a strong concept or technique that a gallery could sell?
I also tell aspiring professional artists to have a strong, cohesive body of work — at least five pieces — before contacting a gallery. Do your homework. Be sure the gallery you contact has the right sensibility for your work. You can tell by looking at their artist roster the type of work they’re interested in. Finally, I suggest creating hard deadlines and goals, even if they are artificial, and sticking to a regular work schedule day in and day out, week after week.
Brenda Hope Zappitell creates abstract expressionist works not only born out of intuition but also serendipitously influenced by nature and life experiences. She earned her B.S.W. from Florida State University in 1986 and her J.D. from University of Miami Law School in 1990. Zappitell is mostly self-taught but has attended classes and workshops in New Mexico, Mexico and Florida. She is represented at galleries around the country and has participated in solo and group exhibitions. Her work is in both private and public collections. Visit www.zappitellstudio.com.