Roots and Roads #1, a collage

Roots and Roads 1, a collage, by Karen Koch“Roots and Roads #1” is the first in a new series of artwork that explores roots (where do we come from) and roads (where are we going).

2015 has been a year full of – let’s put it mildly – change. I’m in a bit of a lull (thank goodness) and now that I can take a moment to breathe, I am feeling the need to reflect, to look back and look forward. Trying to make sense of the pieces.

That introspection carries into my artwork, of course. I like to work in series, and have been mulling over several possible themes. One idea took cues from last year’s Portals series, which explored portals as transitions, both tangible (windows, gateways, arches) as well as intangible (memories as portals to the past).

Transitions. Yes. This is definitely a time of transition. I’m in a place of going from here to there, but with a strong need for roots, of a starting point, of grounding.

“Roots and Roads #1” is the first piece in this new series. How exactly this series will work out and what other pieces might look like, I can’t say yet.

Inspired by the idea that we need to be grounded in our past helps us grow toward our future, “Roots and Roads #1” explores the universal questions of where have we been and where are we going. It is made from old book pages, maps, thread, and acrylic paint.

This specific piece began with a page in my journal. I often use journal pages to clean my brayer during monoprinting sessions, rolling leftover paint in random patterns. (Can’t waste paint, you know.) Flipping through my journal recently, I paused at one of those pages. Although it was only swipes of blue and green paint, I could see in it the shape of a windswept tree on a hill. Live oak or gnarled cypress – that sort of thing.

Roots and Roads Journal Page, Karen KochI sifted through my paper stash to find an image of a tree, and found one that was close to the image in my head. I also ran across a bit of map that seemed as if it would make a good root system for my tree. They fit together just right. Simple and satisfying.

Really satisfying. What would it look like as a larger version?

Roots and Roads, background, Karen KochI pulled out a blank canvas, 24 x 30 inches. Been a long time since I’ve worked this large, but why not.

I began by gluing pages from my favorite old dictionary all over the canvas. When they were nearly dry, I pulled up parts of some pages to interrupt the text and add texture. Then I covered over the whole canvas in a thin blue paint.

Roots and Roads, in process, by Karen KochTo tackle the tree, I tore sample shapes out of plain white paper and arranged them on the canvas until I was happy with the size and placement. The white paper gave me a guide to know the size and shape of the elements that would be needed.

Again, I sorted through my collage stash, pulling out paper, maps, and string that seemed like possibilities. I arranged various pieces on the canvas, dry, until I was satisfied that all the parts were right.

Roots and Roads, layout, Karen KochFor the roots, again I found a map: a large U.S. map. It was the right scale but was missing the heavy lines that worked so well in the small map. So, I pulled out my sewing machine and stitched along interstates and rivers to emphasize some of them.

Now, the pieces were right! Everything was glued down securely, and the entire piece varnished.

Collage, for me, is a deliberate medium. Each piece is tested, weighed against the others, moved or replaced, until all the pieces fit. Only then do I glue them down. It’s a thoughtful medium, so it seemed appropriate for this image.

Title: Roots and Roads #1
Size: 30 x 24 inches
Medium: Collage, with old book pages, maps, painted papers, thread
Signed: Yes, front and back

Update: “Roots and Roads #1” has been selected to be part of the “Evolving Landscapes” exhibit at Summit Artspace. The exhibit runs March 3 – April 8, 2017.

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