I do not particularly enjoy making art, with the exception of one medium. Photography is the only artistic process that I truly relish. I received my degree in photography, back in the early 2000’s when everything was done in a dark room with intensely toxic chemicals, and this newfangled digital photography thing was just emerging. I lived in the darkroom and I loved every part of this creative method. I froze the first time I saw a piece of light-sensitive paper dropped into a vat of chemistry. Our class had just taken “photographs” outside using our makeshift, shoebox, pinhole cameras. I honestly had NO idea what was going on or what we were doing. I just did what the professor instructed. I didn’t “get” that when we were outside with our boxes, pulling off the tape over the pin-sized hole, for 20 seconds or so, allowing light to enter the box and strike the light-sensitive paper that we had fastened to the inside, and then covering it up again, that we were actually taking a photograph. Totally confused, I dimly followed the class back into the darkroom, and obligingly opened my box and dropped my piece of roughly cut paper into a shallow bin of what looked like water. Staring in stupefied confusion, I witnessed this white square of blankness start to sprinkle with microscopic black dots, and within seconds, this speckled formation evolved into a distinctly photographic rendition of the sweltering street view I had just beheld only moments before. The process still invigorates me, even though it is a dinosaur of a system that is no longer very financially or practically feasible. Sigh.
Even though I do not particularly love to create art—meaning, I just do not enjoy the actual physical (and to some extent, emotional) act itself—I have been doing it for most of my life. As soon as my youngster hands could grasp objects, I was creating. I was quite passionate about my Lite-Brite set, and I suppose this is where my connection to art and healing began. Childhood was quite stressful, fearsome, and difficult for me. And as a child attempting to manage all of the anxiety exploding within such a miniature body, art became the thing that seemed to effectively distract me and release some of the tension flooding through my nervous system. Working on my Lite-Brite canvas was a fantastic and colorful faux-escape, and I vividly recall using this brilliant “toy” very often, and for long periods of time—especially during high times of emotional stress.
Old school Lite-Brite set. I actually feel at peace just looking at this.
Another semi-creative, stress-relieving activity I engaged in regularly, was furiously shaving fat sticks of crayon on the edge of a mason jar and watching the colorful waxy shards drop down and collect in layers of rainbowed pillows. What a strange thing to do. I don’t know where I came up with the idea, but I remember being obsessed with it, also partaking in this stress-easing ritual for hours on end. If I wasn’t Lite-Brite-ing or collecting jars of crayon shavings, I was doodling on envelopes and coffee filters, and always had some kind of art-making utensil in my hand.
Through my formative years, art-making was a complicated source of both stress and satisfaction. It felt good to have an aptitude for something and to receive validation for it, and yet I was also quite critical of myself—every artist is, nothing special there. Making art is hard. It requires complete and total focus, and yet an artist must also allow a certain amount of relaxed and open energy to flow. It’s a constant balancing act from start to finish and is fairly exhausting. I often compare the act of art-making to yoga. I usually drag my feet before embarking on both activities. But once I get started (on the mat, or on a creative project), I know it is exactly what I need to be doing. Then, for the entirety of the undertaking, it feels like a roller coaster of ups and downs, highs and lows, agonies and ecstasies, and truly becomes about the journey, above all else. Once the act is complete, I feel spent, exhausted, emptied out, yet somewhat satisfied, and completely balanced and at peace. And then it starts all over again. So, making art and doing yoga are both choices. They are deliberate acts and both invite impeccable dedication and devotion. Perfection is not required—not at all, and is impossible anyway—but utter and wholehearted effort is the best any artist and/or yogi can ever put forth. And honestly, sometimes, I don’t want to do it! I want to stay in bed, or do nothing, or relax, or not engage my emotions. But the benefits far outweigh the struggles, so I proceed.
Pre-class at my beloved Stillpoint Yoga Studios
Most of my art-making in high school, and even during some of college, was not very directed. My artistic endeavors were mostly illustrative assignments from teachers and did not require or even invite much room for emotional and/or personal expression. Making art in general started to become very boring for me. However, once I discovered photography, I began to light up and come alive creatively. I felt much freer in this medium and I believe this paved the way for the creation of many of my more meaningful artistic projects. I kind of stumbled into my art and healing relationship accidentally, during my senior year as a photography major, as I began creating small collages on my own, using photographs I had shot during the school year. These collages were reflective of my relationship with my mother, and were very emotional, very beautiful, and very delicate. To this day, it is the body of work that I am most proud of.
Mom 16, mixed media on paper, 2002
Mom 19, mixed media on paper, 2002
Mom 25, mixed media on paper, 2003
To see the entire body of work, you can visit my website at www.libbysaylor.com
As I started working on these collages, cramped on the floor of my miniature bedroom, listening to Neko Case—so angst-y, I know—I didn’t think very much about my motivations, or where these vignettes would end up. For the first time in my creative career, I also had no intention of showing these to anyone. They felt so private, and personal, and sacred. Even now, my sisters feel uncomfortable looking at these, as there is so much relatable and recognizable content. However, this period marked the beginning of my relationship to art as a healing tool.
Over the years, my childhood and my relationship with my mother, both areas of my life which called for much healing, became the subject matter of much of my artwork. My subsequent body of work was a series of large paintings, abstractly illustrating the homes in which I lived as a child. This project required me to re-live episodes from my youth—not always fun or enjoyable—and also called for me to utilize my somewhat photographic memory. The details of objects, textures, colors, and fabrics inside and outside of my childhood homes became symbolic in my paintings. And as this project progressed, I realized that re-living these emotions through visuality, offered me an opportunity to transform them into something less painful and much more beautiful. As a nod to the concept of hope, I chose to mark each painting with a small blotch of rainbow, nestled in an unassuming corner of each composition. I made sure the painting was complete before I inserted the rainbow, and used this marker as a symbol of dignified closure on each painting, for each memory.
Urbanscape V, mixed media on canvas, 24″ x 36″ 2009
After a three-year period of extreme distance between my mother and I, the end of this painting series marked a time when I felt ready to re-engage my relationship with her. On September 19, 2009, on my 30th birthday, my mother and I re-connected over the phone, carrying between us a giddy, lighthearted, pure, and unconditionally loving conversation, thus beginning the renewal of our relationship. I learned the miracle of love and forgiveness through this process with my mother, aided by my constant need to artistically express what I feel, and to this day, use this healing relationship as a model for all others. She was my greatest teacher, and this relationship was the most challenging, most spiritual, and most profound of my life.
My beautiful mother passed away just over one month ago, on December 20, 2017.
Click here to view a video I filmed of a rare snow geese migration, the day after her passing, as my sister and I were driving to take care of her arrangements.
A new healing project has emerged as a result of this life-altering event, and I am so grateful to have art in my life. I still do not really enjoy creating art, as for me, the process truly requires me to live through uncomfortable emotions; while at the same time, utilizing, challenging, and stretching my abilities as a visual creator. But where would I be without this gift of processing feelings that cannot always be managed or understood inside of my mind, or through written words, or even through healing conversations? Sometimes, expressing things visually is the only way I can get this stuck energy out of my body, out into the world, and transform this heavy muck-like stuff, into something beautiful.
Below are images of my most recent project, still in progress. As with all of my other former projects, when I was engrossed in them, I was never clear—and did not need to be—about what they meant exactly. I was just acting and releasing, and doing what I know how to do. My projects always make more sense to me after time has passed, as I am sure this one will as well. Please enjoy.
Rest in peace, dear Mama Goddess.
Death Collage 1, mixed media on paper, January 2018
Death Collage 2, mixed media on paper, January 2018
Death Collage 3, mixed media on paper, January 2018
Death Collage 4, mixed media on paper, January 2018
Death Collage 5, mixed media on paper, January 2018
Death Collage 6, mixed media on paper, January 2018