What are three words that describe you?
Creative, hard-working and intuitive.
What was your first artistic memory?
As early as four, I told people I'd grow up to be an artist. I definitely loved art. My mom is French and we would spend summers in Paris when I was growing up and we would go to a lot of museums – that really impacted me and informed my life and my love of art. We would go see shows and I would get hung up on certain movements, like the impressionists or Jackson Pollock and then I would mimic it (splatter painting etc). I would buy posters for my room and go through different styles and eras...
What is the main subject of your work?
Right now, with this body of work I'm really interested in creating these spaces that are neither here nor there. They could be the realm of dreams, or deaths - spaces that exist somewhere between reality and illusion. There are references to theater, memory and many layers, openings, doorways or screens where you see something beyond, on the other side.
We noticed there's often a singular person in your work. What's the meaning?
There's often these protagonists in my stories. You can rarely see who they are, either their heads are down or cloaked. They can be anybody and nobody but they are characters who move through these spaces.
What's the first step in your creative process: Do you have an idea of what you want to collage? Or are there certain pieces that you see and then create a story from it?
I work in a lot of different ways. Sometimes I'll find an image and i'll know that I want to work off it. But when I'm not working on a specific collage I obsessively cut things out and have dozens and dozens of little boxes that are categorized by subject. Often I'll start on something, find the space or landscape I want to work on top of and then move things intuitively.
How do you divide your time between searching for new materials and the actual act of collaging?
What became really apparent to me in inheriting this archive of material from Ken [Graves] is how much a collagist's aesthetic is evident in the material they collect. I would open up a folder or a book and it would look like the beginning of a Ken Graves collage. Every collagist has a very specific aesthetic and they access it, track it and collect it through their materials. Part of collaging is loving the act of collecting, so I love to go to flea markets, book sales, used books stores and find stuff.
How do you balance work, motherhood and studio practice?
I'm disciplined about my studio practice. I get up at 4am everyday and collage until 6am before the kids wake up. I love that time, when everything is quiet and still and I'm totally alone in my studio.
Any causes you are passionately engaged in?
I'm passionate about empowering women and women's rights. Art in general – helping, nurturing and guiding people to love and appreciate art and its the power – that's a mission of mine as a high school art teacher. And the idea that young people can amplify their voices and visions through art, using it as a powerful tool.
Do you have a piece that you've made that you will never let go of?
I don't right now but in retrospect there are two pieces, Emic/Etic #21 and (In)Visible #3 that I wish I had now. I read something interesting from a gallerist that said that every artist should keep one of their favorite pieces from every body of work they do; I now like that idea.
Tell us about your new exhibition 'Somewhere Between Here and There'.
It's a new series of 25 collages I created using the materials I inherited from my deceased mentor Ken Graves, along with 11 original collages of his. I wanted to include his work in the show as this project really felt like a collaboration. There have been so many serendipitous moments when creating this work.
Can you tell us about some of these serendipitous moments?
On the day of Ken's memorial, I was finishing a collage that morning of a young boy passing through a threshold, along this architectural doorframe I had decided to place all these little stones. When we went to the memorial, Ken's wife asked everyone to gather a pebble and to place it on Ken's tombstone, which is a Jewish mourning ritual I was unaware of. So that resonated really strongly. I placed stones throughout these collages as momentos of grief, little memories of the deceased. I also used thread, which Ken did as well, and I like the symbolism of it –that you can pull it and the curtain will come down –so thread became a recurring trope in the work as well.
Do you have a fantasized collaboration?
Hannah Höch is a hero of mine, so I'd love to bring her back from the dead and collaborate with her.
What would you imagine your last words to be?
(Laughs) - Maybe something like "Life and Love".
Vanessa Woods is a collage artist based in San Francisco, CA.
For more info, visit: vanessawoods.com