AnitaNH (a.k.a. Anita Muise) is a self-taught artist and former librarian who embraced mid-life crisis, dropped out of the corporate world, and moved to rural New Hampshire to become creatively self-employed. She's now the force behind AnitaNH: Collage & Life blog. And, since I've been featuring a lot of super-cool artists lately who use ephemera in their work, I decided to interview the creative and talented AnitaNH about her art and blog, too.
ephemera: How did you become interested collage and the use of ephemera in your work?
ANH: The idea of creating art with found images and objects has held a fascination for me since I first wallpapered my bedroom walls with Look and Life illustrations back in high school. I've been a collector and pack-rat all of my life. As a teenager I would take the train from Beverly into Boston and visit the Brattle Street Book Shop to purchase old books. And I'm trained as a librarian. I first became aware of the wonderful possibilities of collage in the '80s when I discovered the work of Roderick Slater in a gallery called Another Atmosphere in Newburyport Mass. But I didn't start making my own collages until 2003 after reading the wonderful how-to book Collage: A New Approach by Jonathan Talbot.
ANH: My first challenge is to overcome my lack of formal education in the fine arts by self-education. I really don't interpret this as an obstacle. There is so much out there that you can learn for free on the internet, and I enjoy doing research. I read a lot, and I'm constantly building my art reference library. Being totally self-directed allows me the freedom to explore tangents like acrylic painting and animation which in turn enrich my collage expression.
My second challenge is to adapt to self-imposed geographic isolation. Actually, seclusion results in clarity which has been good for my creativity. It allows me to be very selective. I'm pretty diligent at blocking mass media from my life. I don't have a TV, radio, car or a cell phone. I'm self-employed, work at home in an art-related business (beads and jewelry), and there's no time wasted. Art becomes everything.
My third challenge is to accept the fact that my art will never appeal to the mass market, so I shouldn't expect it to support me. My work is very personal; most of it is blatantly autobiographical. I collage because it helps me grow spiritually and heal emotionally. Collage has become so important that I will no doubt continue to do it for the rest of my life. There are so many things that can be done in collage, so many different materials that can be used, that the process is always a satisfying challenge. And I have the freedom to take risks in my future selection of subject matter, particularly in the area of social protest.
Ephemera: Believe me, I understand what it means to lack mass-market appeal. I've been blogging about ephemera for five years; I'm not even a D-list blogger yet. But we do it for the love, right? Speaking of ephemera, how do you use it in your work?
ANH: I'm lucky to live in an area where a lot of old books and magazines are being discarded at church sales or the dump. My town has a little shed for recycling books, and I've made some very fortunate finds there. I have curio cabinets full of personal trinkets and ephemera collected over 50 years that will some day be incorporated into collage.
I use postage stamps and ticket stubs, old photographs, book jackets and covers, small things with numbers on them, anything old and odd that adds interest and helps the narrative. Lately I have been using more scanned images of items in place of the original. My librarian side takes over deeming certain items just too precious to be indelibly converted into collage art. As well as preserving the original, scanning also allows creation of multiple images, along with changes in color and scale.
ephemera: Oh, I love discarded finds. That's exciting. What are some of your favorite things that you've created?
AHN: My oldest favorite is the second in a series of portraits of Blanche, my French Canadian grandmother. She lived to age 94, and was always very supportive of me. Blanche Had Red Hair (Blanche No. 2) is also the first piece I sold. The original drawing of Blanche was done for a wax resist process called batik (in which I am also self-taught) back in 1982.
I have a particular interest in the trappings of outdated science. Vintage technology is featured in two of my "dots" collages which are thematic companions: Do Not Adjust [Your Mind] and The Fault [Lies With Reality].
In my divorce diptychs I really expanded on the art of storytelling through the use of found images. Easy To Adjust and Curious? (Divorce Diptych No. 1) are purely autobiographical.
A Sad Infatuation (Divorce Diptych No. 2) started out with an article of the same title from The New England Home Magazine circa 1900. The subtitle gives the gist of it: "Lobengula, the 'African Prince,' and How He Tortures His White Wife, A Former London Belle." Then I discovered the jacket to Physical Attraction and your Hormones at the dump and the theme was set. Other tidbits like a page from an Esperanto dictionary, and the entry on Cannibalism from A Philosophical Dictionary ("We have spoken of love. It is hard to pass from people kissing to people eating one another. It is, however, but too true that there have been cannibals. We have found them in America. . .") reflect the melodrama of the magazine article. I learned through internet research that Prince Lobengula and Miss Kate Jewell really did marry back at the turn of the century.
But the collage that draws the most attention in my intimate gallery where I have 35 pieces displayed is one titled How Humpty Hoodwinked Miss Massachusetts. It's my first use dots as a design element, and their bright colors against a black background are very dramatic.
ephemera: Tell me about your blog? What inspires you to blog and how do you see it evolving?
ANH: I actually have four blogs now. One is for my bead shop, another showcases my jewelry, and a third one is reserved for the occasional off-topic rant. But my collage blog is my oldest and most satisfying. It reflects my development as a collage artist. It also helps me to keep track of and share different books and artists that I admire. All my favorite internet image and text research sites are linked there, as well as a growing list of over 40 blogs (on collage, animation, graphic design, fine art, ephemera and old books) that I read regularly.
I'm teaching myself to create digital collage in Photoshop, and the blog has become a great place to publish them. Blogging is important to me because it is probably my only form of social networking. Although I live like a hermit, my creative life and work are out there on AnitaNH: Collage & Life . Thank you, Marty, for helping to bring attention to it!
ephemera: Thank you, Anita.