Despite its components’ small size, Autism: A Visual Journey is an intense presence in the gallery space. The wall-mounted wood blocks appear to emerge organically from the structure of the room; together they project strength and solidity. A glance from a distance takes in a sweeping mosaic; at an intimate visual range the content of each panel, and each collage, comes into focus.
Whether arranged along a single plane, or in another configuration, the extent of the overall work conveys to viewers that the experience it chronicles cannot be compressed into a simple statement, visual or spoken. It is a journal of ten years of isolation and helplessness as the artist tried to make sense of the present moment. Days and years stretch behind and ahead of the viewer, and each must be experienced on its own terms. The panels are like pages of a book; each is a distinct work and together they tell one story. No gallery signage will explain them; one will encounter these collages and panels as the artist lived the decade following her daughter’s diagnosis, trying to piece together meaning. Viewers will find many objects and constructions to be mysteries: like the artist’s daughter they will be unable to recognize the individuals in photographs, or comprehend the significance of phrases written on some collages, or identify artifacts. They will nevertheless be struck by this piece’s beauty.
The breadth of Autism: A Visual Journey invites repeated visits to explore particular panels and individual collages.
- Materials affixed to backings of rag paper include fabric and felt • household objects • torn and cut photographs, drawings, and other artworks • thread, wire, and rope • small toys • fragments of books and documents • N scale model train figures • ceramics • beans • vellum • beads • and children’s drawings overpainted with encaustic wax-based pigments.
- Unifying the disparate collages is a consistent fabric background. Each block of wood is tightly wrapped with a piece of off-white muslin on which is written repeatedly the date the collage was completed. Brass nails secure the rag paper backing of the collages to the fabric-wrapped blocks.
- Themes and visual style vary widely in this work created over a decade. Many collages are playful and colorful; some others in bleak, dark tones suggest foreboding themes such as entrapment. None are inappropriate for viewing by children. The collages/assemblages are precise and detailed, such as tiny images of broccoli wrapped in muslin fabric challenging the viewer to engage with a world that does not seem to make sense, as the artist’s daughter has had to do.
- Techniques employed include painting • drawing • calligraphy • photography • weaving with textiles and with metal • and needlework.
- Dimensionality varies. Some collages employ a smaller wooden block that projects from the main structure like a proscenium, upon which figures or objects rest. Others appear to create negative space: nests containing unexpected objects, cages behind which artifacts are contained or trapped, materials framing deep-hued centers that read as holes. The interplay of textures and shadows is an integral feature.