It’s time for our second promised post with artist, Lisa Sheets. Our conversation explores three new Covid-19 themed collages, plus a new surprise. This is more than an art show. It’s an art show and tell. Let’s dive in, Dreamwalkers.
Welcome back, Lisa.
Let’s start with The Rainbow.
“The Rainbow” mixed media collage by Lisa Sheets, 15″ x 11″, March 2020
Janet: Can you tell us how the work came about?
Lisa: The jumping off place for this work was a call for submissions from Cut Me Up magazine, an international “magazine of visual call and response” from New York. I had decided late last year that I wanted to try one of their challenges. So, I ordered the magazine to learn more and find out about the first challenge of 2020. The challenge for the January 2020 issue was curated by Valerie Hegarty, who asked artists to create a work incorporating parts of the previous issue of “Cut Me Up” magazine while also using ‘recent media that describes a contemporary problem,’ to create a finished collage that expresses realism.
I got going on actually looking at gathering images and deciding what I might focus on. But as March continued, it seemed obvious that the work I would make for the April 1st deadline would have to talk about the COVID-19 crisis because it is probably one of the biggest “contemporary problems” the entire world has faced in a while!
I gathered a few tidbits from the previous issue of the magazine (as they directed, it is required to use some parts of your imagery from the previous issue) and I started web surfing to find relevant media images by searching “Corona Virus” “COVID-19” to find some collage elements. Once I had gathered those, I had to figure out how to put them all together to express what was going on for me in the past couple months as this world health crisis blossomed into a life changing event for everyone.
Janet: I love this piece, Lisa. And I was excited to hear “The Rainbow” was selected for the June 2020 Issue # 5 of “Cut Me Up,” which will include a full-page reproduction of this piece. There are so many strong elements, so much to see, yet it all flows together. I have so many questions, but I’ll start with this: which parts of the piece are from a previous issue of Cut Me Up magazine?
Lisa: There are two columnar shapes on either side of the rainbow up near the top of the piece. It looks like someone wrote in cursive on lined paper. And then it got wet and smeared. Those vertical shapes came from the magazine. Also, I found a small black and white ‘warning’ label in one person’s collage, which I chopped up into tiny single words and placed them throughout the street scene.
Janet: The smeared writing and the bold words work. Placing the word “warning” right in the middle of the street caught my attention. I also recognize some of your signature images. You used the roller coaster careening off the top of the buildings to such great effect. The image says to me, “Here’s the ride of your life, ending with a dangerous plunge!” Can you talk more about these or other images?
Lisa: There are only a couple of images in this collage that are from my ‘signature images pile’! One, as you identified, is the roller coaster. I chose it first because the arc of it mimics the shape of the “curve” the news is always telling us we need to “flatten the curve!” That steep roller coaster curve and sharp drop is a similar shape. Also, we all have emotional reactions and connections to the image and idea of riding a roller coaster. Some people find it exhilarating and thrilling. Others avoid it and find the idea frightening. Either way, I think the image communicates to all of us that we are a bit out of control and have to just ride it out.
The other signature image I used was the orchid. I have used that single photo of an orchid that I took years ago at the Sarasota Botanical Garden often in my work. I see that single image as having so much beauty, hope, femininity, fertility, I wanted it at the center of the composition to show that there is hope in our future.
Janet: Yes, my eyes lifted to the orchid as they would to a sunrise. And the rainbow expresses hope. Can you talk about the blinds?
Lisa: The photo of the blinds really jumped out at me. When I did the general search on the internet for photos with my search words. That was one that showed up. And I felt that it was just perfect, although I never would’ve thought of creating that image myself. This is what is so serendipitous about collage and how finding various images and combining them in new ways is so magical.
Janet: Yeah, the hand parting the blinds, the sun and shade stripes, and the virus just outside and leaking through is so powerful. I stared at it for a long time. It expressed the fear and isolation I feel.
Lisa: The original image of the blinds just had some blurry street scene showing through the window. But I wanted to emphasize that virus, by adding the image of it. The thought of it being invisible—it being anywhere and everywhere as we attempt to hide from it and disinfect it out of our life. It’s overwhelming in our lives right now.
Janet: Are the women standing guard?
Lisa: Yes, actually, I forgot that the black/white images of the women that look like old antique photos. Those are also signature images that I have used in my work over the years. I included them because while this collage includes a lot of contemporary imagery. I feel in fact a kinship with those who suffered through the 1918 Flu pandemic. I included what looks almost like ancestor images to represent those people who have been through this before us. In particular, the image of the woman is superimposed on the tall orange bell curve, with the blue ‘flattened’ curve next to her. The orange shape indicates the steep curve we are all trying to avoid happening this time around by everyone staying home and social distancing. I am not sure they understood all these things back in 1918. Not sure they knew how to flatten the curve back then.
Janet: I love those women there, but I hadn’t thought about them in reference to the 1918 flu pandemic. This piece has so much power with its repeating shapes, and the various ways you bring all the pieces together to make a whole.
I know you have two more to share. Can you tell me a little bit about them?
Lisa: “Uncertain Times” came together into a very symmetrical composition, which feels a little surreal as it doesn’t have much real space. All the images are floating and curving around each other. In the center is our ancestor from the 1918 pandemic calmly walking along with her mask on. I gave her wings to remind us that she, and we, may have special hidden internal abilities that can show up during a crisis. We have strength we didn’t realize.
Janet: Thank you for the wings and the reminder of that, Lisa.
“Unprecedented Times” mixed media collage by Lisa Sheets, 9″ x 12″, April 2020.
Lisa: “Unprecedented Times” is again a look at the 1918 ancestors and the fact that the times we are living in may be called “unprecedented” but in fact those before us have indeed gone through health emergencies like this in the past. Reflecting back using imagery like the Monday through Friday tea towel patterns, and the COVID-19 viruses as big as beach balls bouncing around the family picture, possibly as toys, or halos, helps us remember others have dealt with these challenges before us. They persevered through their daily work and chores at home, and eventually, our society did get back to thriving again. I believe we will do the same. And must keep hope.
Janet: The image of the virus as big as beach balls is striking! And your use of historical photos in these pieces invites us to look back and see that others have weathered these strange storms.
One last question. Is there anything else you’re working on right now?
Lisa: One new project I have embarked on since the pandemic sent us all home for a while was to set up an online website where my art is printed ‘on demand’. The company I chose (Fine Art America) can provide a variety of products, including coffee mugs, tote bags, T-shirts, all printed with my imagery. One special product they just started offering is: custom artist designer masks!
I have uploaded about 10 of my images so far and you can order your own Lisa Sheets art mask. Check out my website on Fine Art America here:
Janet: Awesome, Lisa! Thank you so much for sharing your recent artwork. I always learn so much from you. The inside view of your collage process is riveting.
Lisa: Thanks so much for inviting me to share my work with you, Janet! It’s always great to talk with you. I hope my collage work will help others know that they aren’t alone. We are all experiencing this strange time together!