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Lynn Wadsworth

salvages collages 2015–2020

Lynn Wadsworth

with an essay by Diane Hellekson

salvages copyright © 2020 Lynn Wadsworth www.lynnwadsworth.com “finding the stories in salvages” © 2020 Diane Hellekson Book design by Lynn Wadsworth All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Published in the United States of America ISBN: 978-1-64945-517-8 Library of Congress Control Number: 2020910688 First Edition St. Paul, Minnesota

for David and Zara

contents improvisation . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 sideshow . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 chaperones . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28 investigations . . . . . . . . . . . . 40 play . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52 women . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 68 domesticity. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84 surrender . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


natural history . . . . . . . . . . . . 112 finding the stories in salvages. . . . . . 128 a note from the artist . . . . . . . . . 138 biographies. . . . . . . . . . . . . 141 acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . 142 list of collages. . . . . . . . . . . . 143




ragtime 4

sleight of hand 6

gremlin 8

calavera 10

jazz 12




big top 16

clowns 18

acrobats 20

high-wire act 22

spinning plates 24

wild animals 26




matriarch 30

sentinel 32

cyclopes 34

oracle 36

man in the moon 38




surface tension 42

combustion 44

division 46

block and tackle 48

periscope 50




time machine 54

dress up 56

fairy dust 58

wandering 60

daydream 62

pantomime 64

pretend 66




calypso 70

sibyl 72

eurydice 74

daphne 76

eve 78

snow queen 80

hestia 82




small talk 86

elaborate manners 88

cake mix 90

patchwork 92

flower bed 94

skeleton 96




awakening 100

devotion 102

patience 104

reflection 106

euphoria 108

compassion 110


natural history


mist 114

marsh 116

cocoon 118

metamorphosis 120

heat 122

storm 124

breath 126


finding the stories in salvages 1 Once upon a time, I made my living as an art critic at a daily newspaper. My audience was that mythic bunch known as “the general public,” which was thought to need help understanding art. My articles were, I suppose, helpful for exhibitions where historical references or conceptual hijinks could leave people blinking if they didn’t have the backstory. I served as a sort of coach and interpreter. Since visual art doesn’t tend to have a plot, I never felt I gave away the ending. But I did steer people. For certain shows, I’d have preferred it if the audience had taken the wheel, then read my article after they’d seen for themselves. Are you reading this after you’ve viewed what lies before? If you haven’t toured the images yet, go back! Take the unmarked road. This book might not offer a plot, but it does have stories to tell—as long as you’re willing to drive. 2 I first saw these collages in a box in Lynn’s living room. She made a point of not introducing them, allowing me to flip through and ponder before she attached any words. I was amused and curious. Occasionally I’d get a sense 128

of longing or déjà vu. I wanted to both identify almostrecognizable images in the collages and forget what I thought I saw. My analytical self—the art critic—wanted to see each piece as a whole. The part of me that likes soap operas and spy novels wanted to figure out what that squishy thing was. Are we taking a walk through a garden or a surrealist’s labyrinth? Is this a gallery in your grandmother’s closet or an acid trip for ladies who lunch? Lullaby or cackle? Bouquet or virus? For me, yes to all the above. For you? 3 After you’ve had your own opportunity to wonder, let’s return to the first chapter, “improvisation,” which suggests a few themes and a not-quite-predictable rhythm. Right away, Lynn is skipping across boundaries, playing not just with images and composition, but also with words and even music. While ragtime is among the more reticent of the collages, the title speaks volumes. Both the piece and the name conjure lively syncopation, two hands, each playing to a different metronome. Then we have the word rag, which refers to throwaway textiles, reusing, recycling. It’s also slang for clothing (which figures in many of the works) and for magazines, Lynn’s source material. Throughout the book, while the images we can discern 129

are often lovely—landscape and botany, filigree and crystal—the effect of the combinations can be a little menacing. Calavera first reads as a saturated wall of ’60s fashion excess: ruffles, pansies, paisley. But wait—doesn’t the word calavera have something to do with Day of the Dead? Indeed, the title helped me find the flower-eyed skull hiding in what first looked like a muttonchop sleeve. Often Lynn’s titles urge us to peer closer, to find the skeleton hiding amid the sugar. Jazz, the last image of this first chapter, is an insouciant party of non sequiturs: patterned fabric, mottled linoleum, and naked seed heads bearing down on mismatched Louis-heeled shoes. What may be a snaky, upside-down numeral 2 jumps scale and helps ground the proceedings. Like many of the collages, this one seems both ineffably right and slightly off-kilter, which also describes some of my favorite music. Like a seasoned jazz musician, Lynn works intuitively, but with decades of art practice as an armature. She knows what to leave out. Her compositions flirt with the edge but never fall off. 4 The titles and the associations are more literal in the next chapter, “sideshow.” We’re clearly at the circus, with a tiny crowd of ancient people gathered under a deconstructed tent. On old-timey clowns, polka dots read as outsize buttons. Spinning plates suggests an act of domestic derring-do: porcelain dinnerware upside down, outsize doilies, and dueling swatches of fabric. Spongeous uncertainty hovers on the edges. 130

Would I have seen any of this had the works been untitled? In high-wire act, a cartwheeling figure (wait, no—a phalanx of ceramic dragons?) navigates a sheer wall. The fringed ghost of Annie Oakley rides joyously through the Wild West show. A blue sky is truncated and patched. I’m left wondering if the fringes are actually from a Native American dress, and whether this picture is about freedom or limits. I realize this is reading a lot into a little collage, but that’s part of the fun. 5 So far, we’ve come across a few figures; the chapters “chaperones” and “women” introduce individuals, though they’re more metaphorical than corporeal. Matriarch is a stern aunt in striped pajamas, hiding in a film noir palette. Calypso is a gorgeous nymph, palm fronds as both eyelashes and millinery, smoke obscuring her identity. After an online refresher on Greek mythology, I was able to see the veil in the background—Calypso weaving deception around Odysseus—and notice the marble coiffure containing the smoke. Two distinct and intermingled faces peer out from sentinel—a primitive “meh” emoji and an anxious, smiling whale. These faces only emerged after half a dozen viewings; at first sentinel offered only abstraction, like 131

a Clyfford Still canvas but gentler, painted by someone with a fondness for plaid. If I could have my own chaperone, it would be cyclopes, which put in mind a toy I hadn’t remembered in years: a google-eyed furry strip that you’d stroke to make it arch up and squirm. This pair of cyclopes is the friendliest ever: faux-fur worms that don’t know or care which end is up. “We’re periscopes! We’re subterranean! Come with us through this field of flowers and we’ll show you . . . something!” Man in the moon, on the other hand, strikes me less as a companion than as a story-place in the past. I’ve been in this narrative before: a fortune-teller’s back chamber, then strolling through a moonlit gray garden toward home, where a nice snack awaits me on my bedside table and a mad aunt bides her time in the attic. 6 The surrealists, who, like Lynn, juxtaposed dissimilar images in their art, wished to coax out the riches of the unconscious mind. Lynn is less prescriptive, but the thread of surrealism that wends through the book spurs subconscious meandering. As you have seen, my associations with some works are personal, nonsensical, even dreamlike. Sometimes they’re just silly. For example, periscope. On examination, it has nothing to do with corduroy. Yet that’s what I first saw in the shapely beige grid, and that took me to David Sedaris, 132

who wrote Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (and, if this picture had anything to say about it, houndstooth). Maybe that’s why, a few pages later, the chrome chair legs in wandering remind me of my childhood jacks, which I kept in a drawstring bag made of beige corduroy. There’s my subconscious, dredging up something tactile from the past on account of three tiny, tipped-over chairs. Lynn’s brand of surrealism isn’t self-conscious, nor always serious. But she does enjoy, to paraphrase the French surrealist André Breton, bewildering our sensations. What is going on in pantomime? Comedy, for one thing: the very idea of a sheep playing a parlor game, hiding its identity with a patch of blue over one eye. I love this piece for its abstract pastel mysteries, but also just because of that sheep. In skeleton, a squiggly golden talisman, which resembles but probably is not a scouring pad, glows atop a plaid altar, embraced by flocked upholstery. Even in the context of the “domesticity” chapter, I have trouble parsing this one, but maybe it sings to you. 7 Lynn draws from several magazines that were big during my childhood: McCall’s and Better Homes and Gardens, with their aspirational domesticity; Life and Look, known for trenchant photography. While Lynn says she didn’t aim for nostalgia, it may, as she says, “be baked into the source.” I suspect some of the work might be particularly 133

poignant for us of a certain age, who remember the world before pixels. Nostalgia is at the forefront of the “surrender” chapter, with its hazy focus and romantic nuance. The title is both a request—please yield to these collages—and the reason they work so well. With deft cuts and decisive arrangement, Lynn seems to be guiding the source material to where it belongs. She’s surrendered to her intuition, the magazine pages to their destiny. Awakening is less a youthful bloom than it is an off-pastel memory of what spring once was. Urchins and pearls, blossoms and hairs, ruffles and lampshades. Scale doesn’t matter; the starring role is as likely to go to the feather as to the bird. Compassion too seems to be remembering romance. Plump baroque fingers, flirting with a touch. A dahlia, a doily, a crystal—innocuous details from a Victorian parlor. Yet in the background, an octopus. Euphoria would be on the syrupy side of bliss were it not for some mulberry-nibbling silkworms keeping it real. 8 A faded palette seeps into the final chapter, “natural history,” until the springlike metamorphosis, where fern fronds and a block print evoke a cocoon and a swirling filigree hints at a butterfly, half-emerged. Turn the page, and we’re somewhere entirely different: high-contrast heat, which for me is all pleasure: the ease of 134

an orange sunset, shadowy umbels of Queen Anne’s lace, and other parts we cannot and need not name. As much as I enjoy storm, with its eeriness conjured from benign images, I tend to pass by it quickly because I know the final piece is breath. This warm beauty flutters with tendrils, spiky vegetal fragments, and undersea forms. A monarch-colored snake impression peeks out from the right. This is real-life breathing, without a respirator. Inhale deeply and exhale slowly, gently, to avoid knocking that Mexican butterfly off course. Could that really happen? The world is a mystery and these works encourage your questions. Silently ask, then wait for the answer. Learn to read the wordless stories. Make them your own. —Diane Hellekson




a note from the artist Collage is a generous and accessible medium. It requires little skill and few tools or materials. It can be practiced one’s whole life, from childhood to old age. I have been making collages for as long as I can remember. My first collages were little more than paper bits glued to a page. Much later, I learned the traditions of collage—cubism, dada, surrealism, combines, and femmage (feminist collage)—and the artists whose work moved me: John Heartfield, Hannah Hoch, Max Ernst, Joseph Cornell, Robert Rauschenberg, Miriam Shapiro, and others. In the early 2000s, I began working seriously in collage. With limited time and the confined studio space of a spare bedroom, I made small, portable collages. One could easily be completed in an evening or over several evenings. Early on, I decided the collages were to be only cut and paste. Images would remain as they were found; they would not be reproduced or resized with Photoshop; no digital processes would be used. Glue smudges, visible edges, and wrinkled paper would be embraced, revealing the materials and the maker’s hand. The printed page became my paint, my source of color, form, pattern, and light. Over time, I have created hundreds of collages, and the collages have matured from early aping of surrealist imagery to an abstract and idiosyncratic visual language. Scissors in hand, I find and salvage fragments from discarded books and magazines. I am especially drawn to travel magazines featuring lush, faraway locations 138

and to women’s magazines chock-full of images of printed fabrics for home decorating and fashion. Often, I cut away the main focus of a printed page and instead choose to use images from the background. I rearrange, juxtapose, and glue the fragments together. Even with the original printed objects mostly obscured in the collage, the objects retain their identity as a part of the world and carry their meanings into the collage. This concurrence of images creates multiple layers of meaning, a thickness of content and form that is not meant to tell. Instead, when considered, it slowly reveals. Like a glimpse of something, it forms an impression. A collage’s title may suggest a place to begin. It is up to the viewer to connect the dots. This book evolved from a desire to explore visual narrative. My approach could be characterized as backwards, for in most books the story comes first and the images are created after. For my book, I selected the collages first and let them create the narrative. Finding rapport between collages, I established loose groups using the visual rhythm of the images and common themes in their titles. After several iterations of sequencing and a few title changes, the collages began to lean on each other and hold each other up. They became more than a group of individual works, and an evocative poetry emerged. For me this book was a joy to create. I hope it will bring you pleasure and meaning. I thank you, dear reader, for spending time with my work.         —Lynn Wadsworth 139


biographies Lynn Wadsworth is a visual artist who has worked in several mediums: film, photography, collage, assemblage, ceramics, and sculpture. Her work seeks to reveal hidden meanings, expose contradictions, and examine the underpinnings of cultural construction through juxtaposition, humor, and invention. Her work has been exhibited at museums and galleries, including the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Northern Clay Center, Rutgers University, Hype Park Art Center, Art in General, and A.I.R. Gallery. She has received several grants and awards for her work, including a McKnight Foundation Artist Fellowship, Jerome Foundation Fellowship for Emerging Artists, Jerome Foundation Project Grant, and three Minnesota State Arts Board individual artist grants. She earned her MFA in sculpture from Hunter College in New York City. Lynn currently lives and works in St. Paul, Minnesota. Diane Hellekson decided to be a writer in third grade, but fell in love with painting during college. After discovering that writing about art was more remunerative than making it, she worked as a critic, reporter, and editor for 20 years, most recently on the visual-art beat for St. Paul Pioneer Press. Following a 15-year stint as a landscape architect, she returned to writing full-time in 2017, as a content strategist for U.S. Bank. Diane also writes personal essays. She lives with her husband and pets in St. Paul, Minnesota.


acknowledgments With appreciation and gratitude to all who helped make this book possible. Heartfelt thanks to my collaborators— Diane Hellekson for her insightful essay, which enriches both the work and the book, and Kathleen Weflen for her wise counsel and skillful editing. Thanks to Virginia Bradley, Krista Walsh, Vallaurie Crawford, and Shana Kaplow for thoughtful feedback. And thanks to Paulette Meyers-Rich and David Rich, who provided early encouragement for this project. Thank you to the Minnesota State Arts Board and the people of Minnesota for funding this project. Thank you to David Tanner and Loren Houchins for shepherding this book through the printing process. I am indebted to my daughter, Zara Amdur, for her enthusiasm and insights. You are truly an inspiration to me. Infinite gratitude to my husband and life partner, David Amdur, who is my first critic and my biggest fan.  Lynn Wadsworth is a fiscal year 2020 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.


list of collages cover and front piece: salvages, 32 2020, 3.5 inches x 6 inches 34 4 ragtime, 2016, 6 x 8 36 6 sleight of hand, 2015, 38 6 x 8 8 gremlin, 2017, 6 x 8 42 10 calavera, 2018, 6 x 8 12 jazz, 2015, 6 x 8 16 big top, 2018, 3.5 x 6 18 clowns, 2018, 3.5 x 6 20 acrobats, 2017, 3.5 x 6 22 high-wire act, 2018, 3.5 x 6 24 spinning plates, 2017, 3.5 x 6

sentinel, 2019, 3.5 x 6 cyclopes, 2019, 3.5 x 6 oracle, 2019, 3.5 x 6 man in the moon, 2015, 6x8 surface tension, 2019, 3.5 x 6

44 combustion, 2018, 3.5 x 6 46 division, 2017, 3.5 x 6 48 block and tackle, 2017, 3.5 x 6 50 periscope, 2017, 3.5 x 6 54 time machine, 2019, 6x8 56 dress up, 2016, 6 x 8

26 wild animals, 2017, 3.5 x 6

58 fairy dust, 2015, 6 x 8

30 matriarch, 2019, 3.5 x 6

60 wandering, 2017, 6 x 8


62 daydream, 2016, 6 x 8

96 skeleton, 2018, 3.5 x 6

64 pantomime, 2015, 6 x 8

100 awakening, 2018, 6 x 8

66 pretend, 2015, 6 x 8

102 devotion, 2019, 6 x 8

70 calypso, 2018, 6 x 8

104 patience, 2019, 6 x 8

72 sibyl, 2015, 6 x 8

106 reflection, 2018, 3.5 x 6

74 eurydice, 2020, 6 x 8 108 euphoria, 2018, 6 x 8 76 daphne, 2019, 6 x 8 78 eve, 2015, 6 x 8

110 compassion, 2015, 6x8

80 snow queen, 2015, 6 x 8

114 mist, 2015, 6 x 8

82 hestia, 2019, 6 x 8

116 marsh, 2020, 3.5 x 6

86 small talk, 2015, 6 x 8

118 cocoon, 2017, 3.5 x 6

88 elaborate manners, 2020, 6x8

120 metamorphosis, 2019, 6x8

90 cake mix, 2017, 6 x 8

122 heat, 2019, 6 x 8

92 patchwork, 2018, 3.5 x 6

124 storm, 2020, 6 x 8

94 flower bed, 2018, 3.5 x 6

126 breath, 2015, 6 x 8 144

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