Interview: Symbolic Collages by Jodi Bee

This body of precise collage work was created by cutting images of beauty or symbolic significance, primarily from used books, then reassembling many clippings into a composition that emphasizes geometry, particularly, the circle. Some in the series are radial mandalas, while others are symmetrical, or just slightly asymmetrical. A few repeat the shape in a rhythmical sequence, creating an almost musical movement, but almost all my recent work incorporates the circle in some way, as a common link.

The circle represents wholeness, completeness, and purity. It is the only shape alike at all points, and as a form, potentially with no beginning or end, is the most important and universal geometric symbol in mystic thought. It is implicit in other important symbols, such as the sacred halo, the rotating wheel, the face of a clock, the ring, the life cycle, as well as the stars and planets of our cosmos. Also circular is the tunnel that is the birth canal, and the one perceived in an out-of-body experience, or reportedly at death. The vagina is a circle, and the phallus, a cylinder that fills the void.

In religious iconography, most notably Egyptian, Mexican, and Sumarian, dynamism is added to the circles with rays, wings, or flames. They symbolize solar power or creative and fertilizing cosmic forces. Concentric circles can stand for levels in the afterlife, or, as in Zen Buddhism, stages of spiritual development. The circle in the square is a Jungian archetypal symbol of the relationship between the psyche, or self (circle), and the body, or material reality (square). This interpretation is supported by Buddhist mandalas in which squares inside circles represent the passage from the material to spiritual planes

The subject matter in this series explores the sublime feelings of awe and wonder at the peak of a mystical, sexual, meditative, or psychedelic experience. These fleeting moments of great impact show powerful energy in full development or explosion, such as the big bang, an orgasm, or a flower blossoming. The images depict the creation of a transcendent moment of altered consciousness, one that unites and unveils our human experience with others, and with the rest of the natural world.


When did you first develop an interest in collage?

In 2014, I spent the year creating about a dozen vivid, abstract paintings on wood. I took a fall while roller-skating, breaking my dominant wrist. Because of the way my cast was positioned, I couldn’t hold a stylus or paintbrush for 2 months, as I had done in all prior artwork. I discovered I could operate a scissors and glue stick, so, my first real stab at working in collage didn’t occur until early 2015. I fell hard for the immediacy of creating a narrative or conveying an idea by cutting bits of paper and gluing them down, the freedom from having to render in order to convey representation was thrilling. Thus far, I’ve made over 130 hand-cut paper collage works, ever increasing in scale and level of detail.


We love the geometric, gem-like quality of your work. What is the visual inspiration behind your collages?

Thank you. I draw inspiration from many sources, most of those I draw from visually are patterns found in nature, however, the surreal, symbolic language of dreams play a big role in how I build a collage, connecting disparate ideas together, linking them in a new narrative or enriching the expression of an idea.

The spectrum of the 10 gemstone “Treasure” collages, “The Ancestors”, “The Feminine Mystique”, the two “Magic Hands”, and the “Dragon Gate” all stem from the beginnings of a series that will, ultimately, have over 50 completed works, all will be 32” square. Each piece will culminate in a display of specimens of various fascinations to be contained within. The series relies on the glorious wunderkammer for both its visual and conceptual inspiration. The wunderkammer is defined as a “Chamber of marvels.”

They were most popular in the Renaissance period, and again in a Victorian revival. Collectors would apply supreme unifying principles in containing categorized multiples within cabinets of curiosity. The choices of what specimens to acquire, and how to display them, reflected the interests and personality, unique to each collection, due to the nature of its collector. This, of course, like all art, was open to the individual interpretation of those who gazed upon it. The quest of the collector was to find the allusive essence of a particular object, or the combination of many pieces joined together. Cross-cultural antiquities, and then contemporary objects, whose place of origin varied geographically, were featured; connections and commonalities were drawn between objects, as well as differences pronounced through the way it was arranged, which primarily implored radial symmetry, or balance at the very least, in object placement.

Some of the subject matter in this body of work will have its origins in scientific pursuit, such as alchemy, wet specimens in jars, insect and bird varieties, mummification of the dead, taxidermy of animals, bones, as well as shells and corals. Other works will be derived from anthropology, the occult, paranormal, and the Spiritualism movement, such as the magic of Houdini and his contemporaries, divination, Victorian rituals surrounding death, and the afterlife, mourning jewelry, and ghosts in spirit photography.  The desire humans have to believe in powers greater than found in oneself have always been of great significance to me. Spiritual themes, such as mythology, shamanism, alters created for various rituals, Gods and Goddesses, Devils and Demons, and other fantastical creatures are among what is to come in the series.                           


What does your work mean to you and what do you hope the viewer takes away from it?

My work functions as a means to explore and learn about the many subjects that awaken my curiosity, as a meditation to temper the many thoughts and feelings running through my head and heart, as well as a medicine to keep me sane. Sharing the work enables me to find the people with whom it most resonates with. I tend to find immense value in conversation and relationship with those who feel what I make.

I hope for those people to find some truth, as well as something to relate to, feel, and explore in viewing my art.  I’d like for it to be worthy of examining the details, as they all play into the meaning conveyed in each work. I certainly attempt to imbue as much genuine beauty as possible within the edges of every piece I make. I am far more interested in listening to how a viewer creates their own meaning in relating the symbols at play than explaining my own experience leading to the creation of any given work.


How was your early work different from what you are doing now? How do you feel you evolved as an artist during the past few years?

Well, before I found collage I drew with charcoal, and later, created abstract, mixed media paintings on wood. So, my medium would be the most obvious difference. Approaching collage requires a completely different mindset, and has unique challenges and rewards.

Since childhood, the constant pursuit has been in my subject matter, which has a strong foothold in all things magical and symbolic, I have always adored fables, fairy tales, many aspects of the occult, religious iconography, and world mythology throughout history.

In my adult life, consistent themes began to include my interest in various states of consciousness, such as lucid dreaming, the solace found in meditation, and within the expansive states of the psychedelic experience, intense sensory appreciation, and intuitive perception.  Human psychology and the ways we create meaning and connection pique my interest. As I gained life experience, the significance in the emotional and physical states found within intimate relationships, such as expressions of the thrills and perils of love, sexuality, attraction, ecstasy or bliss, desire, and even despair, bloomed.


Briefly describe your process. How do you come up with the content and materials for each piece?

I first identify and extract images that speak to me, primarily sourced in used books. Then, I trim the parts of the image I could use in a particular collage, or can fit into my files organized by subject matter. Typically, the work is a consistent scale of 32" square. I prepare the surface by drawing guidelines through the center, and a circle or two to assure my balance in placing elements.  About three times as many elements are prepared as end up being in any given piece. When I’ve amassed enough elements to have plenty of choice, I spread the relevant pieces on a moveable flat surface, which serves a similar function to a painters pallet. I move the pieces around, creating a few sketches, seeing how individual pieces fit together, and getting familiar with them. In taking photos as reference, sometimes I find smaller arrangements within a larger sketch that make the cut to the final collage.

I make a final draft. In the adhering process, it changes a bit, as the layers shift into their permanent placement within the building of the whole. Once I have the base of the collage down, I let the adhesive dry. Then, corners can be peeled up a bit, which allows for finishing elements to be woven over and under the base pieces until satisfactory visual harmony and balance have been achieved. In some pieces, I outline to define edges, tint parts of the whole to change inherent color, saturation, and shade components, filling in forms, to alter light and dark. As of late, I have been incorporating luminous gold and other metal leaf on top of the cut paper layers. Upon completion, the work is sprayed to seal it. Next, each piece is framed under glass to protect it from surface disruption and mitigate inherent fragility. 


What are your favorite ways to get inspired outside of the studio?

My 9-year-old daughter, Piper, is my biggest joy, and she keeps my mind full of things to think about. I also get creative fuel through researching what interests me in non-fiction books or the Internet, attending live music performance, and spending time with people I love.


Share a piece of advice that helped you in your art career.

Find your own measure of success in pursuing the aspects of career where you actually have control. You have the power of adjusting your own perspective, in your diligence, and ways you experiment in finding your way to where you want to go. In achieving the steps you can take toward reaching your goals, you are ever increasing your odds that the areas you have no control over will eventually tip in your favor. These achievements, such as financial freedom, a sold-out show, or representation with a gallery who has a roster of artists you admire, are not within your control to dictate as you may wish to. Your art will improve over time, you will learn more about writing solid applications for various opportunities, and you will meet more people with the power to open a door when you knock.
The aspects in which you have no say do not reflect on your worth or value. Try to accept this, and not to be disheartened by rejections, it only slows you down and erodes your resolve to continue doing what you must to succeed. Do not take it personally, just as you do not like everyone, not everyone will like you. The same goes for your artwork. Be persistent and resilient. A career in the arts is a marathon, not a sprint. Do what you can, when you can. You can’t win if you don’t play. Some clichés, yes, but relevant.