If you know anyone who loves Matisse’s cutouts but says “I’m scared to make art” or “I dread old age”, show them this video. Eunice Parsons is a vibrant, working collagist in her 90s. She works with huge pieces of paper, ripping them and rearranging them carefully into new, eye-popping pictures. (Note: she made this video at age 90)
See this 26 minute videos of her in her attic (Wait – she’s in her 90s and goes up stairs? – Yes, she’s not a Dalek) where she works every day, with zest and enjoyment (I thought you said she was in her 90s! – She is), kneeling on the (She can kneel – and get up again without a walking stick?!!– Look, I think this post will be quicker if we leave the questions to the end. Ok.) She kneels on the floor and masterfully and purposely tears the paper into new arrangements.
Eunice finds she works best in the morning, because everything seems fresh, she can look at what she was working on the day before, and see it as for the first time. In fact, she gives one of her brilliant, brief quotes on that:
So that’s for me, at least, the way art works – it’s a fresh seeing
Here are some examples of her art, at an exhibition at Helzer Art Gallery.
Explaining her work at the gallery reception (“Wait! She was showing her work in her 90s! and she could talk clearly about it?!” – Oh, you’re back, yes, keep up) – talking about her work, she said that everything in this gallery was what she had learned in the last 50 years.
When she was asked where she got her paper materials from, she said about half of it came from “Posters I ripped off in Europe”, where the posters were glued up, but uncurling and “you would see a poster just flapping in the wind and it behooves you to rescue it.” (laughter from the assembled audience).
A Class in Collage
In the middle of the video, there are brilliant insights and lessons – and a demonstration – on making collage by Eunice. This is essential viewing for any apprentice artist. And you get to see her working with paper to make a piece, ready for gluing. Lots of lessons on how to approach the work, and make decisions.
Eunice says that all the artists she knows (another valuable piece of art practice there – being in community, in conversation with others in your field) – that all the artists have at least 50,000 images in their heads. Certainly, in her studio, she is drawing upon vast amounts of images, stored and ripped out. There are even paper images which have marks of white across the surface because of their age, where they have been folded and creased and the surface image broken and that line softly faded with the years. The kind of picture easy to throw in the bin, however assembled with like pieces, there is a patina, a suggestion of age and the colours and images on them are from a different time. To take a modern magazine picture and crease it would not give the same effect at all.
The video, by Portland Community College, ends with the artist saying “I have enough paper up here to keep me going for another ten years.”
At 18, she decided she couldn’t make a paying career out of art, gave up on it, got married, had kids and finally went to art college aged 34, trained, taught art and made art. “Everything else in between was a hiatus”.
Followers of this blog and other art histories will see the recurring pattern of successful artists: daily work for decades, art study and appreciation of their artform, collecting unusual and interesting materials and reference sources. There are no easy shortcuts. Coming out of art college is just the beginning, not the ending, of a lifetime’s work.
- What you enjoyed most instinctively as a child may be your art – kneeling on the floor, tearing up paper, she realised this is what she did aged 10, with enjoyment. She had come full circle back to it
- sourcing material cheaply – as a former printmaker, she had many not-quite-right printed papers which she could use as raw material, ripping up and moving around
- “Seeing is just a learned thing – you have to learn to see relationships”