Last month, the brand new lovely folks at Half Mystic journal released their second issue and I was their featured artist. In addition to including a new 14 piece series about people & sorrow, they also interviewed me about my process, themes, and musical influences:
Issue II centers around the theme of Saudade: “the drifting photograph – the ache so tender-willing – the shards of bitter-soft yearning just before the fall.” What aches have taken up residence in your memory? How do they shape your art?
Most of my own aches are subtle and quiet, and many originated from childhood. A feeling of unbelonging in my hometown of Phoenix combined with my parents’ divorce and a mentally disabled brother often provided for a strangely isolated world growing up. I felt plain and unnoticed as a teen and my twenties were full of rather traditional heartache involving relationships, longing, and loneliness. I’ve been a melancholic person for as along as I can remember and all my experiences have largely shaped my interest in the randomness of loss, unresolved matters, and soft hauntings – all common themes in my work.
In what ways does memory shift in your work? In what ways is it constant?
Memory shifts in different forms of translation and recording – in how pieces are positioned and what shape everything becomes. There is always an abundance of ways to communicate non-linear concepts. Perhaps the only constant is that memory is never only one finite thing; it always consists of references, alterations and layers.
What songs have you found yourself returning to recently? How have they impacted your art?
In the last few years I have been listening to a lot of ambient music as I find it inherently compliments creating abstract visual work. The neutral drone sleepiness of sounds is a great atmosphere for examining memory from a collective and intuitive perspective. Some musicians I enjoy are: A Winged Victory for the Sullen, Rameses III, Rice Boy Sleeps, Nils Frahm, Cass., Kyle Bobby Dunn, and Julianna Barwick. That being said, I have always had a large affection for folk music and still retain a loyalty to the genre. Mark Kozelek is one of my all time favourites.
To expand on that: if your art had a ‘soundtrack,’ what five songs would definitely be on it? Why?
Sibylle Baier – Forget About
Goldmund – Ba
Sun Kil Moon – Carry Me Ohio
Sufjan Stevens – Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou)
Grouper – Wind and Snow
All these songs/artists carry some sort of personal history for me, but I also think they’re a good representation of both folk and ambient sounds that suit my work well.
How do you approach color in your work?
I’ve always been attracted to pale palettes and subdued tones, including the occasional bright for appeal. If there’s a section that’s too dark, I tend to lighten it using a layer or two of tracing paper. Everything else is instinctive using the options I have in front of me. People who know me well can testify that the importance of colour extends to most areas of my life, often affecting the silliest of decisions.
Typically, collage is thought of as a medium of juxtaposition, of synthesis. Does that influence the way you think about other forms of art—for example, music? If so, how?
Absolutely. I think juxtaposition and synthesis as aesthetic attributes can be applied to many other art forms – double exposures in photography being a good obvious example. My friend Peter, who makes music under the pseudonym Northern Loon, considers his songs as collages and they are a lovely expression of what I do visually. I’m also attempting to do similar things with memory in writing and video. You can read and see my attempts at lindowly.com
How does sound—musical or otherwise—figure into your artistic process?
Music is very important in the beginning stages of my process – the actual decision making of which pieces to choose and where everything goes. As there are no sketches or planning done ahead of time, these are the most exciting and tender moments of creation. It is an expressive act and sound helps guide this process naturally.
Much of your work seems to revolve around the idea of home. What, to you, does ‘home’ truly mean? Can art ever fully encapsulate that meaning?
I don’t think there is one true meaning for home; I think the concept shifts for each individual. It could be where you spent childhood, where you’ve built an adult life and community, or even someplace you’ve never visited but is in your ancestry and heritage. It doesn’t have to necessarily be location based either as home could be attached to a person, scent or general landscape. Maybe it is simply what’s familiar, or layers of all these things combined. For me, I think I will always associate some part of home with being raised in the desert. Pale colours and dry air. The saguaros, eucalyptus, dust storms. Since then, I’ve lived and traveled through so many places that I’ve emotionally needed to create tiny temporary homes as I go. It would be difficult for art to ever fully resemble the idea of home, being such a complex, varied, and personal subject matter. But I do think it’s possible to hint at it, and surely artworks attempting the topic would resonate varyingly for different people.
Linden Eller doesn’t like to stay fixed in one spot. The collage artist has lived in a lot of different places – New England, Europe, India, Australia, Samoa, New Zealand – and come January she’ll be packing her bags yet again. “I’m moving to Japan,” says Eller. “I have been greatly influenced by the works of Murakami, Miyazaki, Shintaro Ohata, Osamu Yokonami and many other Japanese photographers and artists. There is a general widespread aesthetic in Japan that I connect to and that I would like to learn more about, particularly concerning colour and common themes of nostalgia/memory. I’ve been curious about it as a place for quite some time.”
In Japan she’ll continue her collage practice, a medium, she says, suited to her transient lifestyle. “The materials are lightweight, not messy and constantly renewable. It’s a relatively new medium, and I find it exciting to be a part of the community exploring it. I think I’ve found an identity in collage, a distinct style that I struggled to create in other genres.”
Eller collages combine photographs, transparent paper, sketches, text and sewn stitches which swirl together to form a window into other worlds, moments and stories, so it’s apt she calls them “field workings of memory”. We chat to Eller about her hometown, inspiration and what she gets up to when not making.
Where are you from and what do you love about your hometown?
I spent my childhood in Phoenix, Arizona. I often felt out of place growing up there, but there are certain nostalgic elements that I’ll probably always attach to the idea of home – pale desert colours, saguaros, eucalyptus, dry air, dust storms, and the scent of rain mixed with earth. These are things I’ve learned to love.
What made you move to New Zealand?
I had been previously living in Australia and since New Zealand was just a hop away and I was still eligible for the Working Holiday Visa, I thought I’d come over and have a look around. I’m doing a lot of long-term travel at the moment, so any flexible opportunity to work in another country is a good one. Admittedly, I’ve always had a fondness for sheep, and actually ended up working in the wool sheds over here for three seasons!
Were you a creative kid? What did you used to make?
I mostly enjoyed drawing. I remember often being alone in my own world for hours at a time, whether I was making things or playing with toys, so I suppose I’ve always had a big imagination.
What’s your Achilles’ heel?
Probably taking on too much. I have an abundance of curiosities and so there are always things I’d like to learn more about or ideas I’d like to try. My lists are usually too long and I can often get overwhelmed.
What do you like to do when not making?
Travelling, volunteering on farms, hiking, gardening, writing letters, listening to music/podcasts, reading, watching films, cooking/baking, adventuring, playing, and going on lots of picnics.
What was the first piece of art that had an impact on you?
Joe Sorren has a big mural painted in Flagstaff, Arizona that I always adored, called ‘The Veridic Gardens of Effie Leroux’. Even though my work ended up nothing like his, I remember identifying with his palette and tender narrative elements. Another significant one was ‘Shepherdess With Her Flock’ by French painter Jean-François Millet. Rauschenberg and Rothko were also big early influences.
Whose work would you love to own a piece of?
Anything by Andrew Wyeth.
What will 2017 bring?
I will be doing an artist residency (and perhaps an exhibition) in Sapporo, Japan for February and March. Mainly I’d like to continue exploring the abstract world, as possibilities and growth seem infinite. Illustration has regularly been something I enjoy doing, and will probably continue to do casually or when opportunities arise. At the moment, I’m trying to be intentional about integrating my travels with what I’m making. It’s challenging and still remains a struggle, but I’m persevering. In that spirit, I’m currently piecing together an experimental project combining travel, geocaching, benevolence, the postal service, and custom memory collages. To be unveiled soon!
My collage (“and the whole world grew a forest for her”) was recently published in Collage Collective Co’s new book, “Green,” which you can purchase here : http://www.collagecollective.co/green
Included beneath the collage is this caption:
“I made this piece for my friend, Megan, who I associate a lot with the colour green. She had a dog named ‘Green’ and she always wore green coloured beads. The title is from an old book of poetry I was browsing through, an ended up writing in a birthday card for her one year. The idea of all these strangers collectively growing a forest for someone was so absurd and beautiful that I had to make a collage about it – a gift of leaves, lichen, and blurs of trees.”
Who is Linden Eller and what does she do?
I am a maker from the United States. I grew up in Arizona, studied in California, and have been moving around ever since – spending small seasons in Rhode Island and Maine, rural England, Europe, India, Southeast Asia, Australia, Samoa, and currently New Zealand. I really enjoy and support things from the old world – analog photography, writing letters, homesteading. I currently am spending my time exploring a lot of our planet, learning about other ways to live and think and be. I do a lot of WWOOFING (world wide opportunities on organic farms) on my way, and can’t recommend it enough. I like cats and picnics.
When did you first start playing around with collage as an art form?
I began playing around with collage in my first art class at university, 2-D design. I started out using the process of collage purely as an emotional exercise, and would build up layers beneath a oil-painted illustration on top. It’s only been in the last 3-4 years that I’ve given collage the dominant role, allowing me to focus on things like abstraction, subtlety, and composition.
Who and/or what inspires you and your work?
So many things! I listen to music while working, mainly folk and ambient electronic, which greatly affect my mood and direction as I create. Colour is very important to me. I connect to subdued low contrast soft pallettes with the occasional bright. Whenever I go into a hardware store I always end up walking out with a handful of those free colour swatch cards. Other people’s work is always inspiring and I adore many photographers (Irene Kiel, Osamu Yokohama, Margaret Durow, Vivian Maier), painters (Andrew Wyeth, Rothko, Sarah Brooke, Joe Sorren) and illustrators (Kelsey Garrity-Riley, Keiko Brodeur, Stephanie K. Clark, Nastia Sleptsova). When I was at university, I used to hang a big piece of butcher paper in my studio with a list of all the things that interested me. I still sort of do that mentally, and currently some things on that list would be: moons, plants, ghosts, and houses. In terms of materials, I get really excited about lost and found objects, and the fact that they are tied somewhere to someone else’s life: bus tickets, receipts, shopping lists, photographs. I’ve always loved exploring and going for walks, collecting little bits of treasure in my pockets, and I guess that enjoyment has carried over into what I make. I get a buzz out of the idea of creating work that has all these layers of memory from different people. I feel like I should also mention this podcast from Radiolab called “Memory and Forgetting” that has really affected my work – it’s brilliant. And lastly, my friends and their individual worlds have probably influenced me more than they realize. I’m grateful to know so many beautiful kindred humans.
What’s your creative space like?
Since I’ve spent the better part of the last decade moving around the globe, my creative space usually consists of being tucked away in the corner of whatever room I’m currently occupying. I travel with a little art bag and when I’m ready to make something I just unload it all onto the floor (or if I’m lucky a table or desk). I have daydreams though about someday owning a real studio and filling it with plants and colour studies and objects I love.
How would you describe your creative style or theme?
I consider my work as field recordings from the mind. I’ve always been a melancholic person, which naturally parallels to being a nostalgic person. And so I suppose my themes are mainly centered around memory, its process, and the layers of small alterations which happen each time we recall something. Often I try to blend together personal elements with larger collective subjects, such as childhood, longing, home.
What are some key things you consider when creating pieces?
I want my work to be pretty, quiet, and curious. Regardless of if I’m successful at communicating what I hope to in terms of theme, I try and create pieces that stand alone aesthetically. When moving pieces around, I’m looking for similarities between them, trying to figure out where to place each one that would create the best transition. Because I lean towards low contrast tones, I’m also wondering if a segment is too dark and if I need to lighten it using another layer. I guess when making any abstract work you are always considering many basic design principles as well, composition being a big one for me.
Without giving up all your secrets, what is your artistic process when creating a work?
I suppose it all begins with sourcing materials. Sometimes my favourite part of the process is looking through books and magazines and cutting out bits I want to keep. It’s really powerful because you get to decide what is important and then try and show people why (like saying “psssst: look at THIS”). When making, I tend to start with a trigger, a scrap of something I’m really drawn to. I can get excited by a little corner of a photograph – an elbow, or a tree in the background – and that’s really all it takes to start the process. From there, I just play (probably like most collage artists). I sort of hunt through my big pile of materials searching for more pieces that would look or feel right next to the original scrap. Making my decisions based on colour, shape, and theme, I then shift everything around until I’m pleased. One of my signature features is using elements of tracing paper, and this is usually the final layer, as it adds softness and depth. After using double sided tape or a glue stick to hold everything loosely in place, I finally sew it all down. This neutral repetitive stitching movement at the end always feels like a good calming exit out of the whole process.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
It would be a dream to collaborate with Michel Gondry – to somehow weave collage elements into film. The Science of Sleep and Eternal Sunshine influenced me a lot early on even though they are a completely different art form.
Aside from creating your artworks, what else keeps you busy?
Traveling, volunteering on farms, figuring out my next place. I do a lot of writing, reading, and cooking / baking when I have access to a kitchen. Right now I’m working in the shearing gangs in woolsheds around Central Otago on the South Island of NZ. I’ve always had an interest in sheep and it’s been amazing to see what goes on behind the scenes in the wool industry. It’s incredibly hard work – said to be one of the toughest jobs in the world – but I absolutely love it. I’m always trying to surround myself with communities that aren’t connected to the art world. I think it’s really important for a balance in character.
Any recent, current or future projects we should know about?
I just recently completed a 2 month residency at the Tiapapata Art Centre in Samoa. During my time there, I produced enough work for a solo exhibition in their gallery, titled Sleep/Swim. The pieces explored island nostalgia – dreamings and recollections involving an oceanic environment. I’m currently working on an ongoing project of archiving my writings and photographs, which I hope to one day publish into book form. You can discover more here: www.lindowly.com
Based on your experience, what advice would you give someone looking to start making collage art?
Find things that excite you. Collage art is all about your materials, so that’s the best place to start. I still remember the advice Guy Kinnear (my wonderful drawing and painting teacher at university) told me ten years ago, which is to “just make work.” The good stuff you can exhibit and the shit stuff you can write off as studies or sketches, but at least you’re not shaking in the studio scared to make anything because it might not turn out perfect. I think that fear is what holds a lot of people back from starting to make things.
Thanks again to Dillon over at Collage Collective!
Next week I will be having a small exhibition of recent work made during my residency here in Samoa. If you know of anyone in these parts, please send them over for the opening!