Periodically, we pose questions about issues artists face in their work and lives. This month, we asked: What is your relationship to your early work?
Amy Podmore, sculpture and multi-disciplinary artist
Coming across older works conjure in me a multitude of responses, from stunned or embarrassed, to satisfied that the work still has some resonance for me. There was a time where my response was a need to curate, edit, or rewrite, though fortunately, those impulses usually failed, and I can encounter older pieces in a friend’s house or studio with more clarity now. I recently visited a friend I haven’t seen in decades, and in her home is an old piece of mine. It’s a small ballet suit, removed from the original doll and suspended from a bracket. I’d replaced the fabric shoes with plaster casts of my dog’s feet. Due to the age of the work, the tiny fabric tights had stretched, making the legs disproportionally long. I was tickled that the surreal qualities that I’d worked towards had been magnified by the passage of time, and it wasn’t so far removed from some of the concerns of my current work. What I appreciate is that the old work had threads that were tethered back to a more raw and impulsive self, a self that has significance to me precisely because it was made from a more innocent stance.
Michael Lowenthal, writer
When I was writing my first novel, The Same Embrace, I felt (as goes the cliché) that my life depended on perfecting and publishing it. My entire self-worth rode on getting every word just right. I would’ve paid a publisher to bring it out.
Twenty years later, the novel is long out of print. It doesn’t even exist electronically, since it came out before e-books were a glimmer in Jeff Bezos’s eye. When I see fellow writers re-releasing their similarly old works online, I wonder: Would I want The Same Embrace available again? Sure, I guess. I don’t think it’s so bad as to be embarrassing. But my desire to revive the book is so nonurgent – it wafts toward me across such a vast plain of indifference – that I’ve never bothered to take even the simplest steps to pursue the possibility.
How strange, that something once so central to my being could now feel connected to me only abstractly – like a great-great-grandsomebody you find on Ancestry.com.
This makes it both easier and harder for me to create new work. Easier, because on some level, I know that what feels essential now will someday be only a vague memory. Harder, because in order to write your best work, you have to believe that your life depends on every syllable.
Josh Jefferson, painter
My relationship with my earlier work is a constant cycle, paintings and collages in my studio get reworked or cannibalized. There is a continual reevaluation. I’m an additive artist not a reductive one. Collages and drawings hang about the studio, sometimes to be added later to another piece sometimes months sometimes years later. I find it’s important to let certain pieces ferment. So in a way my earlier work dovetails into my current work creating a multi-year build up. This merger between older work and new work helps me create a deeper richer surface, which in turn helps create a image that is packed with the detritus of my older development. It generates a continuous link between old and new. This development helps the pieces build up from earlier endeavors enriching the structure and the overall image, helping create a world that is strengthened by the process.
Andrea Hairston, playwright, novelist, and screenwriter
Until junior year of college, I thought I was going to be a mathematician and a physicist. Yet in first grade my mother had told me to write stories for her rather than disturb others in math class when I was bored. She also insisted I do theatre. My first role was a willow tree. I remember trying to blow in the wind. This was my first journey from self to other. It’s my mother’s fault that I became a theatre artist, a writer. She recognized and encouraged my dramatic spirit. The stage is an experimental realm, a laboratory for the body, for becoming who or what we are not. A humble actor can conjure other times, other worlds, other universes. All my writing – essays, short stories, screenplays, novels, and plays – emerges from my performance sensibility. I enjoy becoming what I am not, speaking in many voices, shifting perspectives. I write screenplays and use them as outlines for novels. I write short stories and turn them into plays and then back into a novel. I write speculative works – science fiction and fantasy – a perfect challenge for the theatre of my mind!
Andrea Hairston (Dramatic Writing Fellow ’03, Finalist ’19) is a novelist, essayist, playwright, and the Artistic Director of Chrysalis Theatre. Her next speculative novel, Master of Poisons, will be published by Tor/Macmillan in 2020.
Josh Jefferson (Painting Fellow ’18) has a solo exhibition at Gallery 16 in San Francisco in June 2019. He recently has a solo exhibition at Steven Zevitas gallery in Boston, which was praised in a review by Cate McQuade from the Boston Globe.
Michael Lowenthal (Fiction/Creative Nonfiction Fellow ’00, Finalist ’16) is a novelist, essayist, memoirist, and short story writer. His most recent publication is a mini-book called Unmolested (available as a paper booklet or on Kindle).
Amy Podmore (Sculpture/Installation/New Genres Fellow ’15, ’09) is a sculptural and interdisciplinary artist whose practice includes installation, sculpture, video, drawing, and more. She teaches at Williams College in Williamstown.
Images: installation view of FROM LEMONS (2005) by Amy Podmore (Sculpture/Installation/New Genres Fellow ’15, ’09, Finalist ’03), from a 2006 exhibition of Mass Cultural Council awardees in Holyoke, photo by Kelly Bennett; Josh Jefferson (Painting Fellow ’18), ALL TOGETHER NOW (2017), collage on canvas, 50×40 in.