“And then I looked at myself here, chicken scratching for my immortality.” from Hejira by Joni Mitchell.
I have been repeating this lyric to myself ever since the first time I heard it. “Chicken scratching for my immortality” is a vivid image about how all beings persevere with a fierce desire to survive.
Animals are survivalists. Humans are, too. I think of immortality when I am bounding up a steep hill on a run or when hear about a young Thai soccer team using cooperation and instinct to endure days trapped in a mine. The optimism which drives family members and rescuers to persevere in spite of the odds amazes me. I think of immortality when I see my cats angrily angling for food and then and relaxing together after they are sated, or when I see a group of small birds pursing a hawk that has gotten too close to the nest. Those birds are protecting their brood – and the hawk is doing the same.
My work for this exhibition features portraits of the animals that enlighten me with their resilience, and large self-portraits in black and white inspired by specific moments in my life. I have the autoimmune disease, Type 1 Diabetes, diagnosed in my early 20’s. It was a shock because I was so active and healthy, a lifelong athlete and runner. I had to learn how to take care of myself all over again, bargaining with the disease to maintain the integrity of the things that were important to me. Still, I have some low points. I have to make compromises almost every day.
With these portraits I want to capture some of the feelings of defiance, distress, vulnerability, wonder and power that are universal for all people and animals. There is always a challenge, little or huge, for all of us.
I make collage portraits. I started making self-portraits during my studies at Boston University School of the Arts, where the teaching was primarily figurative. Often, I used myself as a model, simply because I was available. The collage technique evolved from restlessness in a drawing class. I decided to draw with paper.
“We The Animals” is my fourth show at Craven Allen Gallery featuring self-portraits. One show focused on my relationship with my companion animals; another series was inspired by Balthus. This series of work comes from another restless period. But I wanted a new idea. Type 1 Diabetes is an integral part of my life. It is a full-time responsibility to manage blood sugar and health. Type 1 is controlled by insulin either injected or with an insulin pump. Food, exercise, stress, sickness or sometimes nothing at all can cause surprise changes in my blood sugar. After I made the collage “The Boss of Me”, I realized what a large part of my attention I devote to managing Type 1, controlling the highs and lows. I saw potential to use the collage technique to express the confusion, the frustration, the fight and the acceptance of the challenges of chronic illness.
One of the main issues for an insulin dependent person is the question of how much insulin is enough and how much is too much (or too little). The line is fine and never absolute. The too much insulin presents itself in ways that are scary for people who care about my well being. A blood test is taken and a correction can be made with glucose or a bolus of extra insulin. At night, well, we are asleep and things happen differently.
I did not know exactly how volatile my hypoglycemia was. Most mornings, I got up, fed the pets, walked the dog and went for a run. Sometimes, I had bruises, often the bed was soaked in sweat which I would discover later. My partner was so tired after a night when I had low blood sugar that he would work from home. I didn’t understand why he was tired. I asked him to document what happens, hoping that it never would again.
When it did happen, my partner, who is an artist, a figurative sculptor, got me to drink a juice box or whatever and while the blood sugar was getting to normal, he took some photographs. The tabby cat, Carmine, was the only of our pets on the scene. The images helped me understand.
When I started the drawings, I began pouring through the many art magazines that I use for collage (many thanks to Frank Konhaus, Ellen Cassilly, Tom and Janie Slaughter, Roberta Wallace, Helen Gordon, Doug Zinn, Michael Taeckens, Anthony and Donna DeMarco for these). I felt that I could use some of the photographs and art images to express the many feelings that any person might sense when they are put in a stressful situation. Thoughts and images constantly bombard us with imagery, good and bad, particularly in this digital age. To remain engaged, but not overwhelmed, is a challenge. I use a lot of humorous material to lighten the composition, and images of physical strength. Somehow, like the animals, we survive.
These portraits encapsulate challenging moments in time for me and for almost every other Type 1 Diabetic person at one time or another. New technology, like the insulin pump, provides a more stable way to deliver insulin. I am grateful that I have that technology and a network of good people to encourage me to persevere.
But I find beauty in the shapes–and hopefulness in the chaotic dreams of theses collages. I hope these portraits speak to viewers about resilience, and the ability to adapt and move forward even when it’s hard. We all do this every day, in our own ways.
ABOUT KATHRYN DEMARCO
Kathryn DeMarco is a collage artist who lives and works in Durham, NC. She has a BFA from Boston University, and has continued to study with workshops at Penland and with other artists.
Kathryn has had solo shows at Craven Allen Gallery, Crook’s Corner, the Duke Eye Center, Golden Belt Room 100. Her work has been included in numerous juried shows and invitationals. Her collages are in private collections across the United States.
Kathryn volunteers with Independent Animal Rescue. She has been with Craven Allen Gallery since 1997.
METHODS AND MATERIALS
My medium is collage and my focus is on portraiture and life studies. My compositions come from photographs, my imagination, and start with a detailed charcoal drawing. I begin the collage with the background first and then move to the figure in the foreground. I use good quality art magazines, specialty papers and painted papers. I use oil pastel, acrylic paint and alcohol markers. As I work, I look for papers that fit the composition in several ways. The paper should have the tone or color needed for space and the sympathetic images or text.
It’s a process that combines serendipity with intense scrutiny.