I spent the morning foraging on the streets of London for things to stick in a collage. Usually Ma tells me off for picking things off the pavement, but the teacher told us to do it, so who was I to argue. Before our crap collecting assignment, we all met at the Royal Academy to see a temporary exhibition of the work of Joseph Cornell. I thought it was brilliant and am now slightly in love with him; unfortunately, he is dead – so I doubt anything will come of it.
Self-educated and self-taught, Cornell was a collage artist par excellence, and is most noted for the wonderful Shadow Boxes he made.
When his father died prematurely, Cornell assumed responsibility for his Mother and younger brother – who had Cerebral Palsy. They lived in Queens, New York and Cornell worked in Manhattan as a textiles salesman. During his lunch hour he would roam the streets, collecting things that caught his eye, mostly from second-hand book shops and flea markets. For a while he just collected things, then one day he started arranging them, and hey presto, a great artist was born. He worked in the basement of his home, then later on the kitchen table. By all accounts he was socially awkward and not too flash with the ladies. Nonetheless, he courted the art world, and was both honoured and renowned in his life time.
For me, the most amazing piece in the whole exhibition was a Shadow Box he made for Emily Dickinson. As famous for her reclusiveness and squirreling her work under her bed as she was for her poetry and writing, Emily Dickinson remains an enigmatic figure – deeply intellectual and exquisitely sensitive. The piece was entitled “Towards the Blue Peninsula: for Emily Dickinson” – which is taken from one of her poems, which ends:
It might be easier
To fail – with Land in Sight –
Than gain – My Blue Peninsula –
To perish – of Delight
It is easy to understand, when viewing Cornell’s work, why he felt such an affinity with Emily and paid homage to her. Without doubt they were kindred spirits and had a similar intellectual and artistic sensibility. Further, they both suffered from loneliness and the restrictiveness of their reclusive lives, and had a similar approach to desire; in that, they both preferred the state of longing itself, rather than the fulfilment of longing.
Enamoured by Cornell’s work and story, I spent that afternoon making a collage about his life, featuring at the end his homage to the beautiful Emily.
After class I attended an Art History lecture; although it was optional, I am nerd, so I scurried along. I’m pleased I did, as the lecture was very interesting; not that it would’ve mattered, because the guy giving it had the loveliest French accent which would’ve made a lecture on turnips seem riveting.
All and all it was a brilliant day. Nonetheless, loving Cornell and Emily and the French lecturer was exhausting, so it was a relief to get back to my room and have some dinner.