I love books—the look, feel, smell, and weight of them. When I hold an old book, I remember the story of an aged librarian who wandered his collections, stopping to stroke the books and muttering: “Don’t worry, my darlings. They’ll never turn you into microfiche.”
And I cherish old papers: letters, pages of diaries and ledgers, anything with the mark of a hand. Resonant with memory, these are the ephemeral stuffs of connection between generations. The beauty of typeface and patterned end-papers testifies to the elegiac aspects of typesetting and bookbinding in an electronic age. Handwriting, too, earns a threnody in digital times.
There is less difference between putting down paints and taking up collage than it might seem. The same design principles apply no matter the medium. Matters of space, color, tone and texture remain. To think of collage as painting and drawing by other means is close to the heart of it.
These old materials, foraged from discards, bind me to early loves. In their quiet, homely way, they declare my adult debt to the act of reading. Where would I be—who would I be?—but for childhood love affairs with Black Beauty and Ginger, the March sisters, or Mara, Daughter of the Nile? With changelings and wild swans, a Snow Queen, an over-reaching fir tree? Books were salvific, the crucial thing that once stood between a latch-key kid and the street.
How we remember the past determines the way we inhabit the present. Forgetting is not an option.
Every book is an embodiment of mind—in its way, an incarnation. If these collages can serve as plausible metaphors for the fragility of the life of the mind and of cultural memory, then I am keeping faith—still—with reality.
It is not often than I mention my own studio life. Permit me, this once, to illustrate why I am shy about laying claim to the word writer. In truth, I am simply a painter with a lap top.
If you are in New York, or passing through, perhaps you will stop by George Billis Gallery, 525 W. 26th Street (212.645.2621). I would be delighted if you did. The collages hang today and will remain on view through April 23rd.