Monday, September 28, 2009

The Collaboration

The Collaboration by Jeffrey Cook and Renee Stout, 1993
Collection of Renee Stout

Washington DC based artist, Renee Stout, has loaned the Ogden Museum this wonderful collaborative work by herself and the late Jeffrey Cook. The following letter (printed in its entirety) accompanied the work, and gives great insight into the piece, the process, the friendship and the artists.

The Collaboration

Jeffrey and I shared an admiration for the work of Joseph Cornell. Each of Cornell’s pieces evokes the mystery and melancholy of an abandoned toy that still retains the energy of the child that once played with it. It was that sense of playfulness in Cornell’s work that resonated most with us, because it mirrored the way we both approached our own work. It was important to both of us, when It came to our individual bodies of work, that each finished piece reflect the joy, spontaneity and discovery that we experienced during the process of creating it. Jeffrey and I were close friends because we recognized in each other, the ability to still allow the child within to come out and play, and it was in that spirit that we decided to create this piece.

On a visit to New Orleans in 1993, I decided to bring along some tubes of acrylic paint, and a few brushes and pencils, with the hope that I would create something while I was there. I was staying at the apartment of Regina Perry, who lived in the French Quarter on Burgundy Street at the time. Jeffrey lived literally around the corner on St. Louis. He would come around every morning to get me. We’d pick a place to have coffee and then proceed to hang out in the streets all day, looking for “good junk” we could use in our work. One day we came across a piece of plywood and took it back to Regina’s apartment where we placed it on her dining room table, and decided that we would collaborate on something. I laid out the paints, pencils and the brushes. We had no preconceived ideas about what we were going to do. Approaching it like a doodle, we each just picked up a brush and started making marks.

We used anything we came across. The two strange heads, one painted by Jeffrey and one painted by me, were clay chunks we pulled out of Regina’s fireplace. We used cardboard, nails, brown paper bag, twigs from the yard, broken Mardi Gras beads and rusty objects we’d picked up on the street. At one point I told him I’d be right back, but didn’t tell him where I was going. I headed up through the French Quarter to a dusty old antique store, called Judy’s Collage, where we used to find miscellaneous objects. Among the things I nabbed were an old medicine bottle, a cowry shell wrapped in leather and a sweet little bird that I knew Jeffrey would love. I came back with the objects to find that he had wired my favorite paintbrush into the piece. An argument ensued. Sometimes Jeffrey could be like the mischievous little brother who’s a pain in the neck, and I suspect that he’d wired my paintbrush there to get a rise out of me and create a little tension while we were working. I softened a bit when I saw how happy he was with the little bird. I allowed the paintbrush to remain, and we continued to work for hours.

However, another argument arose when we agreed that the piece was finished and Jeffrey suddenly took a paintbrush loaded with chartreuse paint and made a swath down one side of it. For some unknown reason I hated that stroke of green, but he ignored me and, with a sly grin, he lifted the piece from the table and propped it up on the counter next to the stove. We stood side by side in the middle of the kitchen floor looking at it. “I hate that green!” I repeated. He just stood there smiling.

I brought the piece home with me where it has hung for the past fifteen years and each time I looked at it over the years, I had to laugh to myself, because I was too stubborn to tell him that I eventually came to love that green stroke of paint.

Renee Stout, Washington DC, 2009

1 comment:

AORTA Projects said...

Beautiful! Thank you for sharing this story with us - it's rejuvenating and delightful and reminds me of everything I love about art making.