“I lose all track of time when I’m working in my visual journals,” Susan Elliott tells me. In front of us are three of her works, all made from vintage books she finds on her travels. She has taken these books apart and rebound them using various techniques; one book has a thick sewn leather spine wrapped around both covers, another is held together by a modified Japanese stab-binding method.
She explains to me that the books speak to her from a very intuitive place; when she sees one she wants to turn into one of her pieces, it is an instinct, a feeling. This seems to be a running theme throughout her work. As she opens one of these rebound books, the pages reveal colorful drawings, lists, words, memories, stories. Much as journals and diaries in a traditional sense, Elliott makes her work as it comes to her. Her journal pieces are as much about process — working through things — as they are about the finished product.
Within that process there is much vulnerability. One of the most beautiful parts about artwork that puts the vulnerability of the artist at the forefront is that feeling of finding someone real, a kindred spirit, a community. In fact, this is how Elliott began making visual journals. Elliott and her girlfriends (whom she met at a pirate conference in Florida, no less) began sending one visual journal back and forth to each other for many months. “It was a beautiful collaboration,” she says, “and still one of my favorite journals I’ve made.”
This is saying a lot, as Elliott has dozens she’s completed or is in the process of completing. The process seems addictive. As she says, “The journals are just places where I can put anything that’s in my mind.” And in this way, they act as self-portraits and autobiographies, all at once. They’re fascinating to behold, both as objects and as documentation. A kind of new human relic — a way to say I was here.
They also act as a kind of meditation for Elliott. Looking through her journals gives one the sense that no one else could quite make something like them. They also, at the same time, create a kind of universal language and appeal. The ability to peek in on someone’s unfiltered mind is productive both for the artist and the viewer equally, and gives, much like Elliott’s initial assertion, the feeling of being outside any one time period.
Besides visual journals, Elliott is a painter. Her influences span time periods and genres, from famed female pirates to traditional Mexican folklore. Elliott is like a sponge, soaking up the visual information and sending it through her filters into ours. It feels rare and special to find an artist willing to share and make their daily visual routine as serious and complete work, and not only that, but to encourage and support everyone else to do the same.
“The blank page can be intimidating. But I encourage everyone to feel safe and secure with their journals. It is a no-judgment-zone. Just make one mark, collage one thing — anything, a movie ticket stub, a photo — use any material you have. Just zone out, let your brain spit out what it needs to,” Elliott muses.
Suzanne Elliott’s work will be up through November at LifeFloat, You can see more here: www.neptunecreations.com
Colleen Louise Barry
Founder of Seattle based, Mount Analogue a new kind of press, focused on words + images, collaboration + community, and intellectual courage. Mount Analogue produces video, audio, and print projects and collaborations of all kinds. http://www.mount-analogue.com/info/