As my art therapists know, I do my homework before each session.
My next session isn’t until Thursday night, but I’ve already completed the project — everything but the mounting and framing.
The topic is “The New Year.”
Participants/artists are never told exactly what to make or how to make it, but the list of suggested supplies includes heavy paper, glue, scissors and old magazines. Oh, goody. A collage.
When I first started making collages for art therapy, my interpretation was literal. For example, pictures of women in swimsuits, clipped from a catalog, signified my love for swimming. When I pasted them onto an old plastic jar (now used to store metallic markers), I changed how the images were arranged, but not what they depicted.
I’ve evolved as a collage artist to the extent that the elements I use — such as photos, magazine images, candy wrappers and old paper COVID masks — are reshaped and reinvented, to signify something new.
At first, all I knew for sure about my new year collage was that it would have elements of red, lime green and pink. Those colors show up frequently in my art (and go together surprisingly well), to represent the health conditions that shape however many years might remain in my earthly life: Red for heart disease, lime green for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, pink for breast cancer.
Free-form shapes in my three signature colors form the paving of a meandering, upward path. A vigilant viewer of my collage might discern a few subtle jokes — like pink elements that are intact images of bras from a catalog, or green bits that are directly from a bag of mint M&Ms.
The COVID masks — yellow ones — form an ominous, threatening sky.
Earth-tone magazine photos, mostly of foods such as cookies, are shaped to create the uninviting, rough and possibly malodorous terrain through which the red, green and pink path rises.
And then I add a picture of myself, smiling and looking ahead from the start of the path.
The title of my collage is the same as the state motto of Wisconsin: “Forward.”
That’s also the motto of my faith walk as a Christian.
It would do no good, none, to lie to myself — and by extension, to God — by denying the hazards on the path that lies ahead of me.
Switching out an old calendar for a new one doesn’t change the nature of my journey. But it does provide a milestone at which I can pause to reflect on where I’ve been and where I’m going.
Along with the Apostle Paul, I resolve to “press on toward the goal of the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)
What that goal looks like isn’t depicted in my collage because I have only inklings as to what it is, and not even a vague guess as to when or how I’ll attain it.
Also not visible in my art — and yet, very much present, even under a urine-colored sky — is the Holy Spirit.
By openly and emphatically acknowledging the treacherous nature of the path on which I walk, I embrace the truest, most powerful optimism. One step at a time, I keep going. Forward.