Meet the Artist - Margaret Orr
The Unfortunate Wives of Henry XIII
Normally an interview would start out something like; "When I first met..." or "As we sat down to talk..." but this is the 21st Century and unfortunately (pun?) we don't have to do either in order to conduct an interview. I 'met' Margaret on DeviantArt, a site that has brought together a community of artists, to display and sell their art, as well as a meeting place for said artists. It was through my interest in ATC's, that I met Margaret. She was very encouraging and quite helpful through my infant stages on DA. She started me on the path of trading globally. If I could have, I would have sat face to face with Ms. Orr and chatted up this interview, but as Fate has it, the closest I came was my MacBook. This interview was conducted in the Fall of 2009, so keep that in mind when reading her answers. At any rate, Margaret is certainly talented, her bio is that of a scholar and she's as witty as they come! I hope someday our paths cross, until then...
How did you first learn of ATC’s?
I’m actually not sure. I’m an art / craft book junkie so I think I probably started coming across references to ATCs about a year or so ago. Then I bought Bernie Berlin’s ATC book, and was totally hooked!
How long have you been creating ATC’s?
I think I made my first card earlier this year, so only a couple of months.
(OK, I'm thoroughly impressed!)
How would you describe your ‘style’?
I really wouldn’t know where to start. My style is evolving all the time, and when I look back at earlier work, it seems very different to what I’m doing now.
I love trying out new techniques, and experimentation, so my work changes constantly. What is consistent, I think, is a love for vintage and retro images. Also unexpected and quirky combinations.
You have distinct techniques, how did you come by them?
The books, the books! I have a whole bookshelf full. Claudine Hellmuth’s Collage Discovery books started me off, and her background techniques are still regular standbys.
Often a new technique will emerge or an old technique will morph as I try to solve a specific design problem.
My use of transparencies for instance, arose as I tried to get a specific effect on a mermaid card. I had been working in digital collages, and was frustrated that I couldn’t get the same transparent layering effect on physical ATCs – and then had an Aha! moment in the middle of the night (which is generally a good time for Aha’s, I have found).
My limitations as an artist (I can’t draw as well as I would like to, I can’t use watercolors to save my life, my soldering is a total mess) ironically mean that I have to be more creative to find a workaround to get an effect I want.
Do you prefer iconic themes over a ‘random’ subject?
I do like to have a “meaty” topic to work on. I dread making work that is pretty but meaningless (although that can be fun too). So I prefer to have a “back-story” or a message or concept. Not always at the beginning of a piece, though. Sometimes they emerge as I go along.
What lead you to choose this theme?
This theme emerged entirely by accident. I was idly making gesso portrait cards (my daughter had just discarded a copy of Italian Vogue – a gold mine of interesting faces!), with no idea at all of where they were going. I just chose some likely pictures and started working on them. The process of gesso portraits is fascinating. As you work with a picture, a hidden personality emerges, and I always start wondering: Who is this person? What is her story? What does she want to become? (My training as a life coach probably plays a role, here!) And it became perfectly obvious to me (I know this sounds very “woo-woo” and California) that she was Catherine of Aragon. I love that period in history, and have always been fascinated by Anne Boleyn in particular, so it was logical, then, to carry on and make all the wives.
How much does your subject influence the technique you use to create your ATC’s?
Often I deliberately set out to practise or experiment with a new technique, and that then segues into subject matter (as with the wives).
Sometimes I have a subject – theme-based swaps, for instance – and then I decide what technique is going to work best for the topic of the work.
It’s all a bit random, really!
Do you identify with any of these unfortunate wives?
I see aspects of myself in all of them. I identify very strongly with the powerlessness of women in historical circumstances – the limited choices open to them.
I also currently work in an institution where the power games are truly baroque, and so can identify with the precariousness of position that an individual feels when subject to the whims and plots of those with more power.
Do you think each of these wives represent a characteristic that all women carry?
Hmm. Have to think about this one!
In your trading experience, would you say there are different ‘levels’ of trading?
Levels sounds a little elitist! I know there are systems that rank cards in terms of “quality” / “expertise” / “effort” - these are all such tricky concepts, and potentially incredibly subjective.
I know that – amongst my own ATCs – there are cards that I love, cards I think are quite “good”, and cards I have no huge feeling about one way or another. Cards that I really love, or that I want to keep as a prototype of a particular technique, I don’t offer for trade. All my others are pretty much out there for any kind of exchange. I’m usually so delighted and flattered that someone likes a card, that I’m not likely to quibble about the level of trade.
Trading can be complicated. One of the earlier articles I read about ATC trading suggested that artists would have to learn fairly assertive negotiating techniques in order to ensure that they got the cards they wanted in return for their own cards which they considered to be “high-value” cards (for whatever reason). The concept made me really uncomfortable.
Art is such a source of joy and escape for me, that I really didn’t want to get hard-nosed and tough about it and play yet more games!
An important value of mine is community and sharing, and I think it is important that artists are mutually generous. I feel ill-at-ease in elitist communities that rank cards or artists, and have a complex kind of Stock Exchange where some cards or some forms of art are worth more than others. On the other hand, of course, there are some genres of ATCs that really don’t appeal to me, and that I don’t particularly want to collect. So it can get tricky, and I think we do have the right to set our own personal boundaries as to how we like to conduct trades.
For me, anyway, the whole ATC thing is mostly about the pleasure I get from making them, and much less about trying to accumulate a worthy collection of other people’s cards.
Where does the Tudor Series fall in these levels?
The Tudors is an interesting example – I was so enamoured of them when I finished them, that I decided not to trade them. Now, however, I’ve moved on, and would be happy to send them off to a good home. I’m a strong proponent of regular de-cluttering, and not hoarding stuff. I do think they need to stay together, however!
(I have since been honored with the set!..They are displayed on my desk, I don't have the heart to put them away...but they will be with me at my next ATC Group Exchange! Thank you, Margaret!)
Do you have the Tudors displayed?
Nope. I have an old cigar box that’s full of ATCs I’ve made, and they’re somewhere in there!
Is this the most involved series you’ve done?
Probably yes, in terms of ATCs. I have another ongoing project (in regular !2” x 12” collages) where I’m trying to work through all the letters of the alphabet, and make a historical / mythological woman-themed collage around the letter (A is for Ariadne, G is for Godiva, S for Salome and so on) – that’s been going awhile and will probably take another year or two!
Do you have plans for another series of this size?
Who knows what the muse has in store for me?
Professor Margaret Orr is Director of the Centre for Learning, Teaching, and Development at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). In that capacity, she is responsible for staff development across all sectors of the University. Her role includes organizational development, equity development, and personal and professional career-pathing for both academic and support staff. She has worked on a number of projects and interventions aimed at transformation of institutional culture, ranging from the methodical and strategic, to the subversive and whacky. Prior to her appointment to the University of the Witwatersrand in 2001, she was an academic at the University of South Africa for twenty years, as Professor in the Department of English. Her proudest achievements are the Margaret Orr Women’s Empowerment Award (a scholarship scheme for young women); the WonderWoman Project at Wits and its by-product : Buttons & Breakfasts, a collection of women’s writing; and her three children, who are the most interesting people she knows.
Unofficially – I am a single mom, a part-time life-and writing-coach in addition to my full-time job at the University, and a passionate dabbler in all kinds of creative outlets. I make collage and ATCs for fun, produce mixed media altered art jewelry to sell at a local Craft and Organic Market, and am supposed to be finishing writing a novel! Inspiration comes from reading, poetry, myths and legends, and the work of other artists on DeviantArt. My “studio” is the dining-room table, and I dream of a room of my own.
I want to thank Margaret for her time and patience, and all that she did to help bring this article together. I look forward to future contributions.
It was a pleasure to introduce you all to Ms. Orr, please check out her dA site and let her know what youthink of her work!