This was my first large scale collage, and the first in which I used steel dressmaker’s pins. I had originally developed this technique on a much smaller scale, layering collage fragments loose between sheets of glass. I knew that I wanted to jump scale but my funds at the time were very limited. Opportunity came when I found a limited edition pop-up book by Andy Warhol at a second-hand thrift store for 50 cents. I took this vintage book to the Antiquarian Bookstore and was able to trade it for a beautiful oversize facsimile of Audubon’s Birds of North America, a book I could not have normally afforded. It took me several days to get up the courage to begin cutting up this book. I love Audubon and I love books. This was a destructive act, the breaking I felt of a strong taboo. But finally, relying on Picasso’s adage that ‘one must first learn to destroy in order to create’, I spent many weeks using all my spare time after work and weekends carefully cutting up the entire portfolio of a thousand-plus birds. This became my palette. I knew I had to be able to work on a piece this size with it standing up, not lying flat as I had done with the previous, much smaller pieces. I also knew that I had to find an unobtrusive and elegant manner of affixing the papers to a backing. The solution I arrived at was to buy a large, clean sheet of Styrofoam, framing it off with plain wood molding and using small steel dressmakers pins which would enable me to make changes at any point in the process. The other change was now at this scale I found I would need to have a drawing and project it to allow the necessary precision. Previously I had worked without any drawing as a guide. All this was worked out in doing this first large collage, “Horse Feathers”.
I have always loved the idea of the flying horse. I remember my father telling me how he used to use the red winged horse mounted high above the Mobil gas station as a beacon to find his way home on foggy nights. Later I learned the Greek myth of the Pegasus born of the blood of the slain Medusa, giving birth to poetry as it took to the sky. I have as well always loved Audubon’s birds, the great distinct shapes and colors of nature starkly silhouetted against the often white page. I believe his work has influenced me greatly.
My horse is a powerful yet sweet natured creature soaring in an effortless glide. He has no need for the wings of a Pegasus since he is entirely composed of birds.
He, of course, contains a paradox. His sweet natured eye when viewed upside down is actually the cold hunters eye of the bald eagle. It is this type of visual alchemy which excites and delights me.
“The World has not always loved dragons, / but Dragons have always loved the world.” So begins this fascinating tour of stunning dragons fashioned with intricate collage. Each double-page spread showcases a dragon created by a painstaking assemblage of detailed pictorial parts of the objects it admires. Frequent rhyme and occasionally playful wording help clue readers to the myriad items used to create the mesmerizing creatures. From the organic, with flowers, hummingbirds and eggs, to the man-made, with fabric, stained glass and books, Parlato produces a series of visual masterpieces sure to delight dragon aficionados and further impress fans of The World that Loved Books (2004). A feast for the eyes best taken one picture at a time, this book could become an inspiration for exercises in creative writing, crafting or wild imagination. The only thing remiss is the book’s overall lack of flow — especially the uneven verses that make up the text. But this is a small flaw for a title that aims to encourage “big dreams still worth pursuing.” (Picture book. 5-12)
Dragons Love Stephen Parlato. Simply Read (PGW, dist.), $16.95 (44p) ISBN 978-1-897476-18-5
Dramatic and surreal, Parlato’s (The World That Loved Books) dragon collages, made up of repeated and sometimes distorted images, take center stage in this work. “Dragons love flowers, their colors and perfumes,” he writes, as the corresponding spread shows a dragon composed of flaming parrot tulips and sunset-colored birds of paradise. Succeeding spreads show more dragons, their claws, snouts, wings and tails made up of rainbow hues of beetles, seashells, leaves, mushrooms—even flags of the world. The creatures recall Fabergé eggs, gilded, bejeweled and adorned with calligraphic swirls and coils. The rambling free verse is a collage, too, in which medieval-sounding expressions (“Dragons love mushrooms…. They know to choose carefully the ones they eat… lest poison be their fate”) rub shoulders with modern colloquialisms (“then [they] boogie on back to their caves”), not always to pleasing effect. There’s an inspirational quality to Parlato’s text (“And what Dragons love most of all on this Earth… are children like You, who still believe in dragons and great deeds in great need of doing”), but it largely feels incidental to the baroque richness of Parlato’s artwork. Ages 5–up. (Oct.)
My second book, Dragons Love, has been released by Simply Read Books.
The world has not always loved dragons, but dragons have always loved the world. They love the simple beauty of nature’s fleeting flowers, the armor left behind by knights who come to slay but end up playing with them. They love the birds with whom they share the skies, and they love books that entrance them. Often cast as villains associated with destruction, in this enchanting picture book dragons are depicted as great spirits and protectors of the natural world, ancient beings in touch with the beauty and rhythms of the earth. Collage art of dragons compiled from the things they love fill every page of this book, which is sure to spark young imaginations.
The World That Loved Books was chosen as a finalist by Foreword Magazine as a best Children’s Picture Book of the year award.
The revised edition of The World That Loved Books was released November 30, 2008.
The translated Korean edition will also be released later this year by South Korean publisher Marubeol.
The original collage of the Treasure Dragon (40″ x 60″) was purchased by the East Meadow Library in Long Island, NY to be put on permanent display in the children’s section as a tribute to Ms. Penny Webber, a beloved children’s librarian who passed away last year. A dedication ceremony took place at the library November 30th at 1:30 pm.
Some of my work was featured on the Urbanite Magazine website…
“Local artist Stephen Parlato‘s dazzling collages, such as Flag Horse (pictured at left), grace the walls of Baltimore Pho in Sowebo until Feb 4. The revised first edition of his PBS-recommended children’s book, The World that Loved Books, is filled with more astounding creations. (1116 Hollins St.; www.soweboarts.org)