Horse Feathers

Horse Feathers

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.

-Stephen Parlato