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Notes on Beginnings, Collaboration and Creativity

Inner necessity to make thought visible through the re-use of found forms: Thus began my work in 1989 when Nancy Chinn and I, urged by friends, met and agreed to try two sessions together. We met at my home; my garage was our work space. I saw myself as architect, presenting materials and ideas; Nancy was my engineer, showing me how to make space, how to discern figure and ground, how to compose visually. I had no interest in flat painting. In our initial torn paper collages I kept pushing tissue papers upward into sculpted forms until Nancy surrendered to my obsession for texture and three dimensionality. She said my fingers were my tactile eyes. At first I was afraid to go into my garage without her.

Jo and Nancy Chinn Exhibiting Exodus is "Always an Altar"

Jo and Nancy Chinn Exhibiting "Exodus is Always an Altar" at the Badé Museum, Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley. April, 1991.

Nancy midwifed my first assemblages. I gradually achieved more independence in harnessing my conceptual imagination to visible, palpable, relating forms. I saw sanctity in the commonplace discards of our daily life and wanted to give them new forms and symbolic context. Our backgrounds, lifestyle, family and professional lives were utterly diverse, though there was a shared core that emerged through our collaboration. Nancy, an Episcopal, was a professional designer of liturgical interiors for seasonal Christian celebration. I taught Hebrew and Judaism and was also innovative in using art in my teaching and in the academic study of art history. But none of this vigorously invaded my personal life until Nancy and I began to work in the spring of 1989. We exhibited together in the first of our two years together, at the Badé Museum of the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. We called our show RE FOUND TRADITIONS: TWO IS MORE THAN ONE PLUS ONE. Hers, Mine and Ours.

A collaborator is almost a soulmate. There needs to be harmony, common spiritual values, mutual respect, and a shared aesthetic. Nancy was the catalyst in the renewal of my mature years, my most significant growth since the late blooming doctorate in 1978 at age 50.

With our arrival in Israel in 1994 the Divine supervisor brought me a new collaborator in the person of Elisheva Yortner, whose presence was critical in the execution of a number of our pieces. Our method is variable often defying logic. I would present an idea and materials. She would question my goals and my choice of materials. She would throw in a suggestion and then we would start to fish around in the chaotic inventory of my workroom, searching associatively for the materials that would…Aha! That's it.

A note about the bewildering creative process

Visitors to my workshop have said what fun this is! What I never suspected and must learn to reconcile with is that this is mostly not fun at all. There is dread and gnawing fear that I will not be able to do it again. There is uncertainty that it works visually. There is doubt about the next step. There is frustration. I am blocked, stuck. Often I hate the monstrosity. Sometimes there is a moment of exultation, illumination and delight with the solution. This is the fleeting reward. Twenty minutes of euphoria. And when it is over, most of the time I am detached from it. I look at it only occasionally–unlike birth which then engenders constant care and consequent love. But the bottom line is my overwhelming gratitude to the Creator for a life renewed at 60 and this harvest at 77. The aliyah of my creativity and our aliyah to Israel have been the two most significant processes of these elder years.

Email Jo: [email protected]
Phone Jo: 02 - 5663124