Gallerinas

In my other life, I have an art blog and work in the art sector. This means that I have spent the past few years being practically submerged in the art world, learning about it and how people find, engage with and collect art. I don’t really mix the two streams because I am not looking to be a professional artist in that respect. I am happy to work to help others engage with and discover art, and keep mine just for fun with the occasional transaction.

With that said, sometimes the inspiration does overlap. Particularly when I see a beautiful piece hung on the wall and think how it might work in a different way.

These thoughts have inspired what I call the “Gallerinas.” They’re mixed-media pieces that incorporate fine art pieces as collage, either repurposed or just reused. I take the images from magazines, ads or promotional brochures and cut them up to form new shapes.

Here’s the first “Gallerina.” If you look closely, her dress is a collage of David Park paintings. I saw Park’s retrospective at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth earlier this summer and loved it. (It’s up until Sept. 22 if you’re near D/FW or can get here.)

“Gallerina 01” by Stephanie Khattak. Collage, acrylic, gold ink and gold leaf on canvas board.

Looking for Our Names

“Looking for Our Names” by Stephanie Khattak. Mixed-media watercolor, ink, gouache and acrylic tape collage.

We were never afraid of cemeteries. In rural East Texas, they were often tucked into curves in the road near our houses, set against our properties’ back pastures and in other ways integrated into our daily lives as just somewhere else to be. The cemetery, while always a place of respect and to be treated as such, was also place to walk safely, to contemplate quietly, to “visit Grandma” and in our older and more mischievous years, to pass through on hayrides, and to park in and kiss boys. Now, I don’t like them after dark, but back then it felt normal to be there.

Our town’s biggest cemetery was just on its edge, past the local community college and in between the “ritzy” neighborhood and the evangelical campgrounds. It was alongside a major highway, and spread across many acres. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was larger than any of our city parks. It was certainly nicer and safer.

Late at night, we would visit this big cemetery, park our car, and walk. Reverent, careful to stay on the footpaths, we would scan the headstones as we talked. “Looking for Our Names,” we called it.

It was 1990-something and “Michelle” and I, with our friends “Renee'” and “Mallory” had just discovered The Smiths, particularly their “The Queen is Dead” release. We wore out those tapes in our cars: “There is a Light That Never Goes Out”, “Boy With a Thorn in His Side,” and “Cemetery Gates,” among other tracks.

We were fairly privileged teenagers – middle class, stable families, no real barriers and no real experience with the malaise that Morrissey sang about.

But, by the time we were 16, we had already started losing young people – classmates and church friends and peers from other schools in our area. Just as cemeteries themselves were integrated into the fabric of our lives, so was the circle of life itself.

As we “looked for our names” we sometimes encountered the accidents, overdoses and suicides who had once sat beside us in Algebra class.

I’m pretty sure that “Cemetery Gates” was the theme song behind this activity, but now I think a more accurate soundtrack would be “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.”

Looking back as an adult, I wonder if our seemingly-cavalier relationship with graveyards, through this activity and others, was a way to normalize what was happening around us each year. Or if it underscored how normal it felt to be in such a place. I’m not sure that we lost more peers than other school districts, but our world was a lot smaller. Regardless of how well we knew the person, we did know them, almost every single one. There was a very defined hole in our daily lives after each midnight phone call. And back then, I don’t remember any special counselors, after-school vigils or anything like that. We went to the funerals, hugged grieving parents and siblings, and were released back into our routines to figure it out on our own.

There is a light and it never goes out.

When I think of Michelle, Mallory, Renee’ and myself, I think of us at that age, almost exclusively even though I am still in touch with most of them and am fully aware that they’ve aged as I have. (And by that, I mean with strength, grace and beauty of course.)

There is a light and it never goes out.

My lost peers, acquaintances and friends, too are in perpetual youth. We’ve outlived them by so many years. What would their lives be like? When we were still in the “same timeline” it wasn’t something we really thought about. Now, looking back over 25+ years that not everyone got to have, seeing my friends’ children approach the ages etched on some of those headstones, it brings a greater depth and a profound sadness.

There is a light and it never goes out.

Our relationships with cemeteries may seem strange, or even disrespectful to some. But there was also a message in the familiarity. It said “we remember you,” “we aren’t afraid,” “we can still be where you are.” It said, “don’t be lonely.”

It said, “one day, our names will be here, or somewhere like here. But for now we are as alive as we will ever be, and in this moment, within this light of memory and shadow of loss, so are you.”



*This was a story I really wanted to get right, so I had a few versions of the art. While the top piece is my top choice, I liked this little messy one, too:

Green Thumb

I bought a *Gelli plate and *brayer to experiment with printing techniques, and had some leftover test papers. I especially liked the way these bright rainbow colors turned out, and decided to work them into a new collage piece.

I used plain bubble wrap to make a dot texture on her skirt.

Leaping rabbits thanks to a stamp set. (TBH I’m not stoked about how the rabbits look. I think I should have used a thinner acrylic or ink vs. thicker ink. Ah well, that’s why I test and learn.)

*Affiliate links mean I may receive compensation if I recommend something you purchase. I don’t recommend products that I don’t endorse, and all content and opinions are my own.

Stargirl Untangles the Universe

Sometimes I miss painting Star Girls. When I first started creating art, I was in a place that was confusing and stressful, and I gravitated toward the idea that perhaps there were benevolent beings just beyond sight. If they didn’t have it all under control, they were there and that was enough. This was an early work that I’ve always liked. We all need a little help untangling the universe sometimes. Even if she can’t fix it, she gets it.

We’ll probably see the star girls again one day.