- Still Books to Write
Edith's interview of Jenny, as part of a group interview of Jewish women artists, appeared in the winter 1994-95 issue of Bridges.
We've known each other for years but don't see much of each other so this is a good chance to catch up. We're about the same age.
I'm six months older.
The same age. You are primarily a visual artist who has done comics and is now working on a graphic novel. I am a prose writer who also writes poetry. We were both once teachers and in our own way continue to teach. So here we are in our eighties. You are still working and so am I. What did you think your life would be like at this point if you thought about it at all?
Actually I never thought about what my life would be like in terms of the future. The future to me has always been about the projects I am working on or am about to begin. I authored a pictorial history, The Jewish Community of Staten Island for Arcadia Publishing Company when I was 77. I had a Retrospective exhibition at the Staten Island Museum in 2006 when I was 80. Afterwards I was in several group exhibitions, one that I cocurated, and I had a solo exhibition at the Salena Gallery, Downtown Brooklyn campus of Long Island University in 2008. At present, I feel I am embarking on the most ambitious project I've ever attempted, Shifting Normal, an online graphic novel.
It sounds ambitious. What does it mean? [End Page 118]
A graphic novel is a narrative work in which the story is told in a combination of art and text, often in comic strip form. Shifting Normal explores the relationship of mental illness and creativity, mental illness and social constructs, mental illness and stigma. An artist like Vincent Van Gogh or a serial killer like Jeffrey Dahmer are the two popular images of people with mental illness as presented in the media. Numerous people accept that view even though it contradicts their own experiences of a mentally-ill family member, friend, or neighbor who are not great artists or serial killers. In fact, many people have had trepidations about their own sanity at some period in their lives, often in adolescence. These concerns are often kept secret as it marks a person as deplorable, repellent, and monstrous. The stigma of mental illness makes one unemployable and suspect.
I am combining my skills and experience as an artist and writer to tell a story about Carol, 54, a real estate salesperson and widow, and Denyse, 26, her mentally-ill daughter, a former promising mathematics college graduate, who lives with her. The third protagonist is her older second-cousin Jenny, 70, a cartoonist who gets drawn into the family situation.
The use of the three women harks back to an earlier work of mine, a comic strip dealing with the Triple Goddess: Maid, Mother, and Crone. This approach gives me the opportunity of exploring three components of the domain of mental illness: the caretaker, the consumer (mentally-ill person), and the world.
That sounds very intellectual and analytical, but I don't think we choose our work for those reasons. There has to be an emotional/ personal component. What prompted your interest in this?
Shifting Normal, a work of fiction, is inspired by the mental illness of a much loved member of my family.
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All my work comes from a personal take on what is happening in the period in which I am living and working. I did the series of comic strips about the Triple Goddess when it was a major part of the New Wave. My work on the Jewish Community of Staten Island reflected my first time connection to a local synagogue and a Jewish community.
When I created The Women of Chelm, I wanted to show that in every place in the world, women have different personas and play many roles other than wife...