My biggest regret about being a student at George Washington University in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s is that I didn’t take photos at the student rallies to protest the Vietnam War. I thought about those times this past weekend when Mike and Chantal visited Fern Forest. They’re both artists. Mike constructs public installations of huge mosaic tile images, and Chantal heads the graphic art program at Tufts. They had booked the Treehouse to celebrate the thirteenth birthday of their beautiful, dewy-eyed daughter Leyla.Chantal has published several books of her artwork, and I’m especially drawn to the images overlaid with words. The Turk and the Jew is my favorite, a visual documentation of her courtship with Mike. She’s from Turkey, a round-face beauty who holds the steady job while Mike fishes for projects.
“Photographs are basically small pixels,” Mike says. “So why not blow up a photo and make each pixel a small tile.” His work involves tens of thousands of inch-square tiles in a hundred different colors. He hires a small team to put the tiles on a grid he makes from the photographs, mostly of people and some of horses. The effect is stunning both from close up and from a distance. His work hangs in airports, subways, universities, convention centers, and even parking garages. You can see examples at http://thecorner.net.
Mike began as a photographer, and I can’t get enough of the black and white shots from the ‘70s on his website. One album is quick candids of people in cars, another of cheap motels, and some naughty shots of lovers necking behind a ride at a carnival. I especially like his self-portraits using a delayed shutter. He appears with strangers in every shot, a skinny gooney-looking guy with shoulder-length hair and horn-rimmed glasses, often with his shirt off, his pants barely held up with a belt. Now in his sixties, he looks more mature—but don’t we all?
When I told him about the protest marches I attended on the grounds of the Washington Monument, when some men pushed over an ice cream truck for no good reason, when I ran through clouds of tear gas to get to class, when the GWU student center was filled with young people from all over the country crashing on the floor, when the police bloodied students with clubs, when students retaliated by throwing bricks through windows and setting a police car on fire, when I had to bail friends out of jail and was almost arrested myself, when thousands of us crowded together demanding peace, I realized that I didn’t have to take photos. The images are still in my head, and I can use words to get the pictures onto paper.
Each of Chantal’s and Mike’s art pieces tells a story. As for me, one of these days I’ll find the story I want to tell about my college days and do my best to wring it out of my memory in word images.