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  • Belle Brett

Anatomy of A Collage: After Work Delights

In addition to being a writer, I am also an artist. I work in several media, but one of my favorite is paper or mixed media collage. Currently, I am working on a series of collages inspired by Gina in the Floating World, which is set in Japan in the 1980s. These collages, which are small, illustrate different aspects of my protagonist’s experiences but are not meant to be literal representations.

With collage, I start with a general idea or theme. Searching through magazines, travel brochures, and other printed material, I find images that speak to my theme. Sometimes, I have a specific kind of image in mind; other times, I am looking for a color or texture. I then cut or tear the image in the shape I want. But the big challenge is in arranging the pieces into a seamless pattern so that the images appear to belong together. This task is like putting together a puzzle. I often have to rearrange the pieces and find other images to fill in holes. Sometimes, I need to change the shape of a piece. My goal is to create a balanced composition that is appealing as a piece of art but that also tells a story or provokes an emotional reaction.

For this piece (“After Work Delights”), I wanted to give a flavor of a Japanese hostess bar, not necessarily like the one where my protagonist works but rather reflecting a bar from the viewpoint of the businessmen (“salarymen”) who often frequent such bars. It is a place to relax and to indulge. The hostesses not only serve drinks but also converse with the guests at their tables. There is an illusion of intimacy and perhaps even a fantasy about the hostess becoming a girlfriend or lover, but in reality, this rarely happens.

However, the bar delights all the senses—taste, smell, sound, sight, and touch. I have tried to represent these and the joint notions of fantasy and illusion though my choice of images—the bright red lips, the tantalizing crawfish held between chopsticks, the karaoke singer, the array of drink bottles, the men in conversation, and the woman in sight but out of reach behind the window. Near the lower right-hand side are people hurrying from the train station, perhaps to come to their favorite hostess bar.

As with many of my collages in my Japan series, there is one unsettling element. Did you notice the red eyeball over the bottles? What do you think that might represent?

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