Friday, February 4, 2011

The Storm of the i: An Artobiography

"Storm of the i", an "artobiography" by author/artist Tina Collen, is a cohesive marriage of exhibition and memoir. She opens her life's portfolio and gives us a dazzling view of her aesthetic triumphs while battling the bedevilment of unanswered questions. The target of her father's irrational anger, she is plagued by the apparent absence of his love. Though she may never completely transcend her disappointment, she certainly gives it a run for its money, living creatively and tenaciously. Beautifully designed and well-written, her book pays homage to the scraps, trophies and mementos that have become her tapestry. Images of her artwork, family photographs, treasured relics and poems treat us to a candid and refreshingly amusing view of her personal and professional journey.

I began writing "Grace" as my father entered his final months. Chronicling the ordeal at hand, I also found myself packing up my past as I reviewed the contents of my life. Memories provoked tears and laughter while the souvenirs of a simpler time brought me the warmth of comfort. The love of supportive parents shines from artifacts I have retrieved and brought to my own home; they ignite emotions and serve as a visual diary. They tell my story and I'm more than willing to listen.

Tina has crafted a compelling portrait of her search for a truthful and rewarding artistic existence. "Storm of the i" is a clever combination of storytelling and artistic expression that begs the reader to revisit and reflect; one woman's unique journal reminds us that loose strings and unfinished business should not prevent us from moving forward.         

"The most unusual thing about this remarkable memoir is that it's not about the author-it's about the reader."       ~Marilyn Van Derbur,  Award winning author, motivational speaker, Miss America 1958

Please welcome Tina Collen as she describes the birth of "Storm of the i". May she experience continued success with her book and with the work in progress that is her life.

            You've said that it was a performance at the Aspen Comedy Festival that started you down the path to this emotional and revealing book ( How it all began ). What happened after the festival?

            Back home in Boulder, Colorado, while still under the festival spell, I happened to glance at a ceramic figure I’d made in my early twenties. It was displayed prominently in a bookcase built along a wall going up my stairway— I’d seen it thousands of times before. This time, however, I saw something different.  Here's how I describe that moment in the book: “There in front of me was the incarnation of longing, disemboweled and exuding a feeling of eerie emptiness. The piece was an archeological relic I’d been unable to decipher until that very moment. Though it has hands and feet, it has no eyes, no face, no internal organs. No voice. I could see that the figure has no self. Its insides are an empty space, a void—perhaps, waiting to be filled. And the piece was about me.”

So I was standing there on the steps all alone and yet I felt extremely vulnerable and exposed. Everyone has a wound—I was looking directly at mine. I felt nauseous. And at the same time, I felt excited by the idea that maybe other pieces of my work also contained messages. I quickly went up the stairs and into my bedroom where I saw an album cover I’d made in college. It was hanging on the wall opposite my bed. When I’d made it I thought I was just doing an assignment using a photograph I had taken for a photography class the day before and writing the words of a song I had heard across the top. It never occurred to me, in all the years that this piece followed me to every apartment and house I lived in, it never occurred to me that the piece was about me. "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child," the album cover read. My childhood was seeping out everywhere. Hiding quietly in plain sight, it was a message to me. . . from me. I was touching the unconscious. 

            Vaulted into a frenzy of activity I began unearthing relics from my past. I was captivated by the intrigue of decoding my own cryptic clues unwittingly planted over a lifetime. From closets and flat files and computer hard drives I began pulling out written pieces, sculptures, etchings, art photographs, letters, newspaper clippings, journal entries, poems—everything I could find. Unraveling inner mysteries, no doubt to reconcile a difficult family dynamic, has been an endless quest for me. 

            As pieces haphazardly fell beside each other, some of them seemed to exhibit a magnetic attraction and once locked together moved as a pair. Startling juxtapositions began to emerge. A faded quotation, clipped from the pages of my later life, fell arbitrarily next to a series of small paintings I’d made in college shortly after I was married. 

            The paintings, one leading to the next, showed the evolution of birth. “It’s never too late to be what you might have been,” the quotation read. The image of an unborn child right next to those words catapulted me back to that time in my life when I faced the dilemma that would become a major life struggle—to what degree do I follow my own path. 

            Each of the items in front of me, whether written or graphic, turned into puzzle pieces as they fell into place. The objects with which I had surrounded myself, I discovered, were telling me the real story of my life. Hours morphed into days and then into months as the landscape of my life was laid out in front of me. The objects worked synergistically to reframe personal issues that had been floating disconnected inside of me for years—issues that, until then, would only occasionally bob to the surface. 

            Working out this complex and often contradictory collection of memorabilia and memories liberated me in ways I never imagined possible—for as I found order for the objects and pieces of paper in my hands, I myself was reassembled. 

If you'd like to see a bit more about how Artobiography came into existence  click here.

To purchase a personally autographed copy of Storm of the i go to 


Oftentimes the objects we hold onto contain cryptic clues that point towards something deeper about ourselves. Take a look around your house (or your room) at the things with which you have surrounded yourself. Is there anything you are still hanging onto that seems to contain a hidden message for you? What do you think it is?