When I first began this project, I started with a full sized outline of my body in three different positions. I then began rendering my face, substituting my eye for a small football. The shape is important as it is what I’ve been told is the true shape of my eye due to an astigmatism. After roughly drawing my face, I soon began to feel constrained by the format and guidelines I set for myself. I decided that by tearing the sheet into smaller sizes I could interact with them in a more intimate way, thus feeling a deeper connection to the piece, allowing me to internalize what it was I was making and why, giving me an opportunity to focus more on the individual symbolic elements.
The sheets now felt like pages to me and turning the drawing into a book seemed to make perfect sense. A book is read, as we all are by each other. A bone like snow flake sits above my head as a reminder that just as no two snow flakes are alike, no two people are exactly the same either and we should embrace our individualism. The second and third pages speak of physical as well as emotional issues. The simplest being a calcium deposit I have above my right wrist. I have heard that they use to squish such lumps with a Bible but now surgery is required to have it removed. It is painful at times, and I have to say that I would prefer to have it whacked with a Bible than cut open. The barbaric nature of that feels very cryptic to me which I hope is conveyed in the stylization of the hand and its placement. To the left of my hand falls pink rain from an ear cloud. I often feel as if my ears are leaking or as if water is running out of them. My husband tells me that this is from allergies, but the hypochondriac in me worries that it is something more serious…of course I never go to the doctor to check on such things. The top right corner of the page shows a brain filling up the top of a bird cage, referring to physical pressure I often feel in my head, but also more often the problem of obsessing and filling my head with obsessions so much to where I think my head would explode if it weren’t encased in such a hard shell…leading to the image of the shell on the following page. I covered the shell in wax to help push the idea of a protective (skin) layer over something that is potentially fragile and could shatter.
To the left of the shell I drew myself wearing glasses and wanted to humorously depict the aging process. A crow seemed the funniest way for me to speak of aging, not because of the death symbolism, although that is the end result of aging, but more so for the lines one develops as visual marks of a life lived. Behind the crow is an abstracted slide to represent the fast pace in which life seems to move. I feel the abstracted marks and shapes are a true indication of how memories are not always photo realistic and still.
My torso spans across the third and fourth pages of the book. Here we find more clues to ailments and physical things that have affected my body, the largest element being pregnancy and the representation of the baby within. Being a mother has been the most important thing my body (and life) has experienced. The baby is positioned within the original outline of my profile, shown in yellow with red and blue lines encasing it. My heart (which mimics for me the shape of the baby) is being squeezed by green rope, to express the painful swollen cartilage I have surrounding my heart. Garlic floats above as a symbol for heart burn and the agony I have suffered simply from eating one of the world’s best ingredients. (Considering that I am 100% Italian, you see what a curse this is.)
To the right of my left arm flows a stream of large outlined teeth. One colored brown to show a missing tooth I had pulled last year. Life is funny, and decisions have to be made; the dentist told me that he could save the tooth for $3000 or pull it for $200…needless to say…I now have a small place to run my tongue through when I am thinking hard. The story of my tattoo, which takes up most of my left upper arm, continues on pages 6 and 7. My son Beaux began having seizures at a very young age, having up to 27 in one day. The doctors tested him numerous times and found nothing wrong with him. I show his EKG test flowing from his head into my veins. His physical problems became the worst emotional problems and fears I have ever experienced. The outline is actually his body, as he wanted to be a part of this project with me. I also show on these pages the cesarean scar from his birth. After a year of seizures, with no explanation, he was back to full health. I have had many horrible things happen in my life, things I don’t hide, but also don’t find necessary to relive…these things and the final effect of a year worrying about the most important little person in my husband's and my life…led me to a tattoo of strength and optimism. The traditional Japanese Koi fish legend goes like this;
Symbolic in Buddhism to represent courage. Humans "swim" through the "ocean of suffering" without fear, just as fish swim through water. In the fall Koi fish swim down stream, with the current, for an easier passage through life. In the Spring they swim up stream (one of the few fish who are strong enough to do so) and once they swim under a waterfall they turn into a dragon. I have chosen the Fall downward swim as a symbol for the rest of my life and how I wish it to be an easy journey, one I hope to be without many obstacles. The flower above the fish is my son’s birth flower; the violet. The Koi is also very symbolic with family. Another word to describe love is "Koi". "Koi" can be selfish, but "Ai" is a real love, Koi is always wanting, Ai is always giving."
Page 8 and 9 also shows a snow flake just behind my bare foot, sitting below a Chuck Taylor sneaker. Being a teacher I am constantly standing on my feet. The pads of my feet and toes throb and are numb everyday. I have spent a small fortune on “good” shoes, and oddly enough Converse are the most comfortable shoes I’ve found. I’ve found that flat shoes that give the sense of walking barefoot work well for me due to high arches, as you can see mine are so high that they do not leave an impression in my sherbet colored footprint walking into the top left of the page. Safety pins and straight pins attack my feet, while a small etching sits still on the bottom right side of the composition of these pages. The blue bird is the state bird for New York, and I use it as a symbol for where I was born. The bird sits grounded on a fine piece of furniture as she ponders the empty chairs before her. These chairs represent those who have come before her in life as well as those that will come after as a family continues. The floral background indicates a comfortable wallpaper feeling of home with a bright flesh tone palette (flowing from the bottom of the foot). On the leg of a chair I have inscribed “Made in New York, 1970” to further indicate my place and date of birth. Fish flow through the bottom of the etching as a representation of extended family, those who may not be of our blood but are none the less family. Feet continue as a theme on the 10th and 11th pages, revealing once again the outline from my initial drawing. The symbol for Capricorn sits encapsulated in wax above the heel of my sneaker, from a previous page, as I was born at the end of the year. My sons wounded knee mimics my own leg/ankle injury. Moving trucks help convey a sense of the body always in motion and our lives as nomads (something we hope to change very soon). No matter where we move (as seen on the final page) we will travel forward together as a family.
I find the contrast between the aggressive and emotional style of my drawing with the clean and tight manner in which I created the cover, to be of great significance. I believe the crisp clean cover is a perfect example of how we all wish to be seen without flaws, when it is the flaws and imperfections which make us unique and individuals. It is human nature to give the world a more palatable version of one self. Everyone creates a toned-down and more sell-able identity while saving a more raw and honest self for their closest friends and family. Your 'shell' may protect your inner hermit crab, but every so often it should be shed for a larger size, one that emotionally allows others to enter.
On the last page you can see my husband’s and my hands intertwined. We are holding hands for a leap of faith, together exploring the uncertainty of life's adventure... moving and jumping and moving and jumping. Falling and floating, resting and flying. That being said, it's good to believe that the difficult portion of life is over so that you have the possibility for hope and joy. A roller coaster is only fun with the knowledge of a safe survival without harm.
Donna LoGrasso received her B.F.A. from Moore College of Art and Deign and an M.F.A from Tyler School of Art, Temple University. Her work has been included in numerous exhibitions throughout the US as well as abroad. She currently is on faculty at Auburn University and lives in Alabama with her husband Ben (also an artist) and their son, Beaux Pthalo.