A Refusal to Be Tamed: An Interview with Tsaurah Litzky

Steve Dalachinsky interviews Tsaurah Litzky

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Poet Tsaurah Litzky has been intensely creating collages since summer 2011. She is forever expanding her ideas which in turn leads to new ideas. Within this morphing, her unique voice and style can always be seen and felt. Her images are as serious as they are playful; as straightforward as they are misleading and as dense as they are airy. There is no hierarchy in her work. Each action, each image leads into the other while maintaining its own life. There is never an overcrowdedness. Space is abundant, inviting yet condensed at the same time. We get aerial ballets but always stay rooted to the earth. We get fairytales, fables and romance; a delicate balance of weight and light(ness). We are allowed to float despite gravity's pull, always sharing with the other creatures that share our world. Like her signature orbs, her world is cyclical, profound, perplexing, secretive, obvious, demanding yet innocent and we share with her a sense of exquisite otherworldly beauty. The Picture is the Poem II (October 2016) and The Picture is the Poem I, (April 2014) - her two most recent shows  - were at Gallery Gaia, Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn, New York. Her collages have also been exhibited at Fusion Arts Museum, NYC, and the Jackie Lima Gallery, Easton, PA. Online, her collage work was shown in About Place Journal and featured in two solo shows in the Mom Egg Review. Tsurah's fiction can be found in the great weather for MEDIA anthology The Careless Embrace of the Boneshaker.

I asked Tsaurah about her work as a visual artist. Here are her responses:

SD: When did you seriously begin making collage/visual art?

TL:  I started making collages six years ago after suffering a back injury that prevented me from going out and gadding about as was my usual practice. Friends did my shopping for me. I was miserable. Any poems I managed to write were filled with morbid self-pity. I became a binge eater, gorging on ice cream, and gained six pounds in two months. I knew I had to get a hold of myself

And Steve, you told me how you began creating collages when you couldn't sleep at night. I admired your artwork and thought maybe I would give this a try. I was already a fan of the collages of Picasso and Braque, Matisses's cut-outs, the assemblages of Joseph Cornell, and the collages of Robert Rauschenberg and Kara Walker. Another good friend found stacks and stacks of old magazines in the garbage near his home. He knew I wanted to make collages. He paid a homeless man five dollars to help him bring them up to my apartment on the Brooklyn waterfront.

Suddenly I had dozens and dozens of old Martha Stuart, Victorian Home, and Interior Design magazines to work with. I don't believe in coincidence so I took this as a sign. I already had paper and glue as well as the perfect cutting tool;  small, elegant, very sharp fruit scissors my father brought back from France when he returned from WWII. The first collage I made was on a postcard. Two tiny ducks floated through a blue sea on a scallion onion towards a green island made from lotus leaves. "Journey to Wellness"was the title

SD: What is your process/practice?

TL: Being in the world is both my process and practice for whatever "creative" work I do, be it making collages or writing poems, stories or commentary. I try to keep my senses open and my filters clean so I can transmit and transform my experiences into "art" to share with others. (I don't always succeed in this effort but the trying gets me somewhere.) Something I particularly enjoy in making collages, since I use old magazines, is that I'm making something new and "useful" out of that which has been discarded.

Like V. S. Naipaul, I believe the work is not complete unless until it is shared. I share my new writing at open mic readings and encourage the circulation of my books and chapbooks. When completing each new collage, the first thing I want to do is share it via email with friends. The more I share my creative work, the happier I am. My shows at Gallery Gaia were successful and it was thrilling to see people reacting to the collages and also, when I was gallery-sitting, to answer their questions.

No Sanctuary!

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SD: How if at all do you relate your collages to your poetry and your erotic writing as well as your other writing?

TL: My writings and my collages come from the same country inside me. It's a lawless place, where need, awe, curiosity and frustration, my past and my present exist together and somehow manage to produce "art" be it writing or collage. That is why I have called my last two collage shows, The Picture is the Poem II and The Picture is the Poem I. The difference, of course, between "visual" art and writing is that one need not have a knowledge of language to appreciate visual art, with a working eye the effect on the viewer is immediate whether it be for good or for ill.

SD: Where/how do you think the disciplines intersect/differ?

TL: Words come very easily to me. I started writing poems when I was seven and that was when I decided to become a writer. This was always my foremost ambition. When I first started to make collages, I thought of it as just a hobby - a kind of arts and crafts way to relax and stop feeling miserable. Pretty soon this changed. I found that the collages I was making reflected what was currently going on in my life, or a past sorrow or problem, and that the collage itself was an attempt to consider the problem more fully, maybe even to resolve it. This is also what happens when I am working with words, writing a poem or essay. The question then emerges: is such a resolution even possible? For me, it is chancy indeed but I keep at it, it's the healing I know best. I also make collages to celebrate holidays, my birthdays, the birthdays of family and friends.

SD:  Do you consider the work balanced in the sense that the foreground and background (what I refer to as grounding) and what lies in between all share equal weight/ space/equivalence?

TL: Each collage is different. Some collages work precisely because there is no balance between the foreground and background. I don't think with words like "balance" when I’m "making" a collage. I just know when it is "finished." I consider a collage finished when it is a complete and startling vision.

SD: Do you feel the work is romantic? Poetic? Gender-driven? Feminine? Masculine? A mixture of both? Neutral? Sexual? Sensual? (I find this sensuality a key in your work.) Surreal? Possessed of fairytale-like qualities? (I find this so.)

TL:  Sensuality is indeed key in my work. Like Schopenhauer, I believe Sex is the will to live, a natural part of life. It is nothing to be ashamed of or not spoken of. This has been my life experience which I have tried to express in my writings ever since I began writing seriously more than thirty-five years ago

Now that I have become a collage artist, there is naturally a strong focus on sex and love in my collage work. I consider all sexuality, even what some may consider to be its most abhorrent forms, as a manifestation of Eros, the need to love, the need to connect with another being. At my shows at Gallery Gaia, I was surprised and delighted at how popular and appreciated the Triple X section was. As a human being I am romantic and poetic, cynical, comical, banal, masculine and feminine, sexual and sensual, all in one.

SD:  Is it specifically the work of a woman or does being a woman come secondary to the work? For example, Agnes Varda has said, "I am a film maker first who happens to be a woman."

TL:  I firmly dislike fixed definitions of gender i.e. "women are sweet and gentle." It is so much more complex than that. Every woman is different, every man is different and therefore I find a question like "is it specifically the work of a woman etc?" somewhat ridiculous. At the same time, I am compelled to admit that some of what I consider my best work has come as a reaction against a culture that expects me to act in many life situations like a "traditional" female. Especially now that advances in women's rights are being systematically denied, i.e. the defunding of Planned Parenthood, I find myself working harder, writing harder in defense of equal rights, equal lives and opportunities for all.

I am glad, Steve, you find my collage work surreal and fairytale-like because that how I often feel about my day-to-day existence. I want to also mention that, starting with my earliest collages, wild animals appear freely very often. I have jungle animal curtains on the windows in my apartment. I so much love wild beasts. I don't know exactly why this is. Maybe because, as a child, I was often taken to the Bronx Zoo since my mother's brothers and sisters all lived in the Bronx, or maybe because I refuse to be tamed?

SD: Is the placement of the images thought out well in advance or is it chance operations or a mixture of both? How long on average does it take to complete a piece?

TL: Sometimes I have an idea in my head as in the "Unrequited Forever"collage which was included my last show. First I found a page that would be good for the background because the colors pleased me. I started cutting out images, or parts of larger images, to implement the idea I had in my head. The idea I wanted to express was how futile it is to chase after that which one can not have. I kept adding and discarding images until it seemed right. This collage took four days to complete, sometimes it can take a month.

SD:  Is there a similar editing process/discipline applied like you use in writing poetry/prose? 

TL: Nope.

SD: What plans do you have for future work/shows??

TL:  I’m now working on my first large collage, eighteen by twenty-four inches. "Angels and Barbarians Battle for the Soul of the World" is the title, inspired by recent world events. Concurrently I continue making eight by ten inch or postcard size collages as a means of expression and commentary, foe example my last completed collage, "No Sanctuary."

Gallery Gaia closed a few months back as Ursula Clark, the owner, wanted to do other things. She was the ideal art dealer as she considered the artists she worked with as individual valuable people, not as commodities. I would like to find new representation but won't chase after it. I feel that when the time is right - translated as when I've done enough work -  a dealer or gallery will appear to represent me. Maybe not. In any case, my plan is to keep on writing and making collages because that is my compass and my joy.

Thank you so much, Steve, for asking these brilliant questions. You made me think more seriously about my work as a writer, a collage artist, and a citizen of the world.