altered books

New work: The one who's got what you need

I’ve become obsessed with the wild foxgloves growing near my studio. What’s not to love about a plant that could either save you or kill you? So I put them in my latest altered book.

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Foxglove is poisonous — every part of it, fresh or dried. Yet it’s also the basis of a safe and effective drug to treat heart failure. Plus, it’s just pretty, in a femme fatale kind of way.

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So I began collecting items that made me think of medicine, danger and beauty, adding them to a vintage copy of the novel Black Beauty.

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Before sealing the book, I flipped through it — and found a few casually racist passages I did not remember from my childhood reading. Right next to praise of the horse’s beauty. (Yeah, I know the horse was male.)

Photo credit: Alex Nemo Hanse/Unsplash

Photo credit: Alex Nemo Hanse/Unsplash

But that contrast of praise/insult, object of desire/ beast of burden made me think of how black women are often pegged as beautiful and potentially dangerous.

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Somehow we’re powerful enough to save America from itself — and at the same time lure the country down a path of ruin. Plus there’s this weird undercurrent of entitlement too, like we’re literally here to fix the heart of America.

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I went back and forth on a few titles for this altered book, but I kept coming back to the original one: “You Got What I Need.”

Lisa Myers Bulmash, “You Got What I Need” (altered book)

Lisa Myers Bulmash, “You Got What I Need” (altered book)

Speaking of needs, I could use your help: would you share the image above, far and wide? The Seattle Art Fair is coming up next week, which means lots of eyes checking out artists like me. Even better, you can support me by tagging a gallery that has a booth at the fair. The list of participating galleries is here.



Why you'll never get "Untitled" art here

Here’s a question I wish I’d asked first: Why are so many artworks untitled? I mean, you have to call it something besides ‘the thing taking up space on my wall/ at a museum/ in front of the office.’

“Rare & Exquisite” collage series by Lisa Myers Bulmash at Columbia City Gallery

“Rare & Exquisite” collage series by Lisa Myers Bulmash at Columbia City Gallery

There are good historical reasons to call a piece “Untitled.” But for my work, they’re essential. Here are three reasons I’m pretty sure I’ll never, ever, ever choose not to title my work.

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1. Titles help tell my stories.

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I’m a bookworm from way back, and I find certain words and phrases help me explore visual stories. So a title is a clue I follow to figure out and explain the ideas I want to express. A title is an entry point into the story for the viewer as well, but one that leaves enough room for you to add your own narrative details. And if you’re a person who likes to get the interpretation “right,” well… how does “Untitled” help you figure that out?

2. Titles help me tell ‘scary’ stories.

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It takes careful handling to tell certain stories. I explore complex topics like identity, vulnerability and anxiety. Most people can relate — until they see black bodies experiencing these moments. Then suddenly “certain viewers” have a hard time imagining themselves inside the narrative. Yeah, it’s a thing. I know my work will not connect with some people because I center blackness in my art. Why would I make it even harder to connect by taking away the title?

3. Titles define who we are — and that’s a good thing.

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A title’s just a name for the artwork — but people will pay millions for naming rights. That power was why my grandfather used one name for work, and another name at home. Never mind that he was a master plumber. In his day, black men were a lot more likely to be called “boy” (or worse) than their given names. It’s not that much different for an artist: If I don’t tell my story, other people will tell their story about me.

And that’s why I’m having a hard time deciding on a title for the altered book I’m working on right now. Names — and titles — have power, and I’m not willing to give that up.

Drying times may vary

Finally ready to seal and varnish the Liberty Bank Building collage portraits! It takes about a week or two for varnish to cure, weather permitting. And that’s the thing…

The view from my studio this week

The view from my studio this week

Winter dampness is beginning to settle in around here. That means the curing process slows down, which might delay when I can get them framed… which means they’d still be waiting in my studio that much longer. Gaaah.

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If I warm the collages gently with my heat gun periodically, hopefully I can compensate for the increased humidity. Cross your fingers for me.