Guest Post: Review of an Artobiography

After reading Tina Collen’s book Storm of the I: An Artobiography
(Art Review Press, 2009), I am left with a delightful and very real sense of the value of simplicity.

Collen’s creative memoir takes us from her childhood and youth in New York and her relationship with her family, to her life in Aspen with her husband and two sons, to her move to California as a bourgeoning graphic artist, to her ultimate return to Colorado in the 1990s. Throughout, we are consciously aware of her ongoing search for ‘home’ in the conceptual, if not always literal, sense.

This self-proclaimed “new genre of literature” is exactly that: using her background as an artist and graphic designer, Collen seamlessly incorporates her artwork with the more traditional textual narrative. And it is the blending of these forms that makes the story so compelling. Far from being a woe-is-me linear memoir of one person’s unhappy childhood and disastrous relationship with her father, Storm of the i introduces us to the textures – in some cases quite literally – of one person’s life. Darkness is balanced with light, comedy with tragedy, youthful exuberance with the thoughtfulness of maturity, family with individualism.

This holistic approach to memoir – writing about one’s history and integrating the physical trappings of that history – has an added bonus: at no point throughout the book are we as readers asked to feel sorry for the author. Collen’s relationship with her father was upsetting, but her love for Barry and her two sons, Mark and Andy, is palpable. Collen has experienced heartache and frustration but also great beauty and success. At times she may be fragile and uncertain but she has also spearheaded new ideas with confidence and strength. Collen presents herself as a very real person, full of contradiction and complexity, and her honesty is refreshing.

Storm of the i redefines interactive media for anyone convinced it is an exclusively digital phenomenon. The book is formulated as a kind of ‘new media’, presenting a multi-faceted story in an emotive way that is personally meaningful for the reader. Similar in style and content to Nick Bantock’s Griffin & Sabine and Morning Star trilogies (Chronicle Books, 1991, 1992, 1993, 2001, 2002, 2003), we come away feeling that we know Tina. As she tells her story, pieces of poetry, photos of old school projects, and dialogue focus the readers’ sentiments in a pleasingly organic way. It is easy to imagine her Fleurotica creations adorning my own walls at home.

Collen writes: “And sometimes in the morning [when living in California], I’d catch a glimpse of porpoises playing in the surf and marvel at the grace of simplicity” (p.123). We have all felt such moments of perfect clarity – ephemeral and very precious – and yearn for more, but will not risk losing their wondrous nature by seeking them out.

Collen’s book is a frank appraisal of both the world around her and the world in her own head. The book’s final resolution, singularly exemplifies how right ‘letting go’ can sometimes be. If spring cleaning helps clear the mind, Storm of the i forwards the soul.

Meggie Macdonald is a literary agent based in Toronto and a guest reviewer for thingsaregood.com. Her professional and personal taste tends towards the hopeful, creative and downright happy sentiments of the people around her.

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