You were originally trained in painting, but also use a variety of media. What inspired you to first start working with human hair? When I get an idea for a piece, I always ask myself what medium would make the work most powerful: does this need to be a drawing, or a sculpture, for example? When I initially thought of creating drawings with hair, I was delighted, because, to my mind, this had to be the most potent art medium in the world. Hair is like the rings of a tree, you can ‘read’ what it has recorded, such as changes in diet, pregnancy, stress, illness, etc. I was able to create an object that contains the history of someone’s life within it. There are not many art mediums that measure up to that kind of resonance. I believe that hair holds great power, and many cultures, past and present, agree.
Hair has many faces; sometimes admired for its beauty, while at other times it can elicit disgust. What is your history with your own hair? I have always had thick, long hair that I considered one of my best physical attributes. I was born a brunette, dyed it red in my late 30’s, and decided to stop dyeing to go grey about five years ago. It is still mostly dark, with dramatic white streaks. I LOVE my grey hair, and it feels like a big middle finger to our youth-obsessed culture and the standards dictating that I am supposed to put chemicals on my brain receptacle to remain beautiful.
When I give lectures, people are always asking me how I source the hair because they are grossed out by the thought of it. They think I am pulling it out of the drain or someone’s hairbrush. I began by using my own hair, running my fingers through it right after I had shampooed and sticking it in a baggie. I later purchased human hair because I wanted more colour variations. For the last decade, what is most important to me about the hair is the history of its owner and what is recorded in the hair.
The piece “My Young Lover” is a bit different in its conceptual origin. In my 30’s, I dated a musician who was much younger than I. For years, I had been drawn to painting people who had Pre-Raphaelite hair (long ringlets), and while this guy had other lovely attributes, I would be lying if I said that his long golden curls were not part of the attraction. One day, he brought me his hair in a box, stating that he thought I loved his hair more than I loved him. I kept the hair in a glass box for many years until I met my husband, then I decided that it would be bad juju for me to have it in our house, so I made an artwork with the hair. The piece was inspired by Leonard Cohen lyrics “I loved you in the morning, our kisses deep and warm, your hair upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm…” I had to put a drop of archival glue on the end of each strand of hair, then I invented a tool to thread it through the pillow so it would look like it was growing out of the pillowcase. The piece was in the Pricked: Extreme Embroidery show at The Museum of Arts & Design in NYC, and was chosen by the curator to be the image that would be on all the PR, posters, and the banners lining the streets. It would have meant a lot for my career. But the curator’s choice was nixed; some people thought it was “too creepy”, so a happier work was chosen.