Featured photo: Artist Laura Iseley poses in front of her collages (courtesy photo)
Amid clusters of life-bearing trees, a woman wearing pearls and a multi-textured headpiece cradles a much smaller woman, who is in turn, cradling a tiny, swaddled baby. A variety of pastel flowers and a few doting cupids frame the characters, while below them several mutilated men either endure pain or succumb to bloody deaths. Separating the women and the men is a thick beam resting on intricate golden arches; connecting the two worlds is a stake which functions as both a weapon to maim a screaming man and a pole to prop up a repurposed flag. The flag reads “corporis autonomia,” or “bodily autonomy,” which reinforces the theme of Laura Iseley’s collage, “Beauty and the Underneath.”
“It’s one of my favorite pieces,” Iseley says.
Made in May of 2022 as a frustrated response to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the subject of this collage, the pearled woman, is from the cover of a 1929 Modern Priscilla magazine.
“I put her at the top, hierarchically above the men, because historically women have been below,” Iseley explains.
Iseley’s 28 cohesive, analog collages are currently on display at Tate Street Coffee House in Greensboro as a feature of the business’ Artist of the Month series. Though the collection is a detailed exploration of artistic and thematic interests of hers, which range from nostalgic appreciations and subversions, to fanart of musicians, to the fluid energy of the divine feminine, the specific inspiration behind each piece varies.
“A lot of the time I’ll know the basics, like my aesthetics and color palette, but I won’t try to force a message, I’ll just let things flow,” Iseley says.
A 24-year-old viral content creator and multidisciplinary artist, she hails from Mebane and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill’s biology program. Though she has chosen to pursue a different career path in the past few years, the classes she took for her minor in studio art have had the most meaningful impact on her creative process.
“I was extremely burnt out from biology because I didn’t have a good experience with it,” Iseley says, “So I didn’t want to go into it.”
A collage class Iselely took in 2019, as well as a specialized printmaking class combined with her biology background, informs her artmaking.
“There’s a lot of symmetry in life,” she says. “Collage appeals to me because I’m artistic, but I take a very pattern-based approach to things. I have a very strong sense of composition and balance.”
Pattern and balance, along with attention to proportion, hierarchy, and contrast are a few principles of design that help make Iseley’s maximalist brand of collaging both fine art and effective art. Iseley’s piece “Montero (Lil Nas X)”, features the viral photo of the 23-year-old Black, queer male pop star pregnant and kneeling, this time in a white bathtub with a golden shower head, surrounded by bright colored flowers, flying birds and small cowboy boots. A rainbow is cast above him, tying together all of the images from different contexts, and increasing feelings of ethereality or euphoria in viewers.
“It’s very interesting to see the unification of all these things that match each other thematically and aesthetically come together because it’s a very rich world when it’s like that, very interesting,” Iseley says. “That’s how the real world is: so beautiful because it’s diverse and at the same time unified.”
Many of the collages in Iseley’s collection contain images with deep spiritual or religious connotations that have been recontextualized, an approach which creates new conversations about old topics. Sometimes there is only the suggestion of a spiritual experience through the use of familiar color palettes, like in the piece “Freya The Grey Cat,” which has enough gold, blue, yellow and orange to resemble a tarot card.
Religious figures such as the goddesses Demeter and Aphrodite, as well as the Virgin Mary, are subjects of their own collages.
“Mary on a Cross,” which is partially inspired by the band Ghost’s alternative metal song of the same name, has garnered 2.7 million views on TikTok and depicts the well-known religious figure with a streak of blood dripping from her left eye. Mary’s hands are clasped as she leans against a structure dripping with blood, while around her offerings of pink and red fruit and long candles endure.
Iseley explains how a lot of themes and motifs rooted in religion are often explored in the same way over and over again. Jesus Christ being executed on the cross, for example, is ultimately a story that aims to understand how much suffering a human body can withstand. These depictions of the crucifixion, often bloody and intense, are culturally acceptable, but when a figure like Mary is visually bloody it can stir up feelings of discomfort.
“Some people get offended by the art that I make,” she says. “I just see all of these things, and I don’t practice any of them, but I see them all existing around me and I know there are good pieces in all of it. In my mind I’m making a beautiful thing by forcing these ideas from different groups to interact with each other.”
Laura Iseley is represented online by Austria-based gallery Return On Art. Her collection will be on display at Tate Street Coffee house for the remainder of February. Each framed collage has a small white label which states the title, and most pieces contain a QR code leading to the site where either the original piece or a print can be purchased.
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