I started work on The Catskills Dream series after creating the first collage – The Catskills Visitor.
I’d visited New York several times but on one visit, I became intrigued by an area well to the north of it, known as the Catskills. I didn’t go there but I began to research it: stories of the old Borscht Belt, the summer circuit for Jewish entertainers, abandoned hotels and motels, retired lives, old secrets, broken promises.
I started to work on the collages at home in Edinburgh, imagining a surreal landscape of mysterious characters, strange encounters, concealments. For me, collage works best when it throws together the incongruous. The key is to be quite free with the process. I use a mixture of old bill-posters, newspapers, magazines and photographs as a starting point, poring over hundreds of pages, sometimes stopping to think, sometimes not, sometimes, often, cutting things out. The process opens up the imagination. If you’re lucky, you find something that just has a ‘look’ and you can build on it.
I like to paint and draw on my collages. The mark-making unifies the surface, creating tension but also coherency. As the images are created, so are words – fragments of stories start to whisper to me, and I write them down.
She kept staring at the trees outside,willing them to reveal their secrets. She knew it had been a bad idea to come back. She picked away at the chipped window ledge, her own reflection growing in the dimming light. She would have to face her memories, but for now, she could still wallow in them, caught between the past and herself. Always caught.
Velvet masks disguised their faces. Narrowed eyes, oblique handshakes, secrets traded over glasses of whisky. Some younger members carried out an initiation in the crumbling courtyard, watched silently from deep shadows, another assembly of masks.
She was tired after the long journey and feeling a little disoriented. She felt his eyes on her before she saw him, the middle-aged man peering from a window that read Motel Reception. She turned and walked towards him. Closer, she saw he was wearing blue latex gloves; they were, somehow, forensic, out of place, unsettling. He caught her look and quickly dropped his hands beneath the counter.
Anna Louise Simpson was born in Scotland but spent many years travelling before settling back in her home town of Edinburgh. Anna Louise’s work explores themes of urban dystopia and distorted futurism through her painted collages. Anna Louise’s The Catskills Dream series will be exhibited in Edinburgh in November 2018