The Passages of Wendy Passmore-Godfrey
Written by Linda Hawke, December 2009
Wendy Passmore-Godfrey began making collages almost by accident. She was backpacking through Asia in 2004 when she began combining tourist brochures and other bits of visual and tactile ephemera she picked up in her travels. A small pair of scissors and a glue stick became as necessary to her journey as her passport. Making these small collages turned out to be her way of processing and documenting her passage.
Although Passmore-Godfrey had studied photography, she chose to assemble found images in order to capture the essence of her experiences abroad. She did not keep a written journal. The act of collecting and combining materials, and the eclectic, tactile impact of the resulting collages, proved to be a more compelling and highly personal form of expression than any other.
Passmore-Godfrey’s works continue to be about voyaging. They contain portals that lead to unknown destinations, circles that suggest whole worlds and juxtapositions that propose uncharted possibilities. She collects her objects, papers and images over time and, as she makes her way through daily life, retrieves mementos of her experiences. Passmore-Godfrey acknowledges the beauty within her humble collection of everyday things and in doing so extends them the power of transformation. In her hands, household paper becomes a wing we are convinced is capable of flight; a simple printed pattern makes us imagine all the bounty in the world and reminds us of the inevitable repetition of life’s cycles.
“The beauty of the commonplace” is a phrase used by assemblage artist Joseph Cornell to describe a joy-invoking quality he felt certain, often overlooked items possessed. A child’s face and the smell of sweet grass are examples he cited. “Cornell took up the challenge of communicating the joy of beauty, the beauty of joy – penultimate, subjective abstractions – each time he made a box or collage.”[i]
From Passmore-Godfrey’s commitment to the beauty of the commonplace, particular themes have evolved in her work. Birds and nature are two she shares with Cornell. Portals and circles also recur with frequency and introduce an element of dramatic tension into a seemingly tranquil body of work. The portals, which are doorways for voyaging and searching, play off the idea of wholeness and contentment contained within the circles. The work says much about the contrasting needs embodied in our nature.
The very medium of collage also reflects the human condition. The artist brings diverse elements together, finds relationships among seemingly unrelated pieces and creates a cohesive form. It is a particularly fitting endeavour for an artist with Passmore-Godfrey’s interdisciplinary background. Trained in photography and the performing arts, Wendy brings sensibilities associated with each to her collage practice. Like the materials she collects, Wendy’s various skill sets assert themselves in her artwork in both subtle and overt ways.
Passmore-Godfrey obtained a BFA in photography from the University of Calgary. In her studies, she explored non-traditional techniques such as photograms. By placing an object directly onto photosensitive paper and exposing it to light, Passmore-Godfrey obtained a ghostlike record of the translucency of the object. Modernist artist Man Ray is attributed with pioneering artistic use this technique. In addition to this Ray’s attention to relationships between shape and meaning have had an influence on Passmore-Godfrey’s work. The clean cut lines in her portals, for example,seem to echo the distinct and deliberate shapes in Ray’s photographs. On occasion, Passmore-Godfrey’s photograms surface in her collages, contributing an alternate form of representation, a measure of eerie realism, and a hint of surrealism to her layered visual narratives.
Wendy’s interest in narrative is inherent. As the Artistic Director/Founder of WP Puppet Theatre Society, Passmore-Godfrey has a deep-seated belief in the power of visual storytelling and a highly developed sense of theatrical presentation. Both are evident in her collages, often set in shadowbox frames that emphasize theatricality. There is a sense that at any moment something inside the frame will begin to move or a character will emerge from the shadows to underscore a nuance in the scene. The intimate scale draws viewers in and invites a physical relationship with the works. In contrast to the stage sets and animated characters she creates for the puppet theatre, this is a tiny world but it is no less sizable in its capacity to inspire the imagination.
Crafting stories through visual means is an ancient art. Nick Bantock is one accomplished practitioner. While Bantock is recognized equally as author and artist, he believes that images are a potent means of direct thought, and one that has been almost entirely overshadowed by words in modern times. This unfortunate circumstance, Bantock believes, has “isolated us from our picture-mind.”[ii] Passmore-Godfrey’s collaged images offer rich opportunities to engage one’s picture-mind. Her open-ended visions call out to the imagination and beg a personal response.
Ripe for interpretation, Passmore-Godfrey’s works seek to connect a deeper self with a kind of storytelling that goes beyond words. They provide passage into the realm of creative journeying, no passport required.
[i] Linda Roscoe Hartigan, Joseph Cornell Shadowplay Eterniday, p. 23; Thames & Hudson, 2003
[ii] Nick Bantock, The Artful Dodger, p. 215; Raincoast Books, 2000