The night before my daughter, Anna, and I recently left Provincetown, we went gallery hopping. Our first stop was Rice Polak Gallery, one of my favorites. Anna and I “oohed” and “ahhed” our way through the first floor. When we got to the second floor, we stopped in front of three beautiful collage pieces by Deb Goldstein and fell in love with her work. We inquired about the piece and learned that Goldstein lived in Newton. Goldstein, Newton…it was coming together like a collage. I had to meet her.
A couple of weeks later I was in Goldstein’s basement workshop, a space that looks and feels like a large, living and breathing collage. Goldstein’s customized workshop has ample drawer space to house her organic and constantly growing collection of ephemera. “Things have to be in my visual landscape in order for me to see it,” she explained. “I also remember what I have in my drawers so that everything is at my disposal.”
The focal point of the workshop is an original Royal typewriter in bright pink, which Goldstein told me she had to have and bought for a song at a yard sale in Maine. As we explored her basement workshop, Goldstein noted how much she enjoys collecting ephemera. “I collect ephemera from everywhere—I’m an assembler. I make a great salad,” she quipped.
Goldstein is also a poet who puts stuff together. “I create a piece in two ways,” she said. “I have an idea and ask myself what I can put together to create it. Or I just love a particular object and I start with that and build out from it. I’m a natural collector and I love bringing objects and people together.”
Goldstein originally studied jewelry-making at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. “You can see the skills and techniques of jewelry-making in my [collage] work,” she said. “For example, a lot of times I rim in ink and that is very reminiscent of being a jeweler.”
The collector in her, however, moved Goldstein to work in collage. She has been a collage artist for over two decades. “Collage is the Rodney Dangerfield of art,” she joked. “People don’t realize how highly skilled you have to be. The medium is hundreds of years old. Braque and Picasso were the modern forerunners of collage. Robert Rauschenberg was famous at being an assembler.”
Goldstein’s tools are indicative of her high level of skill and concentration. She uses several different types of blades, as well as tweezers. She’s an avid student of glue, closely matching adhesives to the weights of different papers. She’s always calculating how paper will react to the adhesives she uses. Everything she uses is archival, in that it’s acid-free. She also uses a spray adhesive to ensure that her pieces will last over time.
The art of assembling is key to Goldstein’s genius. We looked closely at a few pieces in her workshop. The first incorporates a handwritten note from 1889 and rust pieces that give the collage a linear feel. “In most of my pieces the line goes down,” she said. “A lot of my pieces also contrast light and dark. The angles where the line connects the image gets built up. I like to balance my pieces by creating strong visual elements in them.”
Old maps are one of Goldstein’s favorite objects, and she makes liberal use of them in her work. The effect places the viewer in a time and space evoked in a particular collage. Goldstein also uses lenses frequently, strategically placing them in a piece for literal and symbolic magnification. “Collage is very subliminal, very subconscious,” she noted. “You put a lot of things together and you don’t necessarily know why. That makes it a very instinctual and intuitive process. Sometimes things go together, and it just feels right.”
Goldstein also builds her work around memory. She described herself as the family archivist: “Being Jewish gave me a very deep sense of where I came from. I have a very clear sense of preservation of memory, which is there in my work. My pieces hold memory, but also integrate them with other objects and images that transform them into something else. A rusty nail is just a rusty nail until it becomes an element that creates depth and dimension in the piece.”
For one of her shows at Rice Polak, Goldstein had very specific ideas about what to bring forward in her work. “The Reason I Am Writing to You” was about types of correspondence, and one of the pieces featured a picture of a typewriter. She also used her pink Royal typewriter to type some of the copy. “Letters can be beautiful too,” Goldstein said, referring to the actual alphabet.
If Goldstein has a favorite letter, it’s the letter “A” for Anne Goldstein, her mother. Every piece she creates has a tiny “A” embedded in it as homage to her. “My mother is my muse,” she said. “She was an artist in her own right as a master seamstress. She was a gifted assembler too. She sits right on my shoulder when I create.”
Ultimately, collage is storytelling for Goldstein. She noted, “Everything we create has a story, and it’s an invitation to viewers to tell their own stories.”
As for my trip to Rice Polak? Dear reader, I bought a Goldstein collage. Happy anniversary to my excellent husband!
Learn more about Deb Goldstein here.