For many happy years, Molly and Ryan were my neighbors. To give you a sense of their style, a while back they brought home a beautiful, petite and anxious rescue dog named Stella. One of my fondest memories of the trio is seeing them at a distance walking together in the neighborhood. Something unexpected would happen and Stella would bark. Always, Molly and Ryan’s response was the same. They would lean down and say something gentle to their small friend, and all would be well. If called upon to draw an image of patience and kindness a tableau of the three of them in silhouette would be what I’d try to sketch.
Molly is an artist whose work can be seen at Molly C. Meng. I’m especially a fan of her cards. I suppose greeting cards is the conventional name for what I’m talking about, but I don’t think that really works in Molly’s case since she is a purveyor of sly entertainment – of complex ideas expressed in compact images.
In the 60s Marshall McLuhan proposed that the way that an idea is expressed conveys a message that is more significant than the content of the idea. In other words, I might employ a Google search to learn the answer to a particular question. And though the answer I obtain might seem important to me in the moment, what’s more important is the implications for my life of the fact that I can secure answers in that way. The implications for my life is the message, but I can only receive that message if I look beyond the immediate answer I receive and contemplate how my life is changed by being able to secure answers in that way.
I think Molly’s work provokes such contemplation, and in some cases the unsuspecting viewer is tossed into a contemplative hall of mirrors. For example, one of her images offers a representation of the English alphabet as expressed in American Sign Language, over a fragment of paper torn from the upper right corner of a sheet upon which an observation has been typed via an old manual typewriter: “I guess that sums things up”. And all of that appears on the front of a “greeting card.” The image content and the implications for my life message are blended together. The interpretation that came to me is that what’s important…what sums things up…is that Molly’s image describes and also embodies communication as what we do with our hands. The motion of our hands is the A, B Cs. And perhaps she is also hinting that such a notion falls on deaf ears.
Of course, it could be that I’m imposing ideas on Molly’s images that would not resonate with her at all. And I love that about her work. At least for me, her images provoke interpretation. Each is much more than the expression of a sweet idea. It is also a gentle, deeply layered provocation to tumble through carefully choreographed associations.
Take, for example, her image I Want You Here Now in which retro elements suggest the timelessness of a particular sentiment – the desire for the return of the beloved. Carefully chosen type faces, complete with ascender elements that wave like banners, and words arranged with careful imprecision, convey the urgency of someone hastening to compose a sentence before the magic of the moment slips away.
Or the image I’d follow you anywhere that suggests a spontaneous, fond declaration, followed closely by a caveat that seems to arise from an equally sudden realization that emotional honesty, however well intended, can be a burden for the object of affection.
But what I find most charming about Molly’s work is that much of it brazenly sings of the perfection that is love. Her image Toi et moi is a masterful expression of what she knows about the subject. It is a volume in worn red leather upon which words are embossed in gold. “You and me,” rendered in the language of love, but the idea also is offered in plain-English as “The story of our life.” And there’s a nod to good fortune as well – the central element of the image is the card she and her guy have been dealt which bears a single heart.
Be sure to always order two of each card so you can give one to a friend and keep the second for yourself.
They are a lovely mix of warmth, nostalgia and humor, but also mystery, a mystery of depth, that draws in the eye, the mind and heart, and then something unnameable I can’t quite put my finger on. Unique!
I’m delighted you find Molly’s images so intriguing. I usually feel like I’m falling into them. A detail catches my eye and then I remember something, or a feeling like remembering comes over me, and a story starts of unfold in my head. Here’s another of my favorites.