Always a ravenous reader, C.J. was lying in the bathtub at age 11 wondering if she could invent a glass book holder with an automatic button to turn the pages without getting the book wet. She never did. But perhaps that was the beginning of her ideas about working with mixed media and books, the artwork that she creates today. C.J. has made books from underwear, hand-shaped flyswatters, rolling pins and dollhouse closet doors.
An activist since her teens, C.J. first got involved in the civil rights movement when she read about segregation and racism in the South. After she watched the horror of dogs attacking civil rights demonstrators on TV, she joined demonstrations in Los Angeles while still in high school. Later she was inspired to take part in anti-war demonstrations and women’s movements. These are some of the earliest events that shaped one of the key threads in her work: a desire to express politically progressive ideas and an activist’s yearning to effect change in society.
In college, C.J. majored in Social Welfare. She spent a lot of time in the Art Department and even more on the picket lines during the great San Francisco State strike of 1968 where the student body fought for and won the first Ethnic Studies Department in the U.S. After decades as a grass roots activist, working numerous jobs to pay the rent, C.J. enrolled in college again, this time to earn her Masters in Fine Arts degree at the California College of the Arts.
After a beginning focus on textiles, C.J. turned to mixed media installations and book art to complete her degree. These are the two foci of her work today. Books were a perfect medium for her to express ideas and use the immediate accessibility of reader/audience interaction in telling a story, in addition to being enamored with the endless possibilities of building unusual structures to house those stories. During the time of a nationally prominent case concerning a domestic violence incident that led to murder, C.J. created a book that told a different story of domestic violence. In her version, the story is set to the background of a cookbook. Instead of being killed herself, the abused wife triumphs by killing her husband with a poisoned cake. Other stories C.J. has done have included issues such as sexual harassment in a law office, safe sex, the killing of a Haitian activist by the local army, the holocaust of WWII, Katrina, global warming and the nationwide murder of GLBT people by homophobic killers.
Another strong thread running through C.J.’s work has reflected one of her greatest passions, jazz and Latin music. Books and installations have included a book with a jazz poem 273” long out of one sheet of paper, a tunnel book on Cuban musicians, and an original papercut of sheet music.
C.J. teaches book arts as well as mixed media collage and assemblage to adults and children. She has taught thousands of children how to make books, and also teachers educators and parents how to make books with kids. CJ lives in Berkeley with some real people and her imaginary yellow labrador named “Magic” whose name changes every week…