Joseph Cornell (see Dreams of Desire 36 (Girl with Braid) was passionately attached to the idea of travel even though he very rarely left his home state of New York during his life. He created several series of boxes featuring birds, which act as surrogates for his fantasies of flight, and also of hotels, some of which are so otherworldly and celestial they suggest rest-stops for demigods and goddess as they travel between the constellations more than overnight accommodation for regular humans.
During the 1950’s produced several boxes in the Hotel De L’Etoile series. The word etoile means star and the boxes play with the double meaning of star, the ones in the sky and the ones of the stage and screen. Both kinds were equally unattainable for Cornell, despite several intense platonic relationship with ballerinas; yet he remained a devoted and lucid observer of the night-sky, ballet and movies.
The above box from the series features a cut-out from a girlie magazine, slightly obscured by a singular column. The glass is blue, Cornell’s favourite colour along with white, a shade of blue that evokes sex, melancholy and a luscious eternal night.
In the early 1930’s a young salesman who lived on Utopia Parkway, Queens, while browsing in a bookstore, as was his habit when he had some spare time, came across a book that was to forever change his life . It was Max Ernst’s collage novel La Femme 100 Tetes, and from it’s marvellous pages, the shy and dreamy young man, whose name was Joseph Cornell realised that you didn’t have to be a trained painter to be an artist; art could be made out of everyday objects with the aid of a pair of scissors and a pot of glue. Inspired Cornell would create collages late at night after his mother and his beloved brother Robert, who had cerebral palsy and Joseph cared for, went to bed.
From collages Joseph Cornell went on to assemble his fabulous, intricate glass-paned shadow boxes that create in miniature beautiful and sublimely mysterious dream-worlds.
The above collage conveys Cornell intense and yearning romanticism. Although in many respects Cornell had a highly successful artistic career and everyone in the art world would visit Cornell when in New York, he remained a reserved and reclusive figure. He never married and remained in his mother’s modest house on Utopia Parkway until his death in 1972.