An Interview with Au’s Cover Artist

Spider Love Song and Other Stories

Curious about our covers? Find out more about artist Monica Canilao‘s beautiful paper quilt, featured on the cover of Spider Love Song and Other Stories. Author Nancy Au interviews the artist:

Nancy Au: What first inspired you to create this paper quilt?

Monica Canilao: I have always been attracted to the look, the feel, the vibration and the history of old things . . . and I have an especially deep reverence for paper that has seen age. I collect found and vintage paper and use it within a majority of my work. It is versatile and, like water, can take many forms—and it lends itself to applications that range from the ephemeral to those that can last thousands of years. It was something that was once growing and goes through a metamorphosis. I choose to work with it for many reasons: because it is light and can be easily stored; because it is accessible to pretty much anyone; because I can sew through it, cut into it, collage and print on it, and add to and take away from it easily.

The paper I gather has also functioned as a kind of journal of places I have been, as well as documenting others’ lives. Peeled wallpaper from abandoned buildings once on fire that have long since crumbled. They are memories preserved.

I used to draw cities a lot. All cities are living, and I tried to capture that feeling in this quilt—all of the things happening in a place that is occupied all at once, everyone leading their different lives and sometimes crossing paths. Sometimes one action effecting great change that sends out ripples . . . communal upheaval, growth.

NA: What does the house and figure mean to you? Who is the ghost that they are speaking to?

MC: The girl wearing her home on her back is an image I have been drawing since I was a teenager. She is a representation of me and every person . . . picking up things and experiences as they move through life. It is the baggage of our happiness and pain, our fears and lessons learned. The weight grows as we gain experience and age . . . a complex balancing act of thriving and surviving everything we have been through. All of it carried with us; our experiences are our home.

The ghosts are our ancestors and all of the peoples that came before us. We must speak to them and learn the history of the places we are dwelling and where we travel. It’s important to look to the past for its wisdom. The ghost is how each of us came to be and where our bloodlines stream from. It’s lost traditions.

NA: What type of tea is in the tea bags? Did you drink all of that tea while making this piece?

MC: Tea has always been my go-to drink when I work. Tea bags are just small pieces of paper dyed by a plant. The stain holds a memory, and I used to save all my tea bags because I liked how they looked, and also as an archive of working hours. Another collection of objects saved to be transformed and given new life.

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