The first time that I ever heard of Portland artist, Mona Superhero was a few years ago and it came via a Facebook post featuring the image above. The photo of the artwork appeared in the feed of my friend Ingrid, the owner of the piece (and a number of others by her), and it caught my attention immediately. I become even more impressed when I discovered that the work was actually created entirely out of duct tape. Upon further inquiry, I was told who created it and followed the breadcrumbs, locating other samples of her work, a couple of interviews, and even a website, I believe. I enjoyed what she was doing so much that I knew that I had to feature something about her on the site, eventually; maybe I could conduct an interview, at some point, and/or post a preview to promote an art show, or some other project that she was involved in.
Ever since then, I’ve periodically checked in to see if there was anything on the horizon for Mona, whenever it crossed my mind. This didn’t always prove to be the easiest task, as things like her website and image galleries seemed to relocate over time. Over the past year or so, however, her internet presence — or at least my ability to stay in the loop, regarding it — seems to have become more stabilized, with her official site looking sharper than ever, an Etsy store, and regular updates on the blog. Ultimately, the decision to sign up for her newsletter worked in my favor in more ways than one.
Three weeks ago, I received an email containing the latest newsletter and it gave me a very particular kind of hope that made me feel as if it just might be time — and, even more so, that I might have found myself in the perfect position — where I could finally find myself owning one of Miss Mona‘s masterful artworks of my very own. Here’s what it said:
I read an article in Vanity Fair in which the magnificent Elizabeth Taylor described the last letter that she received from Richard Burton before his sudden death. In it, Burton says “that he was happiest with her” and expresses a desire for their reconciliation. The letter, mailed August 2, 1984, arrived on August 5th and was waiting for her when she returned from his memorial service. She considered it her most valuable possession and kept it by her bed until her own death in 2011. It is rumored that she was buried with it. It is a profoundly sad and beautiful story.
The eloquent Burton penned many loveletters to Taylor during their tempestuous, on-again off-again affair. In an early billet-doux, Burton wrote, “I lust after your smell…and your round belly and the exquisite softness of the inside of your thighs and your baby bottom and your giving lips.” Their love story, narrated in these letters, has inspired me, my dear subscribers.
I want you to write a Loveletter.
The content of your letter need not be, like Richard Burton’s, about romantic love. Your letter can speak of the love that you feel for your bestie, or your Mom, or your child. Also, it need not be long, a few paragraphs will suffice. I will choose the best three. One letter will be chosen for the top prize. Prize, you say? The winner of our Loveletter Contest will receive a custom 11×14″ duct tape portrait of the object of their affection. The portrait will be completed before Valentine’s Day 2015 so that you may, if you wish, present it to this person. The two runners-up will receive an 11×14″ print of their choice from my catalog. Prints may be viewed in my online Etsy shop.
[…]Pick up those pencils, my Darlings! You have one week to write your Loveletters!
We’ve hosted a large number of giveaways on the site ourselves and I generally try to offer something up where the entrants can really feel free to deliver something interesting. Sometimes, we actually get some pretty brilliant entries but, more times than not, people really don’t seem to put themselves out there, or take advantage of it. I loved the idea/opportunity that Mona was presenting and, if nothing else, anyone that entered and didn’t win one of the prizes, would still have that heartfelt letter for someone that they cared about, which is, inarguably, an amazing gift in itself. That being said, I wanted that portrait. The deadline was January 31st and, operating in my typical fashion, I waited until the very last minute to send my entry in. I’ve referenced my family a number of times on this site, even posting a holiday photograph of my fiance and son sporting black metal corpse paint in Christmas Sweaters with me, but this is easily the most personal thing that I’ve put up on the site to date. In fact, only a few people that I know have seen it themselves, until now.
The following is the love letter that I wrote for and entered into the contest. Only about 4 people have read it before today, that I know of. As you should have gathered by now, it is an entry that won me the grand prize of the custom portrait created in the image of the object of my affection; a portrait of which is also featured at the end of this semi-lengthty, detailed, confession of love and admiration, for somebody incredibly dear to me.
Here, read it now…
I became violent when I met you. I’m in the worst physical condition of my life and it’s gotten increasingly worse since you became part of it. Meanwhile, for the last 3 ½ years, or so, I’ve been plagued by the growing delusion that I would be capable of physically overpowering anyone/thing, if it came down to it. My body is less convinced.
As for the instances where I do entertain the idea of trying to get back to some acceptable level of health, they typically stem from a desire to insure that I am able to “be there for you,” both now and in the future. I want you to be able to maneuver effortlessly through these times and through these spaces, while you’re in the prime of your life to do so, which should be always – just not always in the same ways, or even toward the same things. I want to travel alongside you, rather than slow you down; I know that you would wait for me, but I feel the obligation to propel you, rather than become a weight for you (not even a light one). Still, we both know that I am a great deal older than you are, although you don’t yet seem to fully recognize that this age, by nature, has a long list of detriments woven in among its advantages.
There are things that I know, things that I’m still better discovering, and other things that I’ve almost forgotten that I know. There are moments when I’ve even forgotten that much. Just being around you has exhumed some of that deep personal knowledge that may have become submerged in the murk, like some kind of mystic trepanation draining fluid from around the area of the frontal lobe where researchers are becoming convinced that one’s sense of self exists. Sometimes, I marvel at where your own sense of self must originate from. It’s almost as if you hover, carried on a soul that far exceeds what your tiny little frame could ever dream to contain; your body like a skeleton for the larger self that surrounds it.
I’ve wondered about if one of the major reasons that I love you so much has to do with all of the many ways that you remind me of myself. Then, I realize that it may have more to do with all of the many ways that you don’t.
You woke me up by kissing my face today. You easily did it 6 separate times in a manner of minutes. I’m sorry that I kept passing out, while we were looking over those designs. I stay up too late these days. But, to be fair, we were lying on the bed and looking at a book with no story to follow – there was nothing but shapes in it.
It was both an amusing and comforting change when you had me lay on your chest. You wrapped your arms around my dome like a pumpkin.
Beyond our similarities and differences, I know that it doesn’t hurt my admiration for you that you’ve also prompted me to consider who I might have been, along with what I could be now, and, perhaps even more importantly, who you make me want to be. You’ve given me a reason to attempt a better version of myself in a number of situations, and you’ve, consequently, given me an airtight case for feeling like a huge fucking cliché, a feeling that burrowed itself in particularly deep, before I could even finish typing the first half of this sentence.
You’ve turned me into a cliché, all right.
I’m going to miss these fat lips, someday. They say love is pain… some times that means physically.
When you stop hitting me, I’ll miss the affection. Too much, I fear. Just thinking about it, I can feel the acidic part of me that disregards my better judgment curdling up, wanting to do everything short of asking you to knock me right in the mouth again, or crack me across my cheekbone (use your patented headbutt). My eye socket was swollen for at least two weeks, last time. I almost vomited from the pain. My vision went out.
I’ve found myself trying not to repeat these phrases that I’ve heard from so many others before me for so long. It’s not that I never believed that there was any conviction behind those claims, but I could only ever really understand any of it in the abstract, thanks to emotional distance. It really is embarrassingly cliché.
“It’s the hardest job you’ll ever love.”
“There are no days off in parenting.”
I quit my job the day you were born. I had wanted to leave before the news of you came, anyway, but put the brakes on that plan of action while you were gestating. It was only made easier when they proved how little they respected or appreciated me by blowing up my phone right in the middle of the complications with the labor. They left insensitively “jokey” messages like, “I know you’re probably a little busy to talk right now, but ….” *heh, heh* [insert something entirely unimportant and related to coffee sales here.]”
What makes a job the “hardest” is having to ask yourself why you’re willing to do it each day. With you, I’ve never once had to entertain that question.
It’s difficult to have very few interactions with anyone my own age, or “IRL,” as the digital torsos that beam distractions and volley anecdotes to each other refer to it. [By employing that term, I’m, finally, almost fully assimilated.] At the same time, it can become difficult to know if I expect too much from you, from time to time, because you’ve proven yourself surprisingly astute and capable, compared to what I would have expected, and I try to react to who you are, rather than whoever a “3-year-old boy” is supposed to be on paper, forgetting that you’re still a 3-year-old boy inside, in so many ways. Wishful thinking urges me to believe that even the smallest part of me might also still be that way inside.
It’s not all magical cake and miracle frosting for me, of course, because I’m not out trying to make documentaries, playing music, or fulfilling similar creative yearnings through any number of other projects, as I could be, as I began to direct my focus on, and as I planned to set into motion, shortly before I was informed about your arrival by your mother through an incredibly confusing greeting card. Even now, I haven’t slept and it’s already 5 am (it will be 6 by the time I’ve finished writing this); I utilize the very brief windows that I have available to me for my own outlets. But to be disappointed, I’d have to prefer to be in those places and situations. I’d have to feel like I’m missing out. I don’t. The opposite is true. These days, I simply have a better option available. I still make my own decisions about what I will do and where I’d prefer to be. On Halloween that didn’t mean going to Vegas; it meant making you a costume from scratch, creeping through neighborhoods in the rain, and undermining everything else that we try to teach you, in every other situation, on every other day of the year, by instructing you to go up to the spooky homes of complete strangers and demanding candy from them… or else.
We have dance parties. You tell me I’m “the best papa ever” and hug me, these days – surprisingly enough, it’s often for putting on Kool Keith’s Black Elvis, or a Herbie Hancock record: your favorites. It hits me that someday you’ll be a “gross dude” (don’t worry, dudes are just gross), but then I think about all of the stuff that I can’t share with you quite yet – like any other Kool Keith album (the rest contain profanity) — and I actually become excited about the idea of you getting older. Plus, let’s face it, you’ll start to believe that your mom isn’t “cool” well before you ever determine the same about me – we all know that. The fact is that you’re cooler than the both of us. In a very specific way, the person that you are today will cease to exist, eventually, and that’s a concept that has frightened the hell out of me, for what are, most likely, selfish reasons. It’s true that I will not be able to physically carry you, someday, as I have enjoyed beyond explanation and become so accustomed to – another reason to start lifting weights or Jazzercizing™ to get my strength up. Meanwhile, I know that the real goal should be for you to reach a place where you won’t need me to.
You flail around so recklessly at your age. You’ve been knocking me in the face your entire life and the only difference now from 3 years ago is the level of damage that it causes. The near-black-eye was intended to be another hug and/or kiss and it eventually resulted in both, along with concern and an apology. The only thing that struck me even harder that day was that the answer to the question, “When is he finally going to stop hitting us in our fucking heads?,” which I had asked myself endless times before, became clear: “Probably around the same exact time when he decides that he doesn’t feel like hugging or kissing us anymore.” This is probably one of the only permissible scenarios to accept that someone hurts you, because they love you. I’m sure that I’ll be hurt by plenty of other things that you decide to do as you grow, but my hopes are that they’ll be connected to the exact same reasons.
We took a photo of you with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy when you were 9 months old. The next day he signed it: “Ronin, be bad until you can read.” If you’re reading this now, that means that the window has closed.
But, you won’t be able to read this for quite some time, and it will likely take a great deal longer before you can comprehend much of it. So, I’ll tell you this, I loved you more than anything when you were an infant and the idea of having someone that you know and love so much change so dramatically is a terrifying one, even when it’s the natural order of things and it’s inevitable — in fact, especially, when it is. But if you had never grown and you had never learned to speak and share your ideas with me, then I never would have had the opportunity to experience you as you are right now, as I write this. That’s a concept which, now, is even more terrifying to consider.
You might have to wait to read this and you might not ever completely “get it” (you will though), but I’m not the type of person that wants you to chase my acceptance. I don’t want you to wait until that momentous day when I finally give you that knowing glance, punch to the arm, or share that first sip of beer with you in some bullshit scenario, like we’re Clark and Rusty Griswold, so that you can finally understand how important you are to me and have always been. I’d rather just keep telling you (and hopefully, demonstrating to you) every day, as I have always done and plan to continue doing.
Most importantly, I don’t want this to be a letter about how much you meant to me when you were tiny and cute, but rather, for you to know how much you do right now in whatever chapter you are in your evolution. Please know that I could have written this at any time; nothing about this message would have changed.
If you never grew, then I never would have had the chance to experience you the way that you are right now, as you are reading this.
You could have read this at any time; nothing about this message would have changed.
If we’re lucky and this experiment between us is even remotely successful, then you’ll already know all of these things on one level or another. If nothing else, I hope that this can, at the very least, operate as some sort of reminder at a time when you could use one, although I sincerely hope that you never do need to use one, while knowing that everybody will.
And if we’re extra fortunate, then you’ve retrieved this letter from behind a frame that currently houses a portrait of your beautiful little head as it appeared back in the year 2015, crafted with precision entirely out of duct tape.
And here is the remarkable duct tape portrait of my son, Ronin that arrived in the mail this morning:
My only disappointment with this piece is how impossible it has proven for me to photograph it in a way that will do justice to how it actually looks in person. As promised, this 11×14-inch portrait is masterfully created from duct (and probably a little masking) tape on wood, strung and ready to hang. It also captures the likeness and essence of my son, even more so than a lot of the photographs that I’ve taken of him. Perhaps the weirdest thing about this piece is that it actually looks even more like him than the source image that Mona wound up using for it as reference, and she’s never actually met us before.
I didn’t know what to expect, but opening the package today — a package that she shipped out Wednesday, paying to have it delivered by Valentines Day — it was a pretty intense moment. It’s probably a stretch to equate it to when Ronin was born, but there was a similar sensation of frozen time and awe that I experienced with this. I calculated that she must have had a little over a week, at best, to create this thing, and it was done during a time when she had other responsibilities and pieces to work on for other projects. Still, it was clear from the moment that I opened it that genuine care was put into this piece — a piece that I didn’t even pay her any money to create and which took time out of her own schedule and money out of her own pocket to deliver to us. Now, like a letter from Richard Burton, this has swiftly become something that I consider one of my own “most valuable possessions.” I’ve written and posted about plenty of art over the years, but none of it has ever been anything that I have had this much of a directly personal connection to. Maybe that should be more of an argument as to why I shouldn’t be posting about this so specifically on this platform, but I feel that actually makes an argument for why I should be addressing something like this more than ever. I have found a lot of artists, from all fields, capitalizing off of the novelties of their medium, which is something that a duct tape portrait could easily fall under, but the results are undeniably real. We appreciate it.
Please use the following links to check out more from Mona Superhero and pick something up from her now, whether it’s an original, print or commission; before my efforts to help make her into a world famous duct tape millionairess and household name come to fruition and it becomes slightly more difficult and costly to do so.