That Red Boot

September 11th, 2017

“As a husband, you have to remember the crucial importance of three little words — ‘I was wrong.’ That will take you a lot further than ‘I love you.’”

— Charlton Heston
 

After pondering what to do with my stash of birds for far too long, I decided to start a new series that I describe as “Crafted.” Here is an example — a 35th Anniversary present to my indispensable partner and dearest friend.
 
That Red Boot ~ J A Dixon

That Red Boot
collage miniature by J A Dixon
5.375 x 7.25 inches
collection of Dana Dixon

September 2nd, 2017

 
It pleases me to announce that we shall open our studio and gallery to the public again during the first weekend of November. For more information, please visit our website or google map.
 
 
 

Saturday, Texas

August 26th, 2017

 
Saturday, Texas ~ John Andrew Dixon ~ dedicated to everyone who is experiencing the devastation of Hurricane Harvey

Saturday, Texas
collage miniature by J A Dixon
7 x 6.5 inches
 
Donate to Hurricane Harvey Relief Efforts

Creating collage artwork on a book cover

August 19th, 2017

“A cold start is a hard start.”
— Stephen King
 

There must be a lot of ruined publications out there, because the “collage on book cover” has become a staple of the medium in recent years. I happen to live across the street from a public library, and I’ve been known to peek into their recycling bins from time to time. If the decisions of libraries are any indication, cast-off books will supply the needs of artists for quite a while, and I’m not talking about just covers. Perhaps the societal move from print to digital has in some measure fueled the explosion of collage worldwide. Much could be said about that alone, but let’s stay focused on the book cover.

As a substrate, it has all the aspects for which a collage artist is looking — strength, durability, unusual textures, and it often provides other desirable features, such as embossing, foil stamping, plus interesting typography that need not be superimposed. I will generally wrap my collage ingredients around the dimensions of the working surface, and this adds an “artifact” quality to the creation, because it takes on the perceptual properties of an actual object. Book covers can lend themselves to this effect.

For me, the book cover also triggers its own unique intuitive responses — unconscious associations that will “jump-start” the process in a more experimental way than the typical “blank canvas,” which invites more initial calculation. Any component of a publication has the vestiges of an anonymous designer’s preexisting sensibility. There is already a context, perhaps a pictorial or narrative allusion, but, at minimum, a tactile or color stimulus. It is not a cold origin.

There are times when a collage at the scale of a book cover will capture a microcosm of “the moment,” whether or not we can interpret all the elements at a rational level, whether or not we can ascribe “meaning” to it. I see many collage artworks that communicate little beyond “disorganization” or “chaos.” But there are others that probe deeper to the heart of something more significant, and are the result of an artistic intent at some level of mindfulness, even if it has not derived from a series of choices that involve an outer, deliberative awareness. Then again, it is dangerous for me to generalize about anything. Each creative process is distinctive. Discover yours!
 
Threshold Of Control ~ J A Dixon

Threshold Of Control
collage miniature on book cover by J A Dixon
7 x 10 inches
available for purchase

This Side of Recklessness ~ J A Dixon

This Side of Recklessness
collage miniature on book cover by J A Dixon
7 x 10 inches
available for purchase

Star of Commonwealth ~ through the glass

August 12th, 2017

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”
— Muhammad Ali
 

Let us take “our telescope” and look more closely at the Star. My strong appreciation of fine-art collage is second to none, but there is something equally as satisfying when one is called upon to create an “artifact” that pays tribute to a unique historical or personal legacy. I think that I managed to compile enough ingredients to do justice to the theme of the current exhibition — Kentucky’s 225th birthday celebration.

If anyone asks, “Where is he or she? Why did you not include this or that?” the answer might be as simple as an absence of “stuff.” The reason for that is my firm reluctance to use anything but original source material that would otherwise be destined for the recycling bin or landfill. I cannot bring myself to go online to search for, print, and use digital imagery, even though nearly anything can be “acquired” in that format these days. For me, art is always about constraint. Or, as the late Martin Landau put it, “It’s not about comfort, it’s about discovery.”

Please click on the images below to zoom in on Star of Commonwealth.
 

detail from ‘Star of Commonwealth’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

How can a collage artist go wrong, relying on images of
Kentucky’s two most widely recognized and revered native sons?
For me, Frederick Douglass is the figure who links them best.

detail from ‘Star of Commonwealth’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

One of my organizing factors was to confine the more intense colors to the
‘floating’ star and to use the plank surfaces to carry a more historical tone.

detail from ‘Star of Commonwealth’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

Kentucky has one of the greatest multitude of counties for any state in the union.
Woefully inefficient, or one of the better examples of self-government close to
the people? You can decide. I just like how colorful it makes an antique map.
At any rate, the frontier’s exploding population pushed Dan’l toward the sunset.

detail from ‘Star of Commonwealth’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

One of my favorite zones involves a visual juxtaposition of worship, whiskey,
constitution, thoroughbreds, coal mining, confederate leader, battle flag, and a
reference to human slavery. Only the history of Kentucky could contain all that.

Collage En Plein Air ~ third chapter

August 9th, 2017

“Try to understand, not only the nature of what you’re looking at, but your own perception and the judgments behind what you’re looking at.”
— Nicolas Uribe
 

Are you still as interested in this subject as I am, my dear reader? I hope so. Permit me to begin this entry with an update on my evolving ‘Plein Air Collage Kit.’ After two more productive “art-outs,” minor refinements are still taking place. Protective feet were added to the base, a better diversity of colored and printed papers were organized, and, since it isn’t necessary to take much adhesive on location, I downsized the glue bottles for a better fit.

Plein Air Collage Kit based on a re-purposed dish drainer ~ by J A Dixon, collage artist from Danville, Kentucky
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The PAACK group was welcomed to a home with lovely farmscapes in every direction. I picked a breezy spot to test my methodology and to capture one of our host’s flower gardens. I liked the sloping road and cornfield in the background and a central tree at its summer peak. John Andrew Dixon ~ plein air collage artistThe composition was complex enough that I would push the limit of the 50/50 ratio of location-to-studio labor before it was finished. I wanted to do justice to the impatiens in the foreground. Although I intend to get back to some strictly on-site studies, I decided to create a companion piece with the same ratio on my next venture into the countryside.

In my adopted area of the southern bluegrass region of Kentucky, there are many historic farm estates. Two of my favorites are Isaac Shelby’s Traveler’s Rest, which is partially accessible to the public, and pioneer surgeon Ephraim McDowell’s summer retreat named Cambus-Kenneth Farm, which is not. It was a rare treat for our group to be offered the opportunity to wander among the paddocks and historic structures of the serene Cambus-Kenneth on the last day of July.

It’s not as though I haven’t drawn or painted out of doors many times since youth, but the recent, more systematic approach has introduced me to aspects of the plein air discipline that are no doubt familiar to artists who have made the practice a ritual. Personally, I find that it is important to not spend too much time selecting a spot to sit, John Andrew Dixon ~ plein air collage artisteven though the entire enterprise rests upon the decision. It seems as though the act should be part of the overall intuitive process to which the day is pledged. It was tough to avoid squandering valuable minutes at Cambus-Kenneth, since there were barns, ponds, pastures, an impressive Italianate home, and many remarkably preserved 18th- and 19th-century brick outbuildings, including an icehouse, springhouse, and slave quarters. By using a viewing card with square “window,” I zeroed in on the old red-roofed quarters. I was able to complete enough of the design that day to stay within the 50/50 restriction when I finished the artwork in the studio a few days later. Folks, I may just be getting the hang of this gig. Please let me know what you think of the results.
 

Intermediate stage of ‘Garden of Alice’ ~ J A Dixon Intermediate stage of ‘Old Quarters’ ~ J A Dixon

Here are the intermediate stages of two plein air miniatures, after completing
the on-location work. I start with my finding an appealing composition with a
viewing card, then roughly sketch the layout before picking a color scheme
from papers available in my kit. These artworks required studio time equal
to what I spent in the field — a total of approximately nine to ten hours each.

Garden of Alice ~ plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon

Garden of Alice
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
6.625 x 6.125 inches
available for purchase

Old Quarters ~ plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon ~ at Cambus-Kenneth Farm, Danville Kentucky

Old Quarters
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
6.625 x 6.125 inches
available for purchase

August 5th, 2017

En Plein Air ~ an exhibition at the Community Arts Center, Danville, Kentucky ~ with collage miniatures by John Andrew Dixon and the Plein Air Artists of Central Kentucky
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
My sincere appreciation to the PAACK for permitting this rookie to display two of my plein air collage miniatures at the August show. Last night’s gathering at our Community Arts Center was a joy, and I heard that a local record was broken for opening-reception sales.

My appreciation to Kate Snyder for some nice local publicity.
 

two plein air collage miniatures by artist John Andrew Dixon on display at the PAACK show, Danville, Kentucky

Star of Commonwealth

July 26th, 2017

“I have to trust for that crazy moment.”
— Christoph Niemann
 

It is no secret that creative work has not been flying off the walls in the current art market, but there is something about the theme of 225: Artists Celebrate Kentucky’s History, hanging this summer in the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea, that has provoked an unusual number of sales, including the mixed media construction that I titled I Must Have Kentucky and featured here in March. The kind folks at the Center asked me to deliver a replacement piece sight unseen. Sounded good — but the first work had made a serious dent in my stash of Kentucky-related scrap. I’ll admit that I scratched my head about what I could come up with. Fortunately, I had a second salvaged metal star that enabled me to utterly obliterate what was left of my repository of images with any connection to the Bluegrass State, including material from discarded books, hymnals, maps, magazines, product labels, and postage stamps.

I began with a goal of contrasting a simple dimensional configuration with a density of images and symbolic messages, but I was a bit dubious about where it would lead me. I recall the distinct turning point when I took comfort in the thought, “This is starting to look good. This just might work out.” How can one go wrong with images of Kentucky’s towering native sons? Her historical presence will always be linked to Abraham Lincoln (perhaps America’s greatest president, and who has come to represent much more to the world), as well as Louisville’s Muhammad Ali (perhaps America’s greatest athlete, and who also has come to represent much more to the world). Either, or both, can be called “The Greatest.” Can any other state match that? Other individuals featured in the work are Lincoln’s first lady, Mary Todd — plus Daniel Boone, Simon Kenton, Loretta Lynn, Robert Penn Warren, Ephraim McDowell, Ned Beatty, Frederick Douglass, George Rogers Clark, and Jefferson Davis. The viewer will also find visual references to faith, sport, thoroughbreds, whiskey, coal, tobacco, the U.S. Constitution, and the Civil War, with an institution central to the bitter national conflict: slavery. I am pleased with how the companion to its larger half-brother turned out. Perhaps it also will find a home, and then I can assign myself to replenishing my Kentucky file. The show lasts until September 23rd.

As I’ve probably told you before, I enjoy creating works that have visual appeal from across a room, but also provide a depth of interest on close observation, with stimulating details at an intimate viewing distance. A future entry will zoom in for another one of our nosey examinations.
 

Star of Commonwealth ~ John Andrew Dixon ~ collage construction ~ wood, metal, found printed material

Star of Commonwealth
mixed-media collage construction by J A Dixon
22 x 21 x 6 inches
available for purchase

Collage En Plein Air ~ second chapter

July 19th, 2017

“Detached from judgement, hesitation, fear of failure or imitation, one embraces the moment and the place, as revealed in value, color, and shape — the impossible can happen and the spirit of the place appears as if by magic.”
—Dean Taylor Drewyer
 

I joined the Plein Air Artists of Central Kentucky on one of their regular “art-outs” with a totally different system than I used in my first venture. Louis Degni is marketing an outdoor kit for collage artists that he calls the “St Hilaire System” (named for artist Elizabeth St Hilaire). John Andrew Dixon ~ plein air collage artistHis design may work fine, but the idea of using cups to control available source paper did not appeal to me, so I put together a different configuration based on a re-purposed plastic dish drainer. Using custom-cut folders fitted to the 14 dish slots, I have an array of potential ingredients that are fully protected from the wind. Needless to say, even a mild breeze can play the devil with small scraps of paper. After I got to the site and picked my location, I sorted through a spectrum of colors to choose a palette. John Andrew Dixon ~ plein air collage artist A central compartment between the little folders provides storage for this selected material under the large clipboard that secures my working surface. Bottles with two different adhesives fit handily into what was originally meant to hold kitchen flatware. The scale is ideal for a collage miniature. Additional refinements are anticipated, especially if I decide to increase the working dimensions, but I now have a solid approach that allows me to concentrate on capturing the essence of the scene.

The hospitality extended by our hosts for the day was remarkable. I was free to roam the property and found a grape arbor that had seen better days, but still looked handsome in a patch of sunlight. My subject may have been too complex for the time slot, or, more likely, the process remains slow, since my layering method is still inefficient. I wasn’t able to complete all the foliage on site, so I had to spend some studio time the following day to finish up. I’ll admit to being pleased with the results, although I hadn’t expected to be satisfied with my early attempts. I have no idea where this is heading, but I’m happy to follow my enthusiasm to the next phase!
 

Margo’s Arbor ~ plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon

Margo’s Arbor
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
4.625 x 4.625 inches
available for purchase

Their Desperate State

July 5th, 2017

Although I perceive aesthetic currents of spatial counterpoint, color harmony, and design unity, I find it nearly impossible to rationalize most of my individual collage compositions. As in most improvisational activity, there is sufficient value in the opportunity for mystery, surprise, discovery, and joy — plus, of course, the subjective response of each receptive observer.
 
Their Desperate State ~ J A Dixon

Their Desperate State
collage miniature on book cover by J A Dixon
5.875 x 9.25 inches
 
Purchase this artwork.

Collage En Plein Air

June 28th, 2017

“When painting and sketching plein air I sink into the landscape, an attuned witness to its mood and beauty.”
—Dianne Bersea
 

After the experience I had last September in Sault Ste Marie, I stayed attached to the particular idea that I could perfect a method of doing collage en plein air. I had no illusions about becoming a Tom Thomson or Rockwell Kent. I was just waiting for an opportunity to put my notion to the test, and I found it when the Plein Air Artists of Central Kentucky invited me to one of their summer outings.

I assumed going into the experiment that, aside from the creative challenge that faces any person working out of doors, a collage artist would need to be prepared to accommodate even the slightest of breezes. I had no coherent system for doing that and placed more of my focus on how to transport what I thought I would need on location. Fortunately, the scheduled gathering was on a day of gentle weather, so I was able to measure the potential hazard under ideal conditions. Truth be told, I still spent some time on hands and knees, searching for wayward scraps in the surrounding grass. Ideas for a more systematic approach took shape as I worked, and I also learned what would not be needed the next time out (perhaps equally important as identifying what was essential). Forgetting common white glue was a blunder, so I fell back on a desirable combination of wheat paste and gel medium. I rarely use a single adhesive anyway.

The process was more like painting with paper than what I have been used to — studio collage is more concerned with the ingredients themselves, but this was about interpreting what was visually in front of me. I was reminded of the small, square studies that an accomplished plein air painter showed me when I visited her studio in Berkeley, California. To develop the capacity to genuinely SEE what is before me is an exciting prospect (admittedly long overdue). As I move from everything being new and unfamiliar to a clearer sense of the potential for this activity, I can eventually pursue the inherent spontaneity and unexpected juxtapositions of true collage, rather than the effect of a simple, torn-paper rendering. Nevertheless, my initial emphasis must be on devising a more workable, mobile kit that guards against the qualities of wind, of which there is no degree so minimal as to not be undesirable when handling small paper ingredients. It is no surprise to me that relatively few collage artists are creating works entirely outside.
 

JWDB’s Domain ~ plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon

JWDB’s Domain
first plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
4.625 x 4.625 inches
available for purchase