All Things Collage: Year Two

July 31st, 2014

“When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.”
— Mark Twain

“Take what you can,
All you can carry.
Take what you can,
And leave your thoughts behind.”
— Tom Petty

“If everything you do must be measured against the good opinion of everyone else, what happens to your good opinion of yourself?”
— Wayne W Dyer

Hmmm . . . just realized that my line-up of quotations above might seem odd to some of you. At any rate, they capture a bit of what is on my mind, as I begin to reflect on a couple years of remarks about collage at this blogsite.

Mombo_MotherOfTheArtistLike many others, I spend prayerful time caring for a parent with progressive dementia. The other day I was trying to explain to my mother, in terms she could appreciate, my burning desire to make collage artwork, and, touching on her prevailing sense of confusion, talked about my creative activity as a way to bring some kind of harmony out of the chaotic stream of disorder that dominates so much of current stimuli in our daily lives. It brought to my awareness the motivation at the center of what I love to do, but also fell short of the clarity for which I was reaching. Over the next year, I hope to find better words which get to the heart of that idea — how I take what I can carry into a process that leaves thoughts behind, a kind of sweet madness that offers explanations difficult for me to achieve any other way. Of course, this is not the only approach to the medium. I hope to profile more collage artists who use a different methodology than my own — the extraordinary minimalists, the dedicated aestheticians, and those who continue to harness a kind of thoughtful irrationality that keeps me in awe.

I just looked over my previous comments after a full year of blogging, and, as a result, I feel the need to temper my ambitions going into year three, but that is not my nature. There are too many interesting things to explore in the dynamic world of contemporary collage. One of them is the continued explosion of collaboration. Another is the influence of social networks. Nearly every day I see an artist defeat the purpose of the platform with overexposure, failing to keep the age-old quality-vs-quantity issue in balance. One of my goals for the coming year is to take a closer look at how the ease of internet sharing affects the challenge of striking an equilibrium between the imperative to follow one’s passion without regard for opinion and the practical aspects of seeking recognition and approval from others. As most of you already know, it is not an easy task to walk that tightrope.

And one more thing, dear visitor. Please let me know what I can do to make this site more interactive as a unique forum for discussion. Meanwhile, you can count on me to observe, write, and make more art. Stop back again!
 

Untitled (flutter)
collage experiment by J A Dixon
9 x 11 inches
not for sale

Even more Haus of Cards

July 23rd, 2014

“Somebody said once or wrote once: ‘We’re all of us children in a vast kindergarten trying to spell God’s name with the wrong alphabet blocks!’”
― Tennessee Williams, Suddenly Last Summer

As is true with many graphic artists, I have been fascinated by letterforms since childhood. The first time I rendered the word “ICE” with frozen encrustations, it felt like a rite of passage for me. One of the reasons I shunned store-bought greeting cards in favor of my hand-crafted versions was to indulge a love affair with custom lettering. As collage miniatures began to dominate the character of my card making, the alphabet remained a key part of the visual vocabulary. As my enthusiasm for the medium of collage continued to expand, symbolic language became a re-occurring, vital ingredient in nearly all my artistic compositions.

 

collage miniature by J A Dixon
collection of A D Kenner

collage miniature by J A Dixon
collection of C Dixon

collage miniature by J A Dixon
collection of D R Dixon

collage miniature by J A Dixon
collection of E Debarone

collage miniature by J A Dixon
collection of R W Breidenbach

a message to Aunt Erma, 1964

July 16th, 2014

“Have been real bad about not writing.”
—Miles, Jr.

My collage on 50-year-old postcard arrived in Wales and it was posted to the ABAD site today. The reverse of the vintage card is probably more interesting than my improvisation on the image side. A message from Miles, Jr. (sitting in the Louvre, resting feet more tired than eyes) was written on July 10th and received an Army Air Force postmark on July 13th. Apparently his Aunt Erma was in the hospital — a nephew reaching out to “the only family person who knows these places.” Whether or not she ever came home is unknown, but we can only imagine that the card from Paris evoked for her more than a few memories of Europe, the bitter as well as the sweet.
 

ABAD 2014 (reverse of vintage postcard substrate)
collage on 1964 postcard by J A Dixon
6 x 4 inches, not for sale

Feminine Fusion

July 11th, 2014

“Would you stay if she promised you heaven?”
— Stevie Nicks

One cannot have too many influences. I am like the musician who must hear many new notes each day. Hundreds of collage images pass before my eyeballs every week, but there are times when the best catalyst is a younger version of oneself. Much can be learned by reviewing former decisions or puzzling out past intuitions. Perhaps it is all a circular mystery. No doubt the Muse would not have it any other way.
 

Dixon_FeminineFusion

Feminine Fusion
collage miniature by J A Dixon
collection of B Griffin

Toll Taker

July 7th, 2014

With my birthday more than two months behind me, age 62 is now feeling old hat, but I have not forgotten about the gift from Ted Tollefson. His collage on beer coaster sparked a strong desire to reciprocate. Toll Taker is the result, and one could say I was “under the influence” of his cool style. It shall be sent it to him promptly with a couple more surprises.
 

Toll Taker
collage on Lore Brewing coaster
J A Dixon, 4 x 4 inches
collection of T Tollefson

A Book About Death ~ Wales

July 3rd, 2014

“The project has become The Book About Living.
—Sonja Benskin Mesher

Ray Johnson, the original “most famous unknown artist in the world,” produced his A Book About Death during the years 1963 to 1965. The pages were randomly mailed and offered for sale. Complete copies were compiled by a rare few. Johnson was a significant bridge between the groundbreaking work of Schwitters, the sensibilities of Cornell, and the emergence of what would become the most widely recognizable features of Pop Art. He was highly influential in the Mail Art, Installation Art, and Performance Art movements, as well as late 20th-century neo-Dadaist trends.

Since 2008, Paris-based Matthew Rose has actively aroused a worldwide interest and vitality that perpetuates the legacy of A Book About Death. A new call to artists from the Royal Cambrian Academy in Wales and the full history of ABAD can be studied at this site. An exhibition at MoMA Machynlleth planned for later this year will include a collage from me (featured below, produced on a 50-year-old postcard). An online archive will share details of the exhibition and record artworks as they come in. Participate! You have until September 30th to mail your contribution.
 

ABAD 2014
collage on 1964 postcard by J A Dixon
6 x 4 inches, not for sale

Another journal experiment

June 27th, 2014

 

Untitled (Speak No Evil)
collage experiment by J A Dixon
7.5 x 11.5 inches

“Oh, the Places You’ll Go”

June 20th, 2014

“Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.”
— Twyla Tharp

Places to go, ways to travel, and flights of fancy . . . A series of local exhibitions at the Boyle County Public Library’s Mahan Gallery has been an effective catalyst for me to create new pieces based on unifying themes. I have recently experienced mixed emotions about the ubiquity of vintage material in contemporary collage, but the topic of this show had me hunting through my morgue of old postcards and other relics to produce a pair of artworks on canvas. Yes, we all dig the instant “gravitas” of using old stuff, but will art historians say we copped out, if we do not accept the challenge of working with ingredients from our own present-day culture? I am just musing about the state of the medium, not any artist in particular. I see a hundred or more collage artworks posted online each week that rely exclusively on 20th-century material, and much of it seems stuck in a bygone avant-garde style. It is important for all of us to keep in mind that the Dada artists so widely emulated worked with material from their own time. Perhaps the opportune approach is to blend it all together, past and present. As post-centennial collage artists, we also owe each other a bit more constructive criticism than I currently observe. As the details below illustrate, I have absolutely nothing against using vintage material. I think that artists such as Hope Kroll or Fred Free or Matthew Rose (to offer only three examples) are creating some of the more exceptional work in the medium. On the other hand, there are many who seem to be using it as a crutch, over-relying on the antique impression of the ingredient material itself, rather than the juxtapositional synergy or overall aesthetic effect.

As the artworks for “Places” also demonstrate, I continue my effort to liberate a collage from the traditional glass barrier. To do so, it is necessary to find a proper level of protective sealant to balance visual appeal and durability. I prefer to avoid an overly polymerized impression with a finished surface. Because I primarily work with found material, I have had to learn which ingredients can handle direct exposure (for an effect similar to the painted surface). Nevertheless, some are simply too fragile and will always require a safe abode under glass.
 

 

left: Here and There (detail)
right: Now and Then (detail)
two collage artworks on canvas by J A Dixon
12 x 12 inches, available for purchase
currently on display at Mahan Gallery
Boyle County Public Library, Danville, Kentucky
reception: Monday, June 23rd, 6:30 pm

Many Waters Under Heaven

June 13th, 2014

“Put stardom and success aside and just go out and do it. It’s like painting. Don’t talk about it. Or, like writing. Put it down.”
— Jonathan Winters

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”
— Andy Warhol

After learning about a call for entries on the theme of “water,” at the new First Southern Community Arts Center in nearby Stanford, Kentucky, I leaped at the theme with a minimum of thought or calculation. I was overdue for the opportunity to create a larger piece, and it was good for me to push aside all the internal questions and mental gyrations which too often intrude on the genesis of a new work or new point of public contact. I mixed a batch of wheat paste, added a stabilizing measure of white glue plus acrylic medium, and dug into my stash of nature images. Hand manipulation of the surface with wet, rectilinear ingredients became an almost papier-mâché-like process that soon involved shapes of pure color. A sort of “low-tech pixelization” began to suggest the gentle clash of primeval and present — a Garden of Eden sweeping forward to the modern digital world.

When I delivered my artwork to the gallery and was assisted by a local artist and volunteer, Roni Gilpin, I could not have been treated better. Chasing my passion for collage, meeting pleasant people, and breaking into a new venue — I must remind myself from time to time that this is what it’s all about. I am excited about today’s artist reception, 4 to 7 pm (in downtown Stanford, adjacent to the superb Bluebird Cafe). Family is visiting from Davis, California, and everything is shaping up for an exceptional evening!
 

 

Many Waters Under Heaven
mixed media collage
by J A Dixon
33 x 11.25 inches
available for purchase

Roni “Sister” Gilpin
volunteering at
First Southern
Community Arts
Center

Brass 25

June 9th, 2014

“We need a little confusion.”
— Neil Gaiman

The Great American Brass Band Festival’s milestone 25th event is now in the archives. The finale was one of the most satisfying concerts in the history of the Kentucky festival. My appreciation goes to those who made it all happen one more time! I am pleased to have played a small part.

When I was first approached about lending my creative experience to the effort, I pitched the idea of a traditional collage to mark the 25th, using scraps from memorabilia of the last quarter century. A decision was made to go a different direction, but I could not put the idea aside. The result is “Brass 25,” a tribute to my community’s exceptional contribution to the American musical and cultural scene.

Is “commemorative collage” art? Perhaps not. Some might make the case that no example of the medium has approached “high art.” In my opinion, such a viewpoint fails to consider the 100-year impact that the medium has had on our visual landscape and the evolution of our aesthetic perceptions. It neglects the seminal role of Schwitters, Höch, Cornell, Kolář, and others. For me, the core relationship between mundane material and the art of collage transmits a unifying principle. When the remnants of ordinary life are physically re-purposed to resolve a unique compositional harmony, the culminating artifact can achieve a transcendent tone and offer a shared experience with each participating observer. If that is not art, stripped of elitist notions, then what is?

Brass 25
commemorative collage by J A Dixon
17.5 x 23.5 inches
available for purchase

Messages and Memories

June 7th, 2014

 

Microcosmic Message
collage artifact by J A Dixon
14 x 17 inches

•  S O L D

Selective Memory
mixed media collage by J A Dixon
20 x 16 inches

•  S O L D