The Surreal Face, Part Two

August 5th, 2016

“If we adopt a surrealist viewpoint, art logically must be and naturally will tend to be surrealist, and thus be justifiable only in its ability to reveal the new, the ‘never seen,’ the parallel activity of thought and chance in consciousness.”
— Alan Gullette, 1979

You may recall, dear visitor, my June jaunt at this site into the staying power that “the surreal face” maintains in contemporary collage. I shall highlight a few more examples below. Old Mask II ~ John Stezaker ~ born 1949, Worcester, United KingdomWhen a distinct sub-genre of the medium intrigues me, as this one clearly does, I often attempt to “diagram its visual pedigree” through the history of modern art. This is not an easy task for a non-academic (nor one, perhaps, for a scholar). A “collage geneologist” can run the risk of getting sidetracked into Man Ray or René Magritte, only to question whether use of the word “surreal” is relevant at all. Does it make more sense to trace a connection from Picasso to Tatlin to Hausmann’s 1920 homage to the Russian Constructivist and thereby leap-frog André Breton’s “psychic automatism” entirely? As much as I love the history of collage, all that delineation is beyond the scope of your humble Collage Miniaturist. Pulcinella’s Secret ~ John Andrew DixonAskance ~ John Andrew DixonSuffice it to say that the gongs of Dada still reverberate. Ultimately, we are more concerned with a phenomenon that is alive and well among contemporary collage artists (and that long ago shed any musty trappings of Weimar Republic protest, Trotskyite dilettantism, or hostility toward religion). Even a cursory review of recent collage output exposes an enduring thread weaving its way through students, emerging professionals, veteran practitioners, and masters of the medium. Rather than muddy ourselves grubbing 20th-century roots, let us instead ask two important questions — What is the elusive essence of “the surreal face,” and why does its enduring appeal lack any sign of a downtrend?
 

Isabel Reitemeyer
Her consummate approach convinces me that less indeed can be more.

Robert Hugh Hunt
Fresh, intuitive, culturally aware. Robbo’s art springs from individuality.

Manu Duf
There is never a timid thing about his proficient approach to collage.

Eduardo Recife
The Brazilian illustrator sets a high standard for digital collage.

Erin Case
The Michigan-based artist is rapidly making her mark as a collage pro.

Claudia Pomowski
The versatile graphic artist is a “collage experimentalist.”

Jordana Mirski Fridman
This emerging designer/artist is “exploding” onto the medium.

Julia Lillard
The self-taught Oklahoma artist has nailed “the surreal face.”

Various and Sundry — Four Years and Counting . . .

July 29th, 2016

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
— Flannery O’Connor

It looks as though I’m stepping into my fifth year writing about collage at this blogsite, and I hope that you’ve been with me for part of that enjoyable ride.

When I look back at my wish list for Year Four, I realize, not with any surprise, that my appetite for creating collage artwork has eclipsed a sometimes equally strong desire to delve verbally into the many interesting aspects of the medium. I would like to think that I met a few of the writing goals I set for myself last summer, and, of course, my ambitions to add to that list here in this post will be dutifully curbed. At any rate, I think that the best thing to do is to break this entry into a few parts that cover various and sundry topics on my mind.

The Social Network of Collage Artists
• For at least a couple of years I have wanted to write more about the influence of social media. Nearly every day I see a collage artist defeat the potential of a sharing platform with overexposure. Some may disagree and say, “the more, the merrier.” That is not a point I care to debate, because there may be something else to highlight more important than whether or not the quality-vs-quantity consideration can fall to the wayside — the vital role of networking among artists. I am more convinced than ever that the cross-pollination and mutual support of online networks has been of significant benefit to those of us working in the medium. Crystal Neubauer has one of the more interesting blogsites by a collage artist. She touched on the topic of creative communities so well that I direct you to her short essay at ClothPaperScissors.com. Another collage artist I admire who has recently made an impression as a strong blogger is Melinda Tidwell. I like her process-oriented posts. Although more of a mixed-media artist rather than a conventional collage practitioner, the versatile Kathleen O‘Brien maintains a steady flow of what I consider “must-read” entries at her studio blogsite. Create your own list of frequent art-blog destinations and branch out to new sharing platforms (I just learned about some new artist blogs from Caterina Giglio and opened a new account at Instagram.). As the entire evolving array of networking sites weeds out the fads, imitators and clunky interfaces (finding it difficult to tolerate LinkedIn as a user), you will settle into a community of online cohorts who reinforce your daily challenges as a creative person. When you come to know that someone else is on “the same wavelength,” reach out and make contact as an authentic being behind the profile. There are rewards to be discovered!

Cheap Collage Tricks
• Collage artist Allan Bealy seems to be everywhere, but, trust me, he is no gadfly. He recently raised a topic that struck a nerve with many. There are a lot of cheap tricks appearing in the medium, and most of them are harmless, if unimaginative, but the temptation to exploit visual ingredients readily available in our culture to “objectify women” is perhaps the most repugnant. Those of us who believe we are above that sort of thing need to think more deeply about how and why we use nudes in a collage. This suggests another potential self-assignment for my coming year — a “DON’T DO THIS” post illustrating the most prevalent cheap tricks in collage. (Not that there’s anything wrong with replacing a man’s head with a vulture to carry the banner of Dada during the art movement’s centennial year.) To be honest, I have nothing against a cliche, if it “works.” Isn’t that the reason something becomes a cliche in the first place? I say go for the cheap trick if you can score in the highest percentile (anyone who thinks that’s an easy thing to is wrong). I hope to post a follow-up look at the endurance of the surreal face in collage, so stay tuned. But let’s get back to Allan’s remonstrance. The woman as sex object can be traced back to long before the rise of Madison Avenue and Larry Flynt. Don’t bite the lure, folks. Everything one needs to dabble in this unworthy stunt abounds. Nevertheless, I long have been fascinated with the exemplars of erotic minimalism and their work in contemporary collage — those who transcend the cheap tricks to achieve a fine-art impression. Add another one to my wish list for Year Five of The Collage Miniaturist.

Priorities Get the Last Word
• My wife, Dana, and I managed to get two tickets to The Seer (a new documentary portrait of Kentuckian Wendell Berry) before the Lexington screening sold out last night. It is a significant film that will become more widely available into next year, and it has my highest recommendation. Does it have anything to do with collage? Nothing at all, except for everything under the sun. If you haven’t discovered the poet, novelist, essayist, and farmer-philosopher, I have accomplished one meaningful thing with this site by inviting your interest. It was fitting that I got out of the studio and spent time at our farm. It was very hot work up on the shed roof, but pleasant to be away from all the noise (traffic, sirens, and incessant political jousting). Connecting with our rural place offered an opportunity, as it always does, to put priorities back into alignment. There is a place in the documentary when Laura Dunn (the filmmaker in voice-over) explains to Berry her motivation and how she looks “to places where there is still a remnant of togetherness, or unity, or community, of connection to the land, and I study those, because I don’t come from a place — I come from divorce …”
      “We all come from divorce!” her subject interrupts. “This is an age of divorce. Things that belong together have been taken apart. And you can’t put it all back together again. What you can do, is the only thing that you can do. You take two things that ought to be together and you put them together. Two things! Not all things.” It is his metaphor for the creative life, and a tremendously healing admonition to those of us with a tendency to become overwhelmed by the enormity of the world’s chaotic disintegration. Collage artists put things together to make something new, and often we are the ones who have taken apart discarded things to do it, but there is always a much larger phenomenon at work — one of discord vs harmony, wastefulness vs thrift, cynicism vs affection. When I return to the studio from a natural place that has responded to my care, I am in a better condition to ask myself, “To which side of the big equation are you making your contribution as an artist?”
 

Crystal Neubauer
Her blogging often touches on the complexity of a creative life.

Melinda Tidwell
Perhaps you will admire her solid abstractions as much as I do.

Kathleen O’Brien
Her art always nudges one toward a deeper sense of balance and wholeness.

Robert Hugh Hunt
Stay tuned for a continuation of my review of “the surreal face.”

Bene Rohlmann
Look ahead to my first discussion of erotic minimalism in collage.

John’s Haus of Cards ~ three series

July 22nd, 2016

“When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened. It is sad to go to pieces like this but we all have to do it.”
— Mark Twain

My card-making activity stretches back before intact memories. How early? Press me too hard and you might hear me claim that I started before learning to write my name.

Currently, my crafted greetings tend to fall into one of three categories:

Series Alpha combines scrap letters, often with traditional hand lettering arts.

Series Omega features my conventional collage technique, applied directly to the folded card.

Series Pi attaches an ultra-miniature dimensional collage to the card, like a little square-cut slice of “Pizza Pi.”
 

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

collage greeting card by J A Dixon
series Pi, collection of E E Smith

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

collage greeting card by J A Dixon
series Omega, collection of G Zeitz

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

collage greeting card by J A Dixon
series Pi, collection of J D A Wood

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

collage greeting card by J A Dixon
series Alpha, collection of T Strock

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

collage greeting card by J A Dixon
series Omega, collection of R W Breidenbach

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

collage greeting card by J A Dixon
series Pi, collection of W W Bates

Verso la grandezza!

July 15th, 2016

Color relationships, compositional dynamics, and aesthetic harmonies often bubble effortlessly to the surface as a collage artwork evolves. It remains a spontaneous wonder to me, and I am satisfied to leave any symbolic associations to others.
 
Grandezza (Bibelot 867) ~ a collage miniature by John Andrew Dixon ~ part of his Bibelot Series

Grandezza (Bibelot 867)
collage miniature by J A Dixon
6 x 8 inches
available for purchase

Myrmidons

July 8th, 2016

The flow of ingredient assembly leading to a provocative but balanced effect is the result of an artistic urge deeper than conscious decision making.
 
Myrmidons ~ a collage miniature by John Andrew Dixon

Myrmidons
collage miniature by J A Dixon
4.8125 x 6.9375 inches
 
Purchase this artwork.

many years . . . many cards

July 3rd, 2016

I cannot remember when I started mailing out my collage miniatures, but it was an awfully long time ago!

You are welcome to browse my Haus of Cards archive.
 

Two California-Bound Greetings
collage miniature cards by J A Dixon
(click each to view larger)

Collage Miniature Collaboration Number Five

June 26th, 2016

“I love improvisation. You can’t blame it on the writers. You can’t blame it on direction. You can’t blame it on the camera guy… It’s you. You’re on. You’ve got to do it, and you either sink or swim with what you’ve got.”
— Jonathan Winters

“The thing about improvisation is that it’s not about what you say. It’s listening to what other people say. It’s about what you hear.”
— Paul Merton
 

Two of the things that distinguish the artwork of Mary Madelyn Carney are keen visual contrasts and an imaginative approach to choosing ingredients. Naturally, she brings these qualities into her collage collaborations, so I wanted to send her a couple of bold “starts” on book covers that might play to her strengths. In hindsight, perhaps I did not provide her as much “elbow room” as the ones she sent me. Collage collaboration is quite a bit like two actors doing a scene. The key is to enhance each other’s performance, and to avoid stepping on lines or physically upstaging the partner. Actually, it is even more like live improvisation, especially when it is understood that the result will be shared publicly, because the success of a collaboration depends on how well you “listen,” and very little on imposing your own thing.

I was delighted with the way that Mary responded. Her intuitive decisions blended skillful symbolic fusions with an evident personal quality, and the aesthetic nuances were superb. That the two of us might interact on the same “wavelength” was first suggested to me some time ago by veteran collaborator Allan Bealy, but I had not anticipated just how conscientious she would be with our joint venture. We may have to join forces again for another “jam session.”
 

A collage miniature collaboration by John Andrew Dixon and Mary Madelyn Carney

Robin’s Chest
a collage collaboration by J A Dixon and M M Carney
(start by Dixon, finish by Carney)
5 x 7 inches, collection of M M Carney

A collage miniature collaboration by John Andrew Dixon and Mary Madelyn Carney

Pickling My Husband
a collage collaboration by J A Dixon and M M Carney
(start by Dixon, finish by Carney)
5 x 7 inches, collection of J A Dixon

Merely a metabolic event?

June 19th, 2016

“I’m a ‘what if’ person. I have always felt that failure was a completely underrated experience.”
– Kevin Costner

Process is everything with some artists, and I respectfully get that. Experimental spontaneity within the small format is a vital and meaningful aspect of my art, but when I scale up for a larger work, I apply that experience and insight toward an end result — something more planned, with the intention to provoke a positive response in another — an agreeable product, if you will. So, what about the individual artwork that has “merely” contributed to the overall creative metabolism of an artistic investigation, and, as a stand-alone work, is little more than a “glorious failure,” in the final analysis?

I wish I knew how to answer that dangling question. Obviously, not every collage “sketch” is significant in its own right, but if the potential exists for it to engage a particular person, and that person wants to observe it repeatedly, to discover if it has a few secrets others have missed — how can anyone diminish its intrinsic value?

Dixon_Metabolism

Metabolism
collage miniature by J A Dixon
7.375 x 9.5 inches
 
Purchase this artwork.

Dada and the Surreal Face in Contemporary Collage

June 12th, 2016

“Nobody knows, and it is now too late to discover, who invented that most succinct of all art movement names.”
— Robert Hughes

“Style is not to be trusted.”
— Milton Glaser
 

As most of you know, 2016 marks the centennial of the art movement known as Dada. Although credit for originating collage is customarily granted to the Cubists, nobody shaped the emerging medium as powerfully as early 20th-Century Dadaists and their successors, the Surrealists. Very few traditions or conceptual approaches in contemporary collage have not navigated the tributaries they established, in spite of the fact that each of these artistic “schools of thought” had a relatively short apex. Much continues to be said and written about the catalytic Hugo Ball and the seismic effect after he opened Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire with Emmy Hennings in February, 1916. Most of the work still being created under the banner of collage has not escaped the hundred-year shadow of inherent sensibilities unleashed on modern art by those who first uttered “Dada!” — spontaneity, chance, irreverence, consternation, and, perhaps foremost, a rejectionist posture. Without a doubt, most collage artists of our time would disagree with Ball’s exhortation to “burn all libraries and allow to remain only that which everyone knows by heart.” Nevertheless, they might indeed relate to his conclusion that “this humiliating age has not succeeded in winning our respect.”

Warsaw-based designer/educator and blogger Annę Kłos describes Dada as a world view, that by its very nature could not be homogeneous, and that the seminal Merz of Kurt Schwitters was manifest within the context of internal incompatibilities. For the most part, however, many artists now tend to lump together the Dadaists, and emulate their visual and intellectual departures as an encompassing genre at best and a mere “style” at worst. — Time out. — This is when I grab myself by the scruff of the neck to keep from going off on an unnecessary tangent. My purpose is to share an ongoing fascination with how Dada continues to influence those of us working in the medium today. Permit me to highlight one particular “subject” that shows no sign of diminishing — the enduring exploration of the Surreal Face. René Magritte’s Le fils de l’homme immediately comes to mind (or his much earlier cover image for André Breton’s Qu’est-ce que le surréalisme?). One must follow their roots to Dada, and to the photomontages of Raoul Hausmann and Hannah Höch, (or her The Strong Guys, or his Tatlin at Home). For me, nothing exemplifies the unsettling, elusive qualities of the Dada phenomenon better than when a contemporary collage virtuoso captures that inexpressible twist of incongruity and aesthetic finesse with a surreal take on the human head. Just when I think there is nothing more to be tapped, I appreciate anew how inexhaustible this “renewable resource” can be.
 

Flore Kunst
From her extraordinary “sketchbook” (Page 1).

Katrien De Blauwer
From her Loin Series. Does anyone else do more with less?

Charles Wilkin
“For me clarity and relief is found solely through the process itself.”

Peggy Despres
The prolific Peggy Pop will find the sweet spot.

Pascal Verzijl
Never Saw It Coming (Did Dadaists see digital collage coming?)

Matthew Rose
My Advice (What would I actually give to get his advice?)

a surreal face by J Stezaker

John Stezaker
“It sometimes feels like I am cutting though flesh.”

Collage Miniature Collaboration Number Four

June 5th, 2016

“I like the idea of collaboration. It pushes you. It’s a richer experience…”
— Frank Gehry

There is something appealing about the way Berlin artist Stefan Kraft balances exceptional liveliness with aesthetic restraint in his work. I was pleased when he wanted to join forces for my second international collaboration. I consider myself relatively new to the start/finish approach, but Stefan had not previously participated in this type of collaborative exercise, so I am flattered that he asked me. I am eager to see what he does with a couple of my “starts” on their way to Germany. Featured here is how I completed the ones he sent to me first.
 

A collage miniature collaboration by John Andrew Dixon and Stefan Kraft

Untitled (ARROWS)
a collage miniature collaboration by J A Dixon and S Kraft
(start by Kraft, finish by Dixon)
5 x 7 inches, collection of J A Dixon

A collage miniature collaboration by John Andrew Dixon and Stefan Kraft

Untitled (SEVEN)
a collage miniature collaboration by J A Dixon and S Kraft
(start by Kraft, finish by Dixon)
5 x 7 inches, collection of S Kraft

Merz de la Mer

May 29th, 2016

This piece has been hanging in the studio long enough to qualify for inclusion at this site. There is always something to be learned from looking at a previous work, especially when convinced that one would not or could not execute it precisely in the same way.
 
Merz de la Mer ~ a collage with mixed media by John Andrew Dixon

Merz de la Mer
collage with mixed media by J A Dixon
19 x 15 inches
 
Purchase this framed artwork.