Synthesis — six details for study

January 31st, 2021

“Great performers focus on what they are doing, and nothing else…They let it happen, let it go. They couldn’t care less about the results.”
— John Eliot

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
– Viktor E Frankl
 

Completion brings varied doses of relief, disappointment, astonishment, regret, and pride. To sort them out, it is beneficial to self-assign the task of tight scrutiny while a measure of internal evaluation is front of mind. It is sometimes interesting to experience a perceptible transition from “hate it” to “that ain’t bad” — or from “wow, cool” to “perhaps if I had instead.”

With Synthesis, I found that I didn’t need for a state of high criticism to slowly diminish. This time around, a sense of broad satisfaction could not be denied. Even so, I undertook my customary ritual of zoomed-in photo crops, looking for strengths and weaknesses before the full aura of the creative process had faded. The handy smartphone camera makes for an uncomplicated post-mortem examination. Self-directed questions don’t always have answers, but it is important to ask them anyway. Have you made effective use of your ingredients? Did you achieve your hoped for balance of design logic and intuitive spontaneity? Is there a coherence when you compare the overall impression from a distance and the up-close, microcosmic structure? Were your original aesthetic goals for a well-composed yet “maximalist” effect fulfilled?
 

   

   

   

Synthesis (six details for study)
collage on canvas by J A Dixon
48 x 36 inches
available for purchase

A Creative Synthesis Revealed

January 29th, 2021

“Improvising is the closest thing I do to meditation. I have to respond honestly to what’s happening in the music.”
— Michelle Dorrance

“Order is not enough. You can’t just be stable, and secure, and unchanging, because there are still vital and important new things to be learned. Nonetheless, chaos can be too much. You can’t long tolerate being swamped and overwhelmed beyond your capacity to cope while you are learning what you still need to know. Thus, you need to place one foot in what you have mastered and understood and the other in what you are currently exploring and mastering.”
— Jordan B Peterson
 

The year culminated in my largest collage artwork so far. I’m pleased to announce its acceptance as part of REVEAL, a new display of large-scale, two-dimensional pieces in the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea. All of us might point to a milestone achievement. It can be the most effortless and the most challenging thing we’ve ever done, both at the same time.

Buried in a twelve-month cycle of worldwide catastrophe are countless stories to be told by artists who crossed the treacherous, often surreal territory of 2020. Perhaps they are less significant than what so many others endured, often within tragic circumstances, but creative people have had to face unprecedented disruptions like everyone. Restrictions under pandemic transformed many aspects of individual practices. I am very fortunate to have been able to continue working in the same isolated way characteristic of my long tenure from a home-based studio. Our regional plein air group managed to stay active. Artistic cross pollination flourished online. Opportunities for me to show art remained intact — all because many persevered to organize exhibitions that might have been conveniently postponed or canceled. Each person on that list overcame hurdles to make things happen, and to develop virtual adjuncts that held risks to a minimum. Amid the frustrating chaos, there are many things for which to be thankful.

As I’ve described here before, my experimental miniatures have been the basis for larger works on canvas. Decades of design decisions and influences enable my work to be intuitive in process. In late 2020, I challenged myself to take what I’ve discovered with explorations at a smaller scale and to formalize it as a merger of design structure and pure spontaneity. Within a large format, I can focus on a counterbalance of both. Synthesis is an example of this fusion.

For me, collage abstraction is about the creative tension between order and chaos, comparable to how a soloist elaborates extemporaneously on a written melody. The characteristics of the paper ingredients — color, value, shape, line, texture — serve as the notes, rests, and rhythms of the composition. Thumbnail studies represent the evolution of a “manuscript,” analogous to musical notation, which then allows for an improvisational “performance.” But unlike a live concert, the visual artist can choose to return to a spontaneous expression and make deliberate refinements before declaring a piece “finished.” If so, it becomes similar to layering or enhancing tracks in a recording studio as the last step in a process. My bringing a large artwork to completion in this manner stands in contrast to the making of collage miniatures. There is a strong connection between the two rituals that I shall continue to explore.
 

Synthesis
collage on canvas by J A Dixon
48 x 36 inches
available for purchase

Best in Show: Sycamore Reach

January 7th, 2021

The sun was setting. Late November light penetrated the very top of a tall sycamore. It looked as if the tree was reaching up into the deep blue sky of autumn to capture the final rays.

The email notice stunned me for a moment. Sycamore Reach, my latest example of “painting nature with paper,” had been chosen for a top local prize. I knew I’d worked at the pinnacle of my abilities, and my fingers were crossed that it might be well received, but it was an unexpected thrill nonetheless. My surprise soon gave way to satisfaction, and I was left with the fullness of gratitude — a good place to be left.

Paint by Nature: Trees was a stimulating opportunity to bring into the studio everything that I learned from another season of plein-air outings. Using photos I took with a smartphone, my subject would be a grand American Sycamore that inhabits the median of Lafayete Parkway in Lexington. I’d looked at a few arboreal candidates during my research trip to the city, including a majestic Chinkapin Oak. There wasn’t much direct illumination left when I got to the sycamore, my last destination. The lighting turned out to be ideal for a reference image.

It’s a privilege to dedicate my creative effort to promoting the important role of trees and the priorities of Live Green Lexington. My appreciation to Jeanette Tesmer, Alice Hilton, plus everyone who helped organize this nature-inspired arts event — and especially to show judge Leah Castleman, an art educator, avid painter, and outdoors enthusiast.

The exhibition is located in the upstairs community gallery of the Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center through Friday, February 26, but the center is closed “until further notice due to red zone status of COVID-19.” You’re invited to take a Virtual Tour of the show, and think of me when you vote for People’s Choice!
 

Sycamore Reach
mixed media collage by J A Dixon
8 x 10.75 inches

•  S O L D

December 31st, 2020

2020 JOURNAL:
Looking at my final experiment of the year while developing a large work on canvas.

Did we leave 2020 better than we found it? Each individual will decide.
 

Untitled (dark4x)
collage experiment by J A Dixon
7 x 5 inches

The surreal meaning of Christmas

December 25th, 2020

 

Natal Homage
collage greeting by J A Dixon
private collection

Three fourth-quarter miniatures

December 20th, 2020

 
collage

Her Pensive Nights
collage miniature by J A Dixon
8 x 8.375 inches

 
collage experiment conducted during the first personal collage workshop with Marty Strock

Untitled (smooch)
collage experiment by J A Dixon
7.1875 x 7.1875 inches

 
collage

Tiny Medicine
collage miniature by J A Dixon
4.75 x 4.75 inches

Sixth Chapter: A virtual field trip for youngsters . . .

August 22nd, 2020

 

 
“You can decide that you want your art to be very close, exacting, and faithful to the scene, or you can just let nature charge your imagination, and you just go from there.”
from our video “ridealong”
 

It turned out to be one of the more memorable days of the summer — not just another opportunity to take my collage making to a natural place, but a collaborative effort with my friend Brandon Long from Art Center of the Bluegrass. Responding to the new demands of the era, he was in the middle of organizing a virtual field trip to dovetail with our annual En Plein Air exhibition. He wants to encourage youngsters to create collage artwork out of doors, so he asked me if I would be the subject of a short video. Our local PAACK had already scheduled an event at Central Kentucky Wildlife Refuge, but, with the likelihood of rain, the gathering had been postponed earlier that morning. Brandon and I felt lucky, and we pushed ahead with the outing anyway. We were successful in avoiding the poison ivy and pulling off our little production at the edge of Island Pond. Not much later, a thunderstorm sent me skedaddling beneath a nearby shelter. Somehow, I came away with a good start on a miniature that I could finish in the studio. My goal has always been to spend less time with the indoor follow-up than I spend on location. Sometimes it happens, but usually I need a 50/50 time ratio between site and studio to bring something to a satisfactory resolution. There are artists who would not consider that a legitimate plein-air solution. It’s a standard limitation that we use for our Central Kentucky group. At any rate, I find the entire process to be personally rewarding. If I keep doing this, I think that basically I’ll get to where I can complete something in the field. Meanwhile, the challenge is to “paint with paper,” capturing the essence of a viewscape on site, and then to avoid messing that up with my finishing touches.

Creating Collage “En Plein Air”

 

Before a Storm
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
7.5 x 7.8125 inches
available for purchase

Forgot to Quit (diptych 25-17)

August 2nd, 2020

 

Forgot to Quit (diptych 25-17)
collage miniatures by J A Dixon
1.9375 x 1.9375 inches each
left square | right square
available for purchase
 
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Forgot to Hold Her (diptych 23)

August 1st, 2020

 

Forgot to Hold Her (diptych 23)
collage miniatures by J A Dixon
1.9375 x 1.9375 inches each
left square | right square
available for purchase
 
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Forgot to Give a Damn (diptych 1161)

July 31st, 2020

 

Forgot to Give a Damn (diptych 1161)
collage miniatures by J A Dixon
1.875 x 1.875 inches each
left square | right square
available for purchase
 
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Forgot to Notice Leaves (diptych 96)

July 30th, 2020

 

Forgot to Notice Leaves (diptych 96)
collage miniatures by J A Dixon
1.875 x 1.875 inches each
left square | right square
available for purchase
 
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