Archive for the 'Applied Arts' Category

A book of knowledge, a life of imagination

Friday, August 12th, 2016

“The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
—Marcel Proust

Book of Knowledge endpapers, 1951
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Here are the illustrated endpapers and dust jacket from the 1951 edition of The Book of Knowledge set — my introduction to the concept of visual montage. These absurd juxtapositions compelled my first perceptual leap beyond the literal, and, to tell the truth, I don’t think that my innate creativity has been quite the same since. How far back can one trace these kinds of images? Did they precede collage and influence its development, or did they actually derive from the collage innovations of the early 1900s? At any rate, I was captivated by this particular painting and others like it. There is no doubt in my mind that a sweet obsession with the chaotic harmony of montage imagery began with childhood influences that came from unsung illustrators — such as the artist who came up with this extraordinary vision — long before I understood the visual mastery of a Fred Otnes, Bob Peak, or Paul Melia.

 

The Surreal Face, Part Two

Friday, 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.”

a birthday salute . . .

Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

“In 1998, Ma founded Silkroad, a nonprofit outfit that connects diverse cultures and musicians not only through Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble (for which more than 80 pieces have been commissioned), but also by supporting education and cross-cultural business and artistic partnerships.”
– NPR.org
 

Today is the 60th birthday of Yo-Yo Ma, among the world’s most impressive creative individuals. When he brought his Silk Road Ensemble to my hometown in 2013, I was inspired to begin a series of collage poems dedicated to East-West understanding. I can think of no living artist with a greater curiosity for diverse influences, or a wider versatility, fusing cultural traditions with innovative experimentation.
 

Silk Road Details
digital compilation by J A Dixon
a birthday salute to Yo-Yo Ma

Fred Otnes, 1925–2015

Monday, August 17th, 2015

“Otnes abandoned the narrative style… The move set him apart from other commercial artists of his time, and his willingness to embrace the abstract and chaotic nature of collage put him in high demand during one of the most turbulent decades of American history.”
— The Saturday Evening Post, 2015

“Fred Otnes brings to his collage paintings a classical refinement and control that makes poetry out of chance pictorial effects. He dips into early Cubist collage techniques, touches Florentine and Renaissance bases, and reverses Dadaist chaos into gorgeous homages to order.”
— Maureen Mullarkey, 2002
 

I just learned about the death of artist/illustrator Fred Otnes. I tend to focus here and in my own practice on the acknowledged masters of fine-art collage, but Mr. Otnes certainly had a greater influence on me during my formative years and during the period of my life devoted to “making it” as an independent illustrator and designer. He is rarely included among the seminal figures of 20th-century collage, but he should be. Allow me to back up a bit and reveal some of my own story.

In the 1960s I had four different art teachers in four years of high school. I resist being unkind, but each one of them was worthless. I had some talent, so there was no reason to spend time with me. I was left to fend for myself, because, apparently, it was more urgent to actively babysit the class goof-offs. By sixteen I was investigating the available correspondence coursework. No one thought to tell me about the Dayton Art Institute in the closest big city. I don’t think I even realized how desperate I’d become. What others might have viewed as crass merchandising was a Godsend for me. I responded to an advertisement from the Famous Artists School and completed the test. A representative actually paid a visit to discuss the home-study course that would provide the fundamental art instruction I’d been missing, and I begged my parents to let me give it a shot. They said, “Okay,” and I am grateful for this simple consent — access to legitimate art educators would be mine. I acknowledge now that their “Course For Talented Young People” was a marketing experiment, an attempt to leverage the successful adult course with a younger demographic. That meant nothing to me at the time. This was the school endorsed by Norman Rockwell, and I was a charter student! Although my Mom eventually had to cajole me into keeping abreast of the challenging lessons, a sea change had occurred. I was at long last formally introduced to the world of fine and applied artists. Among those that impressed me most was someone named Fred Otnes.

I was a peculiar kid who got more excited about magazine illustrations, corporate trademarks, television animation, and the Sunday comics than I did about “museum art.” The work of Otnes touched me in a way that would take decades for me to unravel. In my youth, not being able to figure out how an artist created something was usually paired with disinterest, but his work affected me in the opposite way. His graphic synthesis of images, engravings, diagrams, and language exposed a realm that I could aspire to enter. Even as an experienced pro, I continued to find his technique mystifying. I was relieved when legendary illustrator Mark English said, “I don’t even know how he did them, the mechanics of printing, photography and all the things he did to put them together.” Suffice it to say that in a profession biased against the creative explorer, Fred Otnes braved a path that few, if any, realized was there, successfully made it his own, and became one of the most distinctively recognizable, highly honored applied artists of his generation.

For many years, through the Illustrator’s Workshop, Otnes was a teacher and mentor, and, like others in the field, spent his later years expanding his personal style as a gallery artist. Whether applied to editorial or commercial use, the creations embody his profound respect for subject matter. If there is something elusive in his work that will continue to inspire me, it is this — I shall always hold in high regard the sense of “reverence” he brought to each layered plane of expression, to every choice of color or texture, to the symbolic meaning of each ingredient, and to the aesthetic harmony of the whole.
 

Otnes_Mussolini_1966

The Day Mussolini Dies . . .
Saturday Evening Post illustration by F Otnes, 1966

Society of Illustrators 16th Annual ~ cover by F Otnes

Illustrators 16
Society of Illustrators Annual cover by F Otnes, 1974

Atlantic cover by Fred Otnes, April, 1989

The Last Wise Man
Atlantic cover by F Otnes, 1989

National Geographic illustration by Fred Otnes

(title unknown)
National Geographic illustration by F Otnes (rights managed)

Piero ~ traditional collage by Fred Otnes

Piero
traditional collage by F Otnes, 1994

A Tragic Princess ~ collage painting by Fred Otnes

A Tragic Princess
collage painting by F Otnes, date unknown

Liagre ~ Fred Otnes ~ 2002

Liagre
collage painting by F Otnes, 2002

Pearental Discretion

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

“When people think about creativity, they think about artistic work — unbridled, unguided effort that leads to beautiful effect. But if you look deeper, you’ll find that some of the most inspiring art forms, such as haikus, sonatas, and religious paintings, are fraught with constraints. They are beautiful because creativity triumphed over the ‘rules.’ Constraints shape and focus problems and provide clear challenges to overcome. Creativity thrives best when constrained.”
— Marissa Ann Mayer

I have been intrigued by the recent work of participants in the Matchbook Collage Collaboration Project. Collage artists, whether working alone or in collaboration, are increasingly known for imposed restrictions — time, scale, format, or ingredients. Early on I gained a healthy respect for the power of parameters, most likely because I was educated as a designer and trained as an applied artist. Years later, this respect was amplified significantly when I witnessed my nephew create thousands of 101-word stories as an exercise in creative writing.

A big part of managing open-ended potential when initiating new work is to dig for an “inner assignment” that limits the options and sparks a creative impulse. Another good catalyst is to look around for an external constraint. I enjoy reacting to calls-to-artists that focus on an organizing concept. Even if I don’t actually apply, the triggered intuitive process can be informative. Here is a piece that I just finished in response to the exhibition theme of “Home.” In addition to framing the possibilities, it provided an opportunity for me to work more three-dimensionally, explore color scheme limitations, and further investigate the combining of found materials.
 

Pearental Discretion ~ John Andrew Dixon

Pearental Discretion
mixed-media artifact by J A Dixon
11.25 x 9.25 inches
available for purchase

A universal antidote . . .

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

“Self-consciousness is the enemy of all art, be it
acting, writing, painting, or living itself, which is
the greatest art of all.”
— Ray Bradbury

I was honored, but also thrilled, to accept my third invitation for the “New Year New Art” exhibition at our local Community Arts Center, one of the outstanding cultural institutions in Central Kentucky. The extraordinary thing about this annual show is a freedom to display, The Barretts ~ a portrait by John Andrew Dixonwithout juried appraisal, one or two pieces for which one has passion. The only restriction is that the work not be over four months old. I decided to create something around the holidays specifically for the opportunity, and, because I had just completed a difficult portrait commission in watercolor and pencil, a more personal form of expression was a welcome idea. I had used an illustrative, “news-magazine-cover” style that always has had great appeal to me, but that over the years has challenged my self confidence and repeatedly has put my perfectionist tendencies to a stress test. Fortunately, I have discovered a universal antidote for all that — collage.

For the January exhibition I wanted to do something fresh, to surprise myself, but also, as most artists prefer, to create something that would please others, that would excite an individual’s subjective response. Mixed-media collage is a medium that people find both provocative and delightful, and to which I am strongly committed, but that should be no surprise to anyone who follows this site. As a working designer and graphic artist, I return to collage on a nearly daily basis as fuel for my creative life and a potent solvent for that side of myself which continually flirts with self doubt if something might not turn out exactly as I imagine it should. All that nonsense fades away when I incite the spontaneity of this magnificent medium.

Of course, I remain captivated by the ability to make something of value from material that otherwise would be thrown away or recycled. I enjoy creating artwork that has bold visual appeal from across a room, but that also provides a depth of interest at close observation, with many stimulating details within an intimate viewing distance. “Matthew’s Touchonic Lodge” is primarily an abstract composition, and I salute two collage artists whose work I admire with my title and embedded allusions. “Apparition Rising” uses ingredients that are more whimsical, but perhaps slightly “spooky” at the same time. A phrase from a song that I like sparked the genesis of its assembly. Both are significantly larger than my typical miniature, more dimensional than a standard flat surface, and, as with all my designs, I worked intuitively with color, contrast, and the activation of space. In addition, I continue to push the effect of collage as a stand-alone treatment that does not demand the protective glass barrier. Please let me know what you think of these new works.
 

Dixon_TouchonicLodge

Matthew’s Touchonic Lodge
mixed-media collage by J A Dixon
22.5 x 20 inches, December 2014
title source: homage to artists M Rose and C Touchon
Purchase this artwork!

Dixon_ApparitionRising

Apparition Rising
mixed-media collage by J A Dixon
19.5 x 27.5 inches, December 2014
title source: from the song “Ghost Town” by J Brasfield
available for purchase

Is there no help?

Sunday, January 11th, 2015

With due respect to Francisco de Goya y Lucientes ~ John Andrew Dixon

 

Assignment: Mars

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

“I would do ‘John Carter’ again tomorrow. I’m very proud of ‘John Carter.’ Box office doesn’t validate me as a person, or as an actor.”
— Taylor Kitsch

One of the more exciting developments for any artist is the request for original artwork based on an interesting theme. Whether it is for personal or commercial purposes, the medium of collage is ideally suited for commissions, and the process can make use of visual ingredients provided by the client, if the artist sees fit to embed them. It probably goes without saying that the applied arts can be a tricky affair for some fine artists. It is important to sort out the contrasts between meeting customer expectations and following one’s own creative direction. There is also a range of differences among the types of projects that might benefit from a collage assignment, including packaging or label graphics, book cover or editorial illustration, product design, or the straightforward commissioning of a fine-art work. Clear communication up front is always the best approach, and there is nothing wrong with declining a job if client objective and artist satisfaction cannot be fulfilled at the same time.

Today’s example was created for the buyer’s presentation as a gift to an engineer closely involved in Martian exploration. When the client described the intended recipient’s passion for the subject, I swallowed hard, but my initial trepidation soon faded as the process took on a life and momentum of its own (as, thankfully, it always does for me). I shall admit, however, that it may take a little time before I replenish my red-planet stash.
 

Dixon_AssignmentMars

Assignment: Mars
collage miniature on panel by J A Dixon
8 x 10 inches
private collection

The Other Doorway

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

“Art comes out of art, and you are just another stone in the wall.”
— Richard Serra

My “Partner In All Things” has outdone herself again. She prepared an outstanding dinner last night in celebration of our grandson’s 23rd birthday, including “game stew” with rabbit and venison, plus the tastiest cherry-raspberry pie ever.cherry-raspberry pie As for my part, I completed a collage miniature for him that took off on a phrase he said to me over a year ago while unraveling some difficult life choices. I am very proud of the young man, for many reasons having nothing to do with his being a great source of encouragement as I continue to create work that puzzles a majority of art buyers. Some time ago, L T Holmes introduced her online followers to the idea of producing a collage “under the influence” of a fellow artist. I admire her for elevating it to an exercise in perceptual focus. It is good to be mindful of influences, because they are not necessarily at a level of awareness. Today’s featured image is an example of how I have come to recognize the unconscious influence of peers after a work is finished. I am not sheepish about admitting it. Inviting the artistic strengths of others to rub off a bit is why we regularly partake of the excellence in our medium. The collage artworks of my friend Connie Beale, a retailer and accomplished interior designer, touch on the irrational aspects of environments and room-like enclosures with effects that are unsettling yet also whimsical. The prolific Eugenia Loli consistently captures the surreal potential of spatial contrasts and arresting juxtapositions. Perhaps a shade of both can be found in my grandson’s gift.
 

The Other Doorway ~ J A Dixon

The Other Doorway
collage miniature by J A Dixon
6.25 x 7.75 inches
collection of J M Strock, Jr

Arbitrary Mischief

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

“As we mature, all of us learn to ‘put away childish things.’ Often, though, we do such a good job of growing up that we lose contact with our spontaneity, teaching ourselves to follow rules and habits that inhibit us from acting on our hunches and intuition.”
— W. Clement Stone

One of my earliest entries at this site made mention of the intuitive response in our process of collage creation. I have continued to ponder this idea of making visual decisions without conscious thought, especially after a lengthy discussion at the Collage Critique group in the facebook realm. There is something to be said for intuitive spontaneity with no preconceived notions, in contrast to the methodical execution of a concept. Collage as a medium is diverse enough to embody both approaches and everything in between. In my opinion, there is ample “non-thought thinking” taking place, even when no “idea” is driving the process. On the other hand, most of us can tell when a piece is struggling to be more than a mere stew of ingredients and the temptation to declare it “finished” should be resisted.

Personally, it is no longer possible for me to imagine coming to this activity without the foundation of art education, a rigorous training in graphic design, and 40 years of practice as a creative professional. I suspect that I have internalized all this to become part of an inner resource, so that when, at the conscious level, I put all of it out of mind, it still informs each spontaneous visual choice and the sense of something appearing “right” to the eye. Deciding that “an ingredient in play” has the right color, the right value, the right shape, the right texture, or the right spatial role often happens without rational awareness. That is my goal, at any rate, to keep such “non-thinking thought” in motion for as long as possible before I find myself falling back into outer rumination. It is not only a matter of aesthetics. The same phenomenon applies to thematic or symbolic associations, and the overall process of ingredient acquisition and selection that initiates and sustains the whole affair. Not that there is anything undesirable or distasteful about planning, calculation, and a deliberate methodology. Far from it. Nearly every work of art will involve some of that. It just happens to be that what I am most hoping to take place is something else — that the flow of assembly leading to a stimulating but balanced effect is the result of an artistic intention deeper than conscious decision making.
 

hand-crafted collage by John Andrew Dixon, The Collage Miniaturist

Arbitrary Mischief
collage on panel by J A Dixon
8 x 10 inches
 
Purchase this artwork!

Brass 25

Monday, 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