Archive for the 'Artists/Collage' Category

With a whole bunch o’ help from my friends . . .

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019

“While many modern-day album artworks tend to favor strict minimalism, The Beatles make a serious case for going bold and wacky without any type of restraint.”
— Nicole Singh
 

As promised, I’m devoting an entry to the project that kept me out of the collage studio for at least a dozen weeks. I shall beg your forgiveness at the outset for delving into the details of a digital process. Not only has this site kept a seven-year focus on traditional cut-and-glue techniques, but I haven’t indulged the applied-arts side of my multiple personality as a graphic artist. I’m going to depart from that now — perhaps just this once — because it’s been an extraordinary circumstance for me, and a few of you may find the description worthwhile. At any rate, I encourage everyone to read Patrick Roefflaer’s article for a story that is genuinely more interesting than mine!

Not so long ago, a prominent local musician and former brass band director took me aside at an exhibition opening. Based on her recognition of my fondness for collage, she asked me if I would take on a visual homage to the Sgt. Pepper’s album cover design. The purpose would be to mark the 30th production of the Great American Brass Band Festival, held each June in our hometown of Danville, Kentucky. It had always been her dream to link the announcement of her retirement at the annual weekend of concerts to the classic album, with a medley of tunes arranged for brass instruments. Sadly, a severe health crisis had forced her early retirement before that could happen, but she preserved hope that a multi-discipline Beatles tribute for the festival’s upcoming milestone might happen in 2019.

I’d already designed nine posters during the festival’s lifespan. To create a tenth was tempting, and this idea had a barbed hook. It really snagged me. My previous experience offered no sense of proportion about the magnitude of time to which I was committing myself when I said, “Sure.” The first obstacle was whether we were allowed to do it at all. we soon discovered that an enormous number of entities had made a visual salute to the famous image over the past fifty years, and that it had already become a ritual of pop culture, in spite of the complexities involved. There’s even a website that shows over a hundred previous parodies. Before long, we had mutually decided that it might as well be our local festival’s turn to pay homage.

The assignment was now in my lap, and I was overwhelmed with a desire to do it justice and exceed expectations. I found inspiration in filmmakers who I admired (like John Frankenheimer or Robert Altman), because their time-consuming approach would be required for what I’d bitten off. I wanted to bring the same passion, attention to detail, and collaborative leadership to my effort. I ended up shelving all other priorities and putting a ludicrous amount of time into the project, but not without the help of many partners. First and foremost was my wife, Dana, who jumped in head first to play a key part in nearly every aspect of the creative enterprise. After getting advice from an experienced model railroader, she began crafting a miniature flower garden to display the festival acronym for a mandatory foreground allusion. More than once, she would come back to the unfinished artifact to find that its spongy base had “spit out” some of the “flowers.”

The rest of it hinged on two important elements — whether we could pull together our own “Fab Four,” and then surround them with a crowd of numerous figures. It was determined that the Beatles would be “represented” by the previous directors of the Advocate Brass Band, a Golden-Age-style band associated with every festival. Their initial formation to color a political rally in 1989 was a direct influence on the organizing of the annual event itself. This made perfect sense because the foursome would include the festival’s pair of co-founders and their band uniform jackets, although not psychedelic, would be an effective visual reference point. We immediately knew that some digital sleight of hand would be called for, since only two of the four were locally present. One was near a university town many counties away, and the fourth had moved to a distant state. It took lots of coordination to solve that equation, and we pulled it off with the crucial participation of my friend, photography pro Bill Griffin, who took time away from his day job of wealth management. In keeping with the guiding theme of “a little help from our friends,” getting all the ingredients for the poster art to coalesce would demand the magnanimous assistance of others — furnishing space, props, and standing in at our photo shoot, plus image research and acquisition.

At a certain point, I began to focus on researching the background “crowd of fans,” to honor the countless performers, organizers, sponsors, staff, and volunteers who made three decades of festivals possible. It became a daunting, complicated task of culling and selection. I realized that the poster would be the size of a picnic table if everyone who deserved to be on it were included. The original setup by Jann Haworth and Peter Blake was peopled with life-size, hand-tinted cut-outs that imposed a certain physical limitation, and it was fabricated within two weeks. A virtual approach was too open-ended for comfort. There was a limit to how methodical I could become in choosing ingredients for the montage of faces. The solution was to approach it more intuitively, as I would any of my “maximalist” works.

All collage art worthy of the name is irrational at some level, and one of the reasons the original Beatles art is so iconic is the sheer illogic of it. And so, for us, that idea led to a few incongruous personalities, such as Carrie Nation and Howdy Doody. The final assembly was challenging, painstaking, rewarding, and fun, all at the same time. After refining the list of candidates and compiling the source files, each master image had to be sillouetted, retouched, color balanced, and optimized for inclusion. It seemed like the rearranging would never end before every element of the composition appeared to “belong.” I shall confess that I do not possess a powerhouse workstation. The increasing quantity of digital layers in Photoshop had to be continuously merged to prevent the composite file from paralyzing my Macintosh. Even so, it would often exceed 500 MB in size. I tried to save and back up as often as feasible without breaking stride, but there were periodic freezes that would result in “three steps forward and two steps back.”

There should be no misunderstanding, however. The marathon endeavor was punctuated by many fortunate, often astonishing developments. One of our “Fab Four” individuals made a vital connection with an outstanding photographer in Athens, Georgia, who went the extra yard in matching my parameters for an important superimposition of the black-suited Dr Foreman. He also shot an antique bass drum to add another convincing Sgt Pepper’s touch — the same one that appeared on the festival’s first poster in 1990, and it still had the original, hand-painted emblem! Dana took the lead in preparing the poster “mechanical” for offset production, as she always has done for Dixon Design. She also knocked one out of the park during the solicitation of bids. As a contribution to the landmark production, Mike Abbott of Thoroughbred Printing agreed to produce the job at cost, and spent an hour with the press operator, Dana, and me, making sure we were satisfied with the quality.

Our closing duty was to devise a printable key for identifying all the individuals and design elements. My original idea of including a longer “blurb” for each line item quickly became far-fetched when producing the abbreviated version dragged on. By the time we declared it done, the “labor of love” vibe had been exhausted. There wasn’t much love left in the air, and I just wanted all of it to hit the street, which it has, of course, and the positive response has been even more than I anticipated.

This post is already far too long, so I won’t get started on my Eva Marie Saint story, but I need to explain why we included a picture of the creators, and then I’ll finish up on an appropriate collage note. I was adamant that I would not fall prey to the Hitchcock Urge. I had no interest in, nor justification for, inserting myself, since I was making so many brutal choices to leave others on the cutting room floor. Dana was in total agreement, but the team of people who helped with the proofing process took an opposing viewpoint. Their collective drum beat was that the final rendition must include us! You can see that we eventually waved the white flag and stuck a small portrait on top of the Bourbon barrel.

A tiny figure seated at a kitchen table was provided by the Great American Dollhouse Museum as a nod to the Shirley Temple doll in the original composition, which also featured a Madame Tussauds wax figure of Sonny Liston on the opposite side. I knew there had to be a way to include Kentucky’s own Muhammed Ali in our version. Rather than take unavailable time to solicit permission to use a photograph that might get buried in the sea of faces, I turned to my friend Robert Hugh Hunt, who kindly let us insert the extraordinary collage portrait from his 20th Century Icons series!

Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends!
 

30th GABBF Poster
digital homage by Dana and John A Dixon
24 x 36 inches
Purchase one now! 
 
Online order page includes a printable key to identification, 
plus a ‘special thank you’ to all our essential collaborators!

Go on, get entangled!

Saturday, May 18th, 2019

“Quantum entanglement is damn hard to explain in layman’s terms. Not because entanglement is complicated — it isn’t — but because entanglement is so dangerously close to some concepts we are familiar with in the classical world, like communication and common-cause correlation. And because it’s so close to these familiar concepts, it’s horribly easy to jump to the conclusion that entanglement is “like” one of these. But the whole point — the whole thing that makes entanglement uniquely quantum and interesting — is that entanglement isn’t like either of these things.”
— Paul Mainwood
 

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such delight in a person wanting to own and live with one of my collage artworks, and that’s what made the live auction last night so memorable for me.

I brought a lot of pent-up energy to the piece, not having produced anything in my collage studio since the end of February. It was perhaps the longest layoff I’ve had in that line for a dozen years or so. It was an ideal opportunity to face a blank canvas without a preconceived vision and no abundance of available time. I’m nearly as pleased as my new friend, Sarah, who made the winning bid!

Surely there are quantum mechanics at play in this kind of collage process (the quantum state of each particle cannot be described independently of the state of the other). Please take a look at a few of my contrasting crops, and share your observations with me.
 

   

 

 
 
 
 
 

Quantum Entanglement (three details)
collage on canvas by J A Dixon
28 x 22 inches
collection of Sarah Hamlin Kuchenbrod

Quantum Entanglement

Thursday, May 16th, 2019

“Einstein had no difficulty accepting that affairs in different places could be correlated. What he could not accept was that an intervention at one place could influence, immediately, affairs at the other.”
— John Bell
 

After a long dry spell, I’m pleased to be back tearing and gluing. The result is my contribution to the Art-full Affair, sponsored by the Arts Commission of Danville/Boyle County, to raise financial support for local arts scholarships. Quantum Entanglement has been selected for the live auction tomorrow evening.

Stay tuned for a look at what has kept me out of the collage studio since the end of February.
 

Quantum Entanglement
collage on canvas by J A Dixon
28 x 22 inches

Yutori ~ a personal perspective

Sunday, February 17th, 2019

“I am immensely influenced by the colors and textures of this little town. There is a softness about the buildings and landscape. Faded by the sun and rain. Mellowed by humidity.”
— Teri Dryden
 

Last year I mentioned that, if possible, I would have stowed away in Teri Dryden’s art supplies when she left for a residency at Shiro Oni Studios in Onishi. The entire notion of a small-village retreat in rural Japan seemed as far-fetched to me as actually hiding in her luggage, so the next best thing was getting to follow her “ARTventure” online. Three years ago, at about the time of the Juxtapose exhibition in which we both took part, she was deliberately shifting from collage making to another period devoted to painting. Would her experience in Asia mark a new phase?

An answer to my question was likely to come this month. My anticipation began to build when I learned Dryden was hanging a show of recent works at B Deemer Gallery in the Crescent Hill neighborhood of Louisville. Dana and I made the opening reception of Yutori a must-attend event on our calendar of winter outings. As soon as I entered the space, I felt surrounded by something I could only sense as ‘mastery,’ and it was the kind of splendid first impression that every exibitor dreams of imparting. When I spoke briefly to the artist, she expressed a conviction that the immersion in Japan had at long last enabled her to “fuse collage and painting” as a single medium.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

I was struck by the overall impression of the show, a mood that was independent of the typical urban hubbub of mingling visitors. A serene dynamism emanated from every piece. Each one invited the observer to penetrate its harmony of constrained color, spatial activity, and fluent mark-making.

The blog entries that Teri posted during her residency had captured the spirit and distinctive flavors of an energetic cultural adventure, but her process in the studio would remain unspoken. Now — moving from wall to wall, composition to composition — I could finally share a small measure of something that must have been nearly impossible to describe. It is simply embedded in the work itself. I won’t soon forget how pleasing and rewarding it was to experience firsthand her evolving integration of not only collage and painting, but the metaphysical sense of place within an artifact crafted by hand. What is truly on display at Yutori is how a creative individual’s personal receptivity and high level of spontaneity can artfully harness such a fusion.

If you are anywhere near Kentucky, I urge you to see this show.
 

   
 

   
 

   
 
 
 

An extraordinary fusion
of collage, painting,
and sense of place
is on display at
 
Yutori: New Works
by Teri Dryden

 
 
 

 

Sayonara 1
collage on paper by T Dryden
15 x 11 inches
from her residency at Shiro Oni Studios, 2018

Leaning on the Sky

Monday, January 28th, 2019

“He had a strong sense of his life being upon the turn, between two seasons, as it were, with the certainties of the one no longer valid for the other. He was not a fanciful man, but for some time now he had had an indefinable sense of chaos following order, of impending disaster; and it oppressed his mind.”
— the thoughts of Captain J Aubrey
   Treason’s Harbour by Patrick O’Brian

It’s been nearly a year since my 21-novel Patrick O’Brian binge came to a close, and I’m wondering if I shall ever again make decent nautical-themed art without beginning the entire Aubrey-Maturin series anew.
 

Leaning on the Sky
collage on book cover by J A Dixon
8 x 10.5 inches
available for purchase

Back at the nest: more stretching

Monday, January 21st, 2019

Here’s a quick journal collage using only a small pile of junk mail at the home of Mombo, before it went into her recyclables. Not everything is performance. Athletes call it training. Musicians call it practicing. I’m not sure what most visual artists typically call it — sketching? exercising? At any rate, whatever the medium, we all need to do it regularly, too!

Untitled (host nest)
journal collage by J A Dixon
7 x 9 inches

the uncanny path . . .

Monday, January 14th, 2019

“What more can we ask than to never know what to expect?”
— Paul Violi
 

The opening reception for the annual New Year New Art exhibition at our Community Arts Center was a massive success. Collage artist Connie Beale had a superb artwork on display, but she managed to slip out before we could include her in a group picture. So, we asked the ever-helpful Kate Snyder to grab a shot of “three collage dudes,” back in the corner where Robert Hugh Hunt was showing a new addition to his “20th Century Icons” series — President Jimmy Carter. I was delighted to see included within the mixed-media portrait a collection of Jimmy heads that I’d surrendered to Robert earlier in the year. Strategic Quake ~ collage on stretched fabric by J A DixonStrangely enough, the envelope had been lurking in my stash for decades, after the faces were clipped from newspapers during the Carter presidency. It can take a while for certain elements to find their destination, on the uncanny path toward a collage outcome.

My Harmonic Squall was hanging nearby. As these things often play out, I was a bit more pleased with the piece each time I saw it. The residual sense of heightened criticism was continuing to wear off. One certainly doesn’t want the effect to move in an opposite progression. It makes me think of the companion artwork that just as easily could have been part of the exhibition — an extreme vertical that I called Strategic Quake. Both were the result of an evolved process that I touched on in last week’s entry. I’ve been meaning to post the one that wasn’t selected, too (above), along with an image detail (below, for a zoomed-in look). “Spatial manipulation, a unified color scheme, and compositional balance” might be a good way to describe the goals I’ve set for a collage abstraction. It needs to look strong from a distance, with the ingredients becoming the “brushstrokes” that provide visual interest at a closer viewing distance.
 


 

Strategic Quake (detail) ~ collage on stretched fabric by J A Dixon

Strategic Quake (detail)
collage on fabric by J A Dixon
12.5 x 28.25 inches
available for purchase

new year, new art, new approach

Monday, January 7th, 2019

“The most interesting paradox of creativity: in order to be habitually creative, you have to know how to prepare to be creative, but good planning alone won’t make your efforts successful; it’s only after you let go of your plans that you can breathe life into your efforts.”
— Twyla Tharp

“You take what you know, you take things you are comfortable with, and you throw them into a situation of new things, of things you are uncomfortable with, and, all of a sudden, new connections happen. And then your goal as a creative must be: of having the skill to carry it home without breaking it.”
— Christoph Niemann
 

Brandon Long is making a name for himself as an assemblage artist in Kentucky. He manages to juggle this with being a blogger, an active volunteer, and his full-time role as an outstanding family man. On top of that, he holds down a challenging, “multi-hat” position at our local Community Arts Center. This past autumn, his request to exhibit at their annual winter invitational arrived like clockwork: show the public an entirely new work, no jury evaluation, just put something at the leading edge of your creativity on display. There can’t be a single regional artist receiving that call who doesn’t value it as a rare opportunity.

I’d been thinking for much of last year about another immersion into larger works — not always a comfort zone for a self-described “miniaturist.” Add to that several months of recovery from a knee injury which limited my standing time. I reckoned I was overdue for a boost in the scale of my studio work. When it came time to plunge in, I realized it also was the perfect chance to reassess my current methodology. I wanted to explore a way of developing an abstract composition that was different for me. Could I combine and balance both a rational and non-rational process? By now, I had more than a decent foundation in each, but had never fused them in as mindful a manner as I considered possible. It didn’t turn out to be complicated at all, and yet it was a new approach for me, after more than twelve years as a dedicated collage practitioner.

Deciding to make three works at horizontal, vertical, and square proportions, I began with thumbnail concepts in my journal, moving from tiny doodles, to color sketches, and from there to rough collage miniatures. The activity was deliberate, but I tried to hold it at an intuitive level. After that, I moved to the typical task of preparing the “stretchers,” although nothing would be fabricated from scratch. I found a nearly fifty-year-old, unpainted canvas in remarkable shape. I stretched Pellon® fabric over a discarded picture frame. I paid almost nothing at a flea market for a castoff “student-esque” painting that needed some reinforcement, its canvas re-stretched, plus lots of primer. After sorting categories of available paper scrap into flat boxes, I was ready to explode into routine sessions of Merz assembly, with an occasional reference back to my preliminary ideas. When probing to the heart of intuition like this, a collage artist stumbles upon strange dynamics. For instance, there are times when you’ll ignore an emotion that says “this doesn’t belong,” only to press on and discover that it totally “works” with the next layering of ingredients. Perhaps this is more characteristic of collage maximalism than collage minimalism. I would accept that fully, but it’s fascinating to remain aware of the “joust” between whether to trust feelings or trust pure impulse, and to discern the difference. Finally, there came a point when I introduced the hard evaluation of a visual critique, before finishing with intentional refinements — and even that final stage allows for spontaneity.

It’s not always easy to know when a piece is done, and maybe it never really is. Eventually, an artist has to claim victory and sign the damn thing. I ended up delivering two works to the Center for the “New Year New Art” show, and let Brandon pick one that fit best. It was the square, the one I called Harmonic Squall.

Please give these four details your scrutiny. Let me know what you think, and, if you find yourself in the area, attend our opening reception this Friday evening. It’s always the first good party after New Year’s Eve!
 

Harmonic Squall (detail) ~ collage on canvas by J A Dixon     Harmonic Squall (detail) ~ collage on canvas by J A Dixon

Harmonic Squall (detail) ~ collage on canvas by J A Dixon     Harmonic Squall (detail) ~ collage on canvas by J A Dixon

four
details
from
Harmonic
Squall

Harmonic Squall ~ collage on recycled canvas by J A Dixon

Harmonic Squall
collage on recycled canvas by J A Dixon
26 x 26 inches
available for purchase

a timely ‘Cup of Kindness’ to all . . .

Monday, December 31st, 2018

 

Keeps On Slippin
collage artwork by J A Dixon
10 x 13.5 inches
available for purchase

Various and Sundry Scraps ~ No.3

Thursday, December 27th, 2018

Litch’s ‘Manifesto” — good, unpretentious stuff from a working artist.
Save this link to keep an eye on Plastikcomb, or to submit content.
Everything one could want to know about Merzbau.

Fascinating, even if you don’t understand German. Pay particular attention
to the correct pronunciation of Schwitters and Merzbild.

Appreciating KS as a hero of the mind.

My thanks to everyone responsible for the outstanding content at these links.

A Very Merry Merry!

Tuesday, December 25th, 2018

 

Nine Christmas Minis
collage artwork by J A Dixon
each in private collections