Archive for the 'F Otnes' 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.

 

Much more about JUXTAPOSE . . .

Monday, February 29th, 2016

Friend and fellow collage artist Kathleen O’Brien is in the midst of her countdown to a big solo show in April. She asked me to do a favor and share a guest review as part of her final promotions for JUXTAPOSE before Drawn to the Earth requires her full concentration. As excited as I am about the group exhibition in Danville, it was a tougher post to write than I first anticipated. Collage is not the easiest art form on which to expound, perhaps because it relies on the “logic” of irrational choices.

At any rate, my dedicating a blogsite to that very topic was nobody else’s idea, so I best not complain to those of you kind enough to visit here. Would I rather be making art? Of course. Even so, I cannot constrain my enthusiasm for all things collage. Here’s my take on a great show. Be forewarned: If you’re looking for some criticism, you won’t find it!

 

I’ll admit it. I can’t get enough of JUXTAPOSE. The current exhibition of collage and assemblage is at the Community Arts Center until April 2nd. That’s not exactly the most humble thing to say, considering it features a dozen works by yours truly, so I won’t pretend that I can offer an unbiased review. Program director Brandon Long has organized a finely curated, must-see destination that brings together over a thousand examples of the two associated mediums (literally, but I’ll explain that in a moment). This is an unprecedented group show for the Bluegrass-based artists involved, and I am thrilled to be exhibiting side-by-side with Kathleen O’Brien, Teri Dryden, Robert Hugh Hunt, Meg Higgins, Connie Beale, Cynthia Carr, and many others. No doubt my enthusiasm has something to do with its location less than a city block from my studio, which bestows the luxury of repeated immersions, and there is over a month left in the duration!

There are more participants than I can profile individually, and far too many artworks to highlight. The best example of this is a room devoted to three complete year-long series of collage-a-day works by O’Brien, Long, and Nan Martindale. Combined with almost one hundred seventy of Robert Hugh Hunt’s provocative collage collaborations, the magnitude of miniature artworks presented in a single space could be overwhelming. As an exhibition designer, Long uses geometric grids, browsing boxes, and two flat-screen displays to make the huge collection comprehensible for viewers. O’Brien’s sensitive, meticulously layered collection of daily two-sided postcards is a journey to which I surrender with pleasure each time I visit, but only after a jolting romp through Hunt’s rarely exhibited Hillbilly Voodoo series with T R Flowers.

An opportunity to view works by six outstanding Louisville-based artists is worth the trip to Danville. Several major works by Meg Higgins captured my first impression. Two enormous pieces composed with transparent elements sandwiched between Plexiglas are suspended between the vestibule and grand gallery. I was equally impressed by a smaller collage on wood panel, Japanese Peony Goes to Italy, with its exquisite East-West flavor. Brad Devlin’s solid but clever exploitation of found objects yields bold abstractions that simultaneously maintain a strong environmental essence. His Open Sunday is also physically more complex than it first appears, and this allows the artisanship of his assemblage to become a secondary experience deserving of scrutiny. Masters of juxtaposition who reinforce the theme of the exhibition as well as anyone taking part, Patrick Donley, Lisa Austin and Brandon Bass each define a distinctive individual style. Approach to composition, color considerations, and a playful choice of ingredients form undercurrents that tie their pieces together, and Long knows how to modulate the walls in a way that makes groupings of their work satisfying to study. Although she has recently gained attention for her paintings, there are at least seven panels by Teri Dryden from a handsome body of work created from discarded books. Her Monteith’s Marrakesh exemplifies how her investigation successfully transcended the source material. Personally, I hope she rotates to collage again for another dynamic round of re-purposing cast-off items.

detail from Reliquia ~ collage on framed panel by John A. DixonIn addition to displaying a pair of shadow boxes, my only surrealist assemblage, and six favorite collage miniatures, JUXTAPOSE provides an opportunity to exhibit Bull’s-eye Nosegay for the first time, which I created for the Target Practice Project initiated by L T Holmes. Also, I did two larger collage artworks especially for this show. Each makes more than a fleeting nod to artists who I admire. What is it about Cherry Balm that causes me to think I just might be “tipping my beret” to the inimitable Matthew Rose? Reliquia is my tribute to the late Fred Otnes, a giant within the medium who has been a force in my consciousness since adolescence. Pearallelograms was held over from the previous exhibition at the institution, but the crowning delight for me may well be the presence of Kentucky Madonna, last year’s “finish” by Robert Hugh Hunt to my “start.” The collaborative piece is a companion to one currently hanging with the IT TAKES TWO exhibition of collaborations at the Kentucky Artisan Center in Berea. Robert and I can’t ask for more than to know that both are now available for public observation (unless someone wants to give them a good home).

I am no art historian, but I can’t help but be mindful of the pioneering artists who laid a hundred-year foundation for the sweeping diversity of this exhibition. The creative innovations of Picasso, Braque, Duchamp, Schwitters, Höch, Cornell, Johnson, and Kolář reverberate throughout the building. In many respects, all contemporary collage/assemblage is a tacit homage to these seminal influences, but that is never the only thing at work nor the only phenomena to be perceived when one indulges an exhibition of this scope. Most artists are striving for a personal means of expression informed by those who have made their enduring mark on a medium. I am convinced, more than ever, that what distinguishes contemporary collage/assemblage artists is their keen connection to the mundane “stuff” of culture and the inner need to bring a measure of order and harmony from the sheer volume of material produced by our throw-away society, with its chaotic effect on our sensibilities — to create value where none exists, or to find wonder, meaning, significance, and beauty where none can be expected.
 

Japanese Peony Goes to Italy ~ Meg Higgins, Louisville, Kentucky

Japanese Peony Goes to Italy
Meg Higgins
collage on wood panel

Open Sunday ~ B Devlin

Open Sunday
Brad Devlin
assemblage, found objects

Strength ~ P Donley

Strength
Patrick Donley
mixed-media on wood

Bird’s Eye View ~ L Austin

Bird’s Eye View
Lisa Austin
collage

Monteith’s Marrakesh ~ T Dryden

Monteith’s Marrakesh
Teri Dryden
collage from discarded books on panel

Cherry Balm ~ John Andrew Dixon, collage artist, Danville, Kentucky

Cherry Balm
John Andrew Dixon
collage on canvas
available for purchase

Reliquia ~ John Andrew Dixon, collage artist, Danville, Kentucky

Reliquia
John Andrew Dixon
collage on framed panel
available for purchase

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