Archive for the 'K Schwitters' Category

Precursors have precursors

Tuesday, August 21st, 2018

“We do not analyze works of art because we want to imitate them or because we distrust them.”
— Paul Klee
 

The other day the world learned about an unpublished Ernest Hemingway short story. If there had not been a Mark Twain first, would literature know Hemingway’s writings at all? Could there have been an Isaac Asimov, Stan Lee, or Gene Wolfe without a Verne or Burroughs? The J.K. Rowling body of work without an Austen or Tolkien? Similarly, all of today’s rock music can be linked to direct influences — to bands such as Ramones, Led Zeppelin or the Beatles, which, of course, had their own precursors. Would jazz exist in its current form without the innovations of Armstrong and all those who inspired him? Imagine a contemporary musician saying, “I really haven’t paid attention to any music that was recorded before I started to play.” And yet, not infrequently, collage artists will boast that they have little use for art history (all the breakthroughs of bygone creators who dug the swimming pools in which they now frolic).

It is argued that modern artists were the first to decide that visual art would be about art, rather than subject matter. Nonsense. Art has always been about art, because it always has been structured on prior foundations. The idea that any artist can burst on the scene as an original is absurd. Nobody who comes out of early childhood with any level of awareness has not built an inventory of perceptions — countless images from the culture around them. Each of these individual influences involved creative activity based on another bank of stimuli, and so forth, back to the first proto-human who picked up a piece of charcoal to make interesting marks on a stone (and was probably knocked on the head by another who judged the action as irrelevant to group survival).

Perhaps I have belabored my point. Perhaps it is a point that anyone who reads this would not need emphasized in the first place. Isn’t it obvious to us that no art form is more about all these churning influences from untold visual decision makers — painters, printers, illustrators, photographers, designers — than the medium of collage itself? So, let us all continue to study the collage artworks of the explorers who came before us, to trace the direct lineage of their concepts and techniques, to recognize that valuable inheritance in the work of our peers, as well as in the composition taking shape on the surface before us, and then, fully informed, to push confidently into the second century of collage.
 

Tranquil Ode (to Merz) ~ collage homage by John Andrew Dixon ~ Danville, Kentucky ~ Kentucky Crafted Mixed Media Artist

Tranquil Ode (to Merz)
collage homage by J A Dixon
9.5 x 11.875 inches
 
Purchase this artwork.

Collage and the Art of Humor

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

“Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”
— Mark Twain

The evolving medium of collage betrayed its sense of humor from the outset, over a hundred years ago. There are countless variants of humor — satire, sarcasm, incongruity, hyperbole, mild irony, outright farce — to cite merely a few. Most, if not all, have presented themselves in a collage format during the tumultuous century that followed. From my point of view, the humor we may find in Dada and Surrealism are byproducts of the movements’ overarching goals. But, we might ask, was the avant-garde intending to be funny at times, or were they deadly serious about weaponizing shock value as a visual tactic, bequeathing any laughs to those of us who would arrive many decades later? On the other hand, how can poking fun at established traditions and ideologies not be classified as humor? I welcome the thoughts of all readers who have chuckled at the work of Hannah Höch, or sensed dark amusement in a Max Ernst composition. Even when outrage from a target group is the primary objective, a subversive artist also may be hoping to elicit a humorous response from those of like mind. As we know, humor, like beauty, rests in the eye of the beholder.

Eduardo Paolozzi created his whimsical Bunk! collage series in 1947. During that same year, Kurt Schwitters, with the bulk of his far-reaching breakthroughs behind him, displayed his acknowledged sense of humor when he created “For Kate.” Both were envisioning the coming thing — Pop Art (Popism) — a movement to throttle the contemporary scene some 20 years later. Steve Martin got it right when he explained, “Chaos in the midst of chaos isn’t funny, but chaos in the midst of order is.” Did Mark Twain anticipate a Mel Brooks and how the art of stimulating laughter could enable a towering denunciation of fascism? Are there times when creativity’s greatest power is best unlocked with a joke?

Now indulge me as I feature a few examples of humor in collage from artists that have touched my funny bone. I must admit that this subject brings to mind Terry R Flowers, perennial wit in the art form. It would be too easy to fill a screen with an array of his artistic wisecracks, especially in his role as veteran collaborator with Robert Hugh Hunt.

Some of these practitioners rely on a minimalist, juxtapositional approach — a sort of comedic “one-liner” — while others evoke a wry quality with a more complex effect. Perhaps nothing is more subjective than humor, so let them speak for themselves.

You’re encouraged to bring others to my attention, and I’ll prepare a follow-up entry!
 

Eugenia Loli

Susan Ringler

Dani Sanchis

Matthew Rose

Bob Scott

Sato Masahiro

Sabine Remy

Raul Ruzzene

Flore Kunst

Terry R Flowers

Drill Instructor ~ J A Dixon

John Andrew Dixon ~ purchase this artwork

Various and Sundry Scraps ~ No.1

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

Don’t we all want to be Cecil when we grow up?
There was a time when Merz was deemed degenerate.
Destruction of the Merzbau and the human toll in Hannover.
Kurt Schwitters and his fellow artists in captivity.
How synthetic cubism led to collage as a modern art.

Thanks to The Kurt Schwitters Society for sharing several of these links.

from the diary of a collage artist . . .

Saturday, April 7th, 2018

Opened by Customs was created in Lysaker, Norway, after Schwitters emigrated from Nazi Germany in 1937. Here he attempted to continue his Merzbau, or Cathedral of Erotic Misery, which he had begun in c.1923 in his apartment in Hanover. While living in Norway his work was exhibited in his homeland in the Nazi Degenerate Art exhibition. He left Norway for Britain in 1940 when Germany invaded the country. … The complex mesh of language and layers that comprise the work suggests a correspondingly complex web of ideas and emotions. The turmoil of the period (experienced by Schwitters as well as other German émigrés) is conveyed through the conflicting languages, both printed and handwritten, and the fierce red marks added using stamps, cut-outs and daubings. The titular German customs label, which takes a prominent position at the top left of the work, points to a lack of personal autonomy and compounds the sense that Schwitters is escaping ideological oppression. The lack of cohesion – the texts run in several different directions – may be indicative of the upheaval that both the artist and the continent were undergoing at this time.”
— Hana Leaper
 

When it was announced that the artwork of my friend and fellow collage artist Robert Hugh Hunt would be featured to promote the planned production of “A Diary of Anne Frank,” the long-dormant Thespian awakened inside of me. In a moment of pure impulse, I showed up at the audition and soon found myself cast in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

I admit to woefully underestimating the commitment of time and inward focus, not having been involved with theater for nearly fifty years. As a result, my studio work surface has lain fallow and my sense of personal priorities has been throttled. Perhaps you’ve experienced something similar to this — an abrupt, self-generated break in routine that causes the discomfort of withdrawal, but at the same time, a positive awareness that the impending return to creative output will bring a new, energized perspective.
An unforeseen synchronicity is the juxtaposition of performing a character in dread of Nazi abuse with my evolving thoughts about what it must have been like for Kurt Schwitters as he fled his homeland, or when he escaped peril a second time as Germany invaded Norway. I had no conscious regard for treading into this emotional process when I walked down the street to my local community theater. Weeks later, I have no illusions about ever being able to simulate the terror that people endured during those years.

I am gratified to be part of a fine ensemble in an exceptional play. If you happen to be in my neck of the woods, get a ticket for our show before the seats are filled.

 

Promotional items for our local production feature
the mixed-media artwork of Robert Hugh Hunt
.

Mouse in the House

Saturday, March 31st, 2018

“You can’t really make ideas, create ideas. You know, all ideas are the same. They just wander by. If your house has mice, you never know when they’re going to show up, or how, or in which room. and great ideas are the same. They’re like mice. Just a mouse. A mouse in the house. And you step on its tail and you go, ‘Hold it, buddy.’”
— Jerry Seinfeld
 

Ideas will suggest ingredients, but, as often as not, ingredients will spark ideas. Actually, I prefer the latter. In discussing the groundbreaking Merz pictures of Schwitters, curator Isabel Schulz asserts that his materials “surrender their original function … but not all semantic meaning.” Those meanings can generate layers of additional meaning when ingredients combine in synergy. Before long, if the exterminator is not on site, the house is happily full of mice.
 
Mouse in the House ~ collage miniature by John Andrew Dixon ~ Danville, Kentucky ~ Kentucky Crafted Mixed Media Artist

Mouse in the House
collage miniature by J A Dixon
4.75 x 5.5 inches
 
Purchase this artwork.

Master of Merz

Saturday, March 17th, 2018

“Schwitters began making collages in 1918 and produced them in large numbers for the remainder of his career. In 1919 he began using the term ‘Merz’ (which originated from the German word ‘Kommerz’, meaning ‘commerce’) to describe his principle of assembling found materials.”
— Louise Hughes
 

Das Kirschbild — a fitting followup for the previous entry on abstraction.

And for those of us who never tire of learning new things about the incomparable Master of Merz:

from the Armitt Museum Collection in the Lake District

from the Tate Britain

from the Guggenheim

from the Sprengel Museum Hannover

 
Merzbild 32 A. Das Kirschbild ~ K Schwitters

Merzbild 32 A. Das Kirschbild
Kurt Schwitters, 1921
The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Abstraction in Collage

Saturday, March 10th, 2018

“In the ’20s, dadaist Kurt Schwitters collected bits of detritus such as cigar bands and bus tickets and used them in collages. They were shocking then but with the passage of time have taken on the aura of classics: vibrantly colored and harmonious arrangements of abstract forms and only incidentally assemblages of junk.”
— John Ashbery
 

About a hundred years ago, a handful of Europeans had set out to invent what we now know as the medium of collage. Nearly all of them were painters. From the beginning, collage was rooted in modern art concepts that were emerging at the same time — the fundamentals of abstraction. Thus, the evolution of abstraction and collage in the 20th century are entwined, and remain so in a burst of contemporary activity in this post-centennial period. Next year will mark a full century of Merz. Artists working in collage abstraction carry the “creative code” of Kurt Schwitters and his seminal innovations. But, allow me to pause here and point out something that has become increasingly obvious: conventional art history was woefully male centered. Intentionally or not, the discipline would downplay or ignore many exceptional women artists, and that includes collage antecedents which were largely the domain of females, especially in the domestic or folk arts. For example, an interesting feature at moowon.com highlights the forgotten art of Chinese textile collage. from his Cockatoo Series ~ an homage to Juan Gris by J CornellPicasso lifted visual ideas from tribal cultures. Cornell borrowed techniques tied directly to Victorian crafts. We understand that now. Modern art did not spring fully formed from the brow of Zeus like the armored goddess Athena. Fast forward to 2018. Many of the most accomplished and widely recognized collage artists of today are women. And the best part is that we know about them.

Melinda Tidwell is one of the dedicated abstractionists in collage that I enjoy following. She has a solid and very articulate designer “upstairs” guiding each decision, but her regard for the unexpected is a strong part of her intuition. Last summer, she published a two-part discussion of “order versus disorder” at her blogsite. It features abstractions by Lance Letscher and is well worth checking out.

Please indulge me as I share examples of collage abstraction from artists who continue to favorably capture my eye. Some of them range into mixed media in a way that remains very much collage. Others are strictly “painting with paper.”

Merz is alive and well in the 21st century, my friends.
 

(title unknown)
abstract collage by L Letscher

(title unknown)
abstract collage by M Tidwell

11zc18
abstract collage by Z Collins

Elysburg IV
abstract collage by C Chapman

Ellington
abstract collage by D McKenna

Osmosis 3
abstract collage by C Emeleus

Antoinette
abstract collage by W Strempler

Music
abstract collage by S Kraft

from her series, BALANCE
abstract collage by S A Herman

Day 18 of 40
abstract collage by C Neubauer

Red Cottage — from her series, SENSE OF PLACE
abstract collage by P A Turner

(title unknown)
abstract collage by J C Martin

Reap ~ G Cooper

Reap
abstract collage by G Cooper

Cognitives and Conclusions
abstract collage by S Ringler

Dynamic Stability ~ J A Dixon

Dynamic Stability
abstract collage by J A Dixon
 
Purchase this artwork.

Top collage artists I never even knew about !!!

Saturday, January 13th, 2018

“I have always tried to exploit the photograph. I use it like color, or as the poet uses the word.”
— Hannah Höch
 

It is always a temptation for a so-called blogger to dangle a “best of” or “top twenty” list to entice a visitor, and, of course, we see this tactic used almost on a daily basis in various fields of art and entertainment. How many of us have gone online and swallowed just such a colorful lure? On the most obvious level, the whole stimulus-response thing is a bit silly, but the potential to learn something new does exist, or to sharpen our own sense of quality, preference, and discernment. Each of us is free to have viewpoints, as long as we recognize them as personal opinions, and avoid casting them about as certitude. Isn’t there enough of that going on these days? (Yes, dear guest, that is merely my perspective.) Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany ~ Hannah Höch

What does this have to do with collage? Well, I just paid a visit to a page at AnotherMag.com (in response to the aforesaid bait), and I learned for the first time about three collage artists who were new to me, a working artist who purports to ruminate on “all things collage.” In this particular case, there may have been an explicit effort to achieve an overdue gender balance for a post intended to spotlight the Höch retrospective at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, but one could question the absence of Paolozzi, Rauschenberg, Johnson, Hamilton, or Kolář. To not include at least one of these men as a key figure in the history of collage brings no meaningful discredit on any of the artists, but only on the list. (And that, too, is just my opinion).

Nevertheless, I am not ashamed to accentuate the gaps in my collage literacy and to feature three noteworthy female artists: Eileen Agar, Nancy Spero, and Annegret Soltau. Examples of their work should have appeared here long before now.
 

Woman reading ~ Eileen Agar

Woman reading
by Eileen Agar, 1936
Museum of New Zealand

Protagonists ~ Nancy Spero

Protagonists
by Nancy Spero, 1989
disposition unknown

Grima - mit Katze ~ Annegret Soltau

Grima – mit Katze
by Annegret Soltau, from her 1986-97 series
Vero Group Collection, Houston, Texas

DADA CENTENNIAL Day of the Dead

Sunday, May 7th, 2017

It is with high anticipation that I await my first look at the new publication which documents the Dada Centennial exhibition organized by the Ontological Museum. My sincere thanks to Cecil Touchon for including the essay that I wrote last yearOn Kurt Schwitters and a Century of Dada — but, most of all, for volunteering so much of his time to this historic observation and to the ongoing administration of the institution he founded, now located in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The exhibition at the archives of the International Museum of Collage, Assemblage and Construction opened on November 4, 2016 and lasted through January 31, 2017. A worldwide array of Dada-inspired artists sent artworks for the show that will be added to the permanent collection. They are all displayed in the full-color, 275-page catalog that is available for purchase. A “Merz Painting” by Peter Dowker is featured on the cover. In addition to my essay, the publication has an introduction by Touchon, another essay by Drager Meurtant, Birth of Merz by Schwitters, original verse by Dada artists, writings by Hugo Ball, three of my experimental miniatures, and collage art by some whose work I have spotlighted here at TCM, including Dowker, Hope Kroll, Zach Collins, Nikki Soppelsa, Erin Case, Joel Lambeth, Melinda Tidwell, Evan Clayton Horback, and Katrien De Blauwer.

When I experienced the milestone Schwitters exhibition at the Berkeley Museum of Art in 2011, I failed to bring home the forty-dollar catalog. When I got back to Kentucky, I discovered that the compendium was already worth $200. I do not know what long-term plan the Ontological Museum has for this publication, but it may not always be available. Go online, take advantage of the current discount, and buy it now.
Grateful Ode to Merz ~ John Andrew Dixon

Grateful Ode to Merz
collage miniature on Bristol by J A Dixon
homage to Kurt Schwitters
collection of The Ontological Museum

a medium in need of an internal critique

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

“If you’re coasting, you’re going downhill.”
— L W Pierson
 

Awhile ago, someone asked a question about the trajectory of collage: “What’s Next?” To ponder that, I remind myself that one thoughtful critique is worth more than a ton of casual “likes.” Those of us who love this practice need to push beyond the comfort of mutual praise and communicate honestly about the medium of collage (not about our political attitudes). Don’t expect the lords of social media to provide a thumbs-down button. That’s not the solution (even if they do). There needs to be the virtual equivalent of the intense coffee houses and night spots of a century ago, where artists were not shy about challenging the easy answers and safe solutions.

Höch, Hausmann, Schwitters, and their fellow collage “inventors” included found material contemporary with their times. There are many current practitioners who restrict themselves to “vintage” resources, and some of them avoid using anything younger than 50 years old. Whatever they choose to do is fine, but, in my opinion, 21st-century collage artists are challenged to explore the cast-off stuff of today for potential ingredients in a fresh “school of post-centennial collage” that “documents” our own culture, rather than confine themselves to curating the artifacts of our ancestors. Remember, when KS pasted down a tram ticket in place of a brushstroke, nearly a hundred years ago, he was clearly using something that he just acquired on the street. Let’s think about that when as ask ourselves, “What’s Next?”
 
Tinged By Whispered Accounts ~ a collage miniature by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

Tinged By Whispered Accounts
collage experiment in monochrome by J A Dixon
7.75 x 10.25 inches
 
Purchase this artwork.

Dada and the Surreal Face in Contemporary Collage

Sunday, 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.”