Archive for the 'K Schwitters' Category

Good Ol’ Boy Dada

Monday, January 27th, 2020

“When Schwitters made the first collage by literally picking up a piece of rubbish, a sweet wrapper, a bus ticket and a piece of wood, that was pure invention.”
— Sir Peter Blake
 

For the many who revere his art, there’s a distinct Kurt Schwitters for each of us — rebellious creator, fearless performer, relentless out-of-the-boxer, proto-beatnik, or visionary theorist. In combination with his towering individualism, he was, by reports from those who knew him, affable, witty, optimistic, entertaining, and a practical joker. This is the Kurt who would be a pleasure to “hang” with, who others in the internment camp on the Isle of Man would hear each morning, barking like a dog. In our local Bluegrass culture, there is a phrase for such a character. Around these parts, he likely would’ve been known as a “good ol’ boy.”

In response to the international call by Ric Kasini Kadour to build a Schwitters’ Army collection at MERZ Gallery, the two pieces I created pay tribute to this particular K.S. Both were fashioned from street debris and highway litter accumulated from my immediate vicinity. One of them was mailed to Sanquhar, Scotland. I haven’t decided what to do with “part 2.” Perhaps the series will continue.

In 2016, I wrote the following in my published essay on a hundred years of Dada: “Those of us who create collage art may not always describe our works as a tribute to the enduring, inclusive concepts of Merz, but that is precisely what they are, and we are indebted to that legacy.” As one who has never wearied of the endless astonishments in the far-reaching innovations of K.S., I am content to describe myself unabashedly as a working “Merzologist.”

Schwitters may or may not have been the original artist to embed found detritus in collage, but certainly he was the first to fully master a modern-art version of the medium when it emerged at the close of the Great War. Embracing every conceivable source ingredient, he would codify the new visual vocabulary, give it an umbrella name, and bequeath the methodology to unborn generations. He may have sensed that the window of opportunity for him to preside over such a grand human venture was closing. He never got to take by storm the art world of 1950s New York — something eminently suited to his personality. His work and writings have had to speak for themselves.

For me, the seminal creations that launched what we know as Merz can never be separate from the man himself — the one who directed subtle, irreverent jabs toward a gang of thugs who hijacked his culture, until it was impossible to stay put, and then, after facing further persecution in Norway with his son, reckoned that an icebreaker just might evade Nazi torpedoes long enough for them to reach the coast of Scotland. Probably that dauntless, wry, “Good Ol’ Boy” side of him was satisfied to leave us with this simple thumbnail declaration:

“My name is Kurt Schwitters.
I am an artist and I nail my pictures together.”

 
 

Good Ol’ Boy Dada, part 1
collage artifact by J A Dixon
7 x 9.25 inches

 

Good Ol’ Boy Dada, part 2
collage artifact by J A Dixon
7 x 9.25 inches

Schwitters’ Army Mobilized in Rural Scotland

Monday, January 20th, 2020

“. . .this is what we do in the collage community: we engage, we exchange, we manifest with one another. We emerge into a new state of being together. That is what makes art powerful. It connects us and takes us into the future.”
— Ric Kasini Kadour
 

Any collage artist who maintains even a casual curiosity about the legacy of Kurt Schwitters has to be enthusiastic about developments in Sanquhar. As someone who employs this space to exalt the “Master of Merz” without apology, I now feel compelled to praise Ric Kasini Kadour and his worldwide call to built a Schwitters’ Army collection of collage artwork at the center for learning established by David Rushton in the Scots town. Needless to say to an audience that visits this site with an interest in all things collage, Ric has made an impressive effort over the past few years to raise the level of discourse about a medium to which so many of us have dedicated ourselves. From Kolaj Magazine to Kolaj Institute to Kolaj Fest, he’s been making his mark for some time and clearly doesn’t intend to rest on his laurels.

As part of his curatorial efforts at MERZ Gallery, he has asked contributing collage artists to answer a few questions. As I prepare to ship my donation to the cause, I’ll publish my supporting remarks here for your potential interest.

Next time: a look at the artwork and my thoughts about the context of its creation.

What is your origin story? When did you first start making collage seriously?

The first collage art that I remember creating was in the 4th or 5th grade, probably in 1961 or 1962, when I used sample chips of color from a paint store to cut and paste a mosaic-like image that won the “Poppy Day” poster contest. It’s always stood out in my memory. I thought of myself as an artist from that point forward. Nevertheless, up into high school, I would feel the lack of any competent art instruction as a keen deprivation. I convinced my parents in 1967 to enroll me as a charter student in the home-study course co-founded by Norman Rockwell called “The Famous Artists Course for Talented Young People.” Unlike the successful version for adults on which it was patterned, the package of guided assignments for teens would fail in the marketplace, but not before exposing me to a diversity of fine and applied art mediums, including collage.

Who was the first collage artist you connected with?

The Famous Artists Course would bring to my awareness many influences in the area of collage and assemblage, including Fred Otnes, Robert Rauschenberg, Louise Nevelson, Joseph Cornell, and Kurt Schwitters. Although I didn’t understand his technical methods, I initially attached my affection to the visually comprehensible Otnes, and I’d emulate his montage approach throughout my years as a professional illustrator and designer. In contrast, a series of breakthroughs in my journey to unravel the Merz of Schwitters would take another forty years, culminating in my first solo exhibition as a collage artist in 2007.

How do you connect with the collage community?

I began writing about collage and showcasing my practice at “The Collage Miniaturist” in 2012. Since then, beginning with fellow artists in Kentucky who work in the medium, I’ve collaborated with a body of dedicated collage artists. I’ve also regularly entered pieces in national and international calls for collage and submitted my work to landmark exhibitions and permanent collections. Believing that cross-pollination in collage through worldwide virtual communities is a vital force in the so-called “Post-Centennial” collage movement, I follow hundreds of active collage artists through social networks. As much as possible for someone who continues to sustain an ongoing studio and exhibition schedule, I regularly comment on trending topics and answer questions in the digital realm.

 

The Apprentice Merzologist

Sunday, November 17th, 2019

“For some time, we have been inspired by the work of mr.babies. He frequently uses large eyes and sweeping vistas. His work, while expressive and multicolored, also hints at the human longing for place. mr.babies is known for posting a series of images that integrate one shared element placed on a variety of backgrounds At the end of the series, the viewer often finds the completed piece. To us, this visually represents the (often lifelong) journey to find belonging.”
— Doug + Laurie Kanyer
 

Kindly take a look at my submission to the OPEN CALL opportunity by the Doug + Laurie Kanyer Art Collection on the theme of “finding a place of my own.” The Yakima-based couple are building a repository of contemporary collage and using Instagram, Facebook, and other devices to elevate their agenda in the art world.

My take on this idea is to turn inward on the medium of collage itself, with a veteran “Merzologist” mentoring his young protégé on the intricacies of the Kurt Schwitters legacy. I’ve explored placing the central element against different backgrounds from my previous compositions, according to the constraints of the project. A final pasted version integrates the same subject within an entirely new “terrain” of ingredients created specifically for the entry. It’s my first official salute to a hundred years of Merz — in all likelihood, the most pioneering concept in the history of collage.
 

   
 
   
 
As an artist, Merz means more to me than finding a place of my own. In the words of the great innovator, it is about “creating relationships, preferably between all things in the world.” I know that I’ve used the quotation a number of times at this site, but is it not as true today as it ever has been? Upwards of 500 works have been submitted to the Kanyer exercise from artists worldwide, another indication of how collage has exploded in the emerging era of social networks.
 

The Apprentice Merzologist
collage on book cover by J A Dixon
8.5 x 11 inches
part of the #findingaplaceofmyown project

Various and Sundry Scraps ~ No.4

Saturday, September 7th, 2019

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Scottish National Gallery: Challenging the customary timeline of collage.

Sabine Remy’s talk about her collage-a-day residency in Georgia.

Teri Dryden’s art is rooted in collage and never left it behind.

Investigate this open submission collage competition.

And now, for only the most hopeless of Schwitters devotees.

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

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.

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 ~ buy now

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