Archive for the 'D L Dixon' 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!

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

That Red Boot

Monday, September 11th, 2017

“As a husband, you have to remember the crucial importance of three little words — ‘I was wrong.’ That will take you a lot further than ‘I love you.’”
— Charlton Heston
 

After pondering what to do with my stash of birds for far too long, I decided to start a new series that I describe as “Crafted.” Here is an example — a 35th Anniversary present to my indispensable partner and dearest friend.
 
That Red Boot ~ J A Dixon

That Red Boot
collage miniature by J A Dixon
5.375 x 7.25 inches
collection of Dana Dixon

I Must Have Kentucky ~ all the details

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017

“I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game. Kentucky gone, we cannot hold Missouri, nor Maryland. These all against us, and the job on our hands is too large for us. We would as well consent to separation at once, including the surrender of this capitol.”
— Abraham Lincoln, 1861
 

I am constantly experimenting, because I find it difficult to pluck a coherent idea from a “cold start,” and so I cultivate a habit of collage experimentation to preserve a state of receptivity and to invite the uncanny “synchronicities” from which a more rational concept can be refined. More often than not, there are no distinct memories associated with the genesis of an idea. It is unusual, therefore, to have a clear recollection of the creative lineage for I Must Have Kentucky, currently on display as part of 225: Artists Celebrate Kentucky’s History.

I was stumped about how to respond when a call to artists from curator Gwen Heffner announced an exhibition to observe Kentucky’s 225th birthday. I thought about the history of my own town (Danville, the first capital of the state), about the The Kentucky Documentary Photographic Project, about the story of tobacco growing families in Kentucky, and about the great Kentucky abolitionists. There were so many fascinating subjects, but none of them sparked a visual flame in my imagination. When I shared my befuddlement with Dana, my “partner in all things,” she suggested I consider doing something with Star of Abraham, an artifact I made in 2009 for the bicentennial of the 16th president’s birth. Star of Abraham ~ John Andrew DixonThe bulk of my collected Lincoln images had been exploited to cover a salvaged metal star. To produce a collage tribute to the martyred leader with a folk-art quality seemed a technique appropriate to the occasion, and it was still in my studio, generating little interest from visitors. I liked the notion of using it as a “found object” in a larger assemblage, but there needed to be more to it than that. The solution finally hit me on a drive to our family farm, when I turned off the radio and focused on the rolling “knobs” that surrounded me: Lincoln’s famous declaration about his home state during the Civil War!

I got down a flurry of thumbnail concepts in my journal when I arrived at my destination. It was barely necessary to ever look at them again, because the development toward a final idea took on a momentum of its own. I realized I could enlarge my Lincoln theme with additional artisanship to include the importance of Kentucky in his strategic thinking. A design took shape in my sketches, and I searched my stash for images that would do justice to the “brother against brother, family against family” character of the conflict in a state that gave birth to the presidents of each warring side.

The expanded mixed-media construction is created from recycled materials — found ingredients include salvaged wood and metal, plus discarded books, magazines, maps, and mailed promotions. My lettering is hand painted with acrylics. John Andrew Dixon at the Kentucky Artisan Center, Berea, KentuckyObviously, the dimensional star represents Abraham Lincoln. The five horizontal bands signify the final years of his life and the impact his decisions had on Kentucky and the United States during that time. Among the individuals featured are Kentucky native Jefferson Davis, Lincoln’s rival in war, and Senator Stephen A. Douglas, his rival in peace, plus Lexington native Mary Todd, her sons Willie and Robert, Munfordville native Simon B. Buckner, Frederick Douglass, U.S. Grant, Clara Barton, John Hunt Morgan, and others. Also represented: soldiers, their ladies, Kentucky coal miners, and the decisive Battle of Perryville.

The artwork commemorates our Commonwealth during 1860 to 1864, the most tumultuous period in its history. At the center of those pivotal years is the towering figure of its most illustrious native son, who encapsulated the significance of the border state to the cause of national unity when he reputedly declared:

“I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky”.
 

detail from ‘I Must Have Kentucky’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

I secured the existing ‘Star of Abraham’ to a construction of five salvaged
wood planks, which alternates hand-painted lettering with my typical collage
treatment. My Lincoln artifact had finally found a fitting context.

detail from ‘I Must Have Kentucky’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

I long have found interesting that Kentucky had given birth to both
presidential leaders in the national conflict, and I devoted a section of my
composition to that inexplicable fact.

detail from ‘I Must Have Kentucky’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

Border-state Kentuckians were divided when war broke out. Munfordville
native Simon B. Buckner attempted to enforce its neutrality before accepting
a Confederate commission. He led troops at the strategic Battle of Perryville
in 1862, and later became a scandal-plagued governor of the Commonwealth.

detail from ‘I Must Have Kentucky’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

One of my favorite spots in the piece: Lincoln’s boy Willie, U.S. Grant, a young
Frederick Douglass as a free man next to a slaveholder’s advertisement,
a superb wood engraving of combat, Clara Barton, Samuel Colt, and an image
of the Commander in Chief that indicates his unusual height.

Thanks for reading such a long entry. I invite you to register and comment here. Let me know what you think. If anything bugs you, constructive criticism is encouraged!

Empress of Wings — When is the flight over?

Sunday, January 15th, 2017

“I tell you what gets harder over the years, it’s coming to grips with ‘is it finished yet or do I want to make one more change?’”
– B L Cummings
 

Being invited by our Community Arts Center to participate in the annual winter invitational of regional artists never fails to jump-start my burst of year-end activity. Submissions to the January-to-February show are required to have been completed after August. The request comes in late October, but, instead of selecting from completed works, I’ll typically commence a work specific to the exhibition in early November. I set a goal this time to produce my largest collage ever and to shoot some in-progress photos.

The first image below indicates how I blocked out the early composition with mostly larger elements. The second represents how the color-quantity contrasts and spatial manipulations resolved themselves. The last image is the finished work with final layering and a few closing refinements.

It is a challenge to maintain a high degree of spontaneity when creating so large a work (for me, the dedicated miniaturist). It helps to carry a momentum of small-scale experimentation into the process, plus there are things I do to boost an “organic” flow. For example, if there are aspects of the color scheme I want to enhance, rather than acquire and position new elements one by one and invite too much preoccupation with each, I will quickly prepare a batch of ingredients and place them into the composition as rapidly and as intuitively as possible, responding to my impression of the evolving totality. Instead of pondering two-dimensional locations, the eye or hand moves first, and one learns to trust whether something “belongs” or not. Also, it can be difficult to know when the winding down to conclusion should start. At a certain point, I become conscious of a natural progression toward closing refinements (more logical considerations for balancing and harmonizing the overall effect). Noticing an escalation of rational deliberation can be the reliable signal that a piece may nearly be done — almost time to “pull the plug and sign it.”

We are unlikely to hear any collage artist say that completing a work is an exact science. Personally, if I walk away from something that I suspect is finished, it is less probable that I will continue to monkey with it when I come back. It is beneficial to have an objective consultant — in my case, a trusted partner willing to instruct, “Don’t touch it!”

I also should note that the exhibition is an opportunity for Robert Hugh Hunt and me to unveil another major collaboration (more to say about that next time). Creating the interlocking mixed-media construction was an interesting process. The result is something unconventional, and we’re pleased that it was selected as the promotional image for the show.
 

 
 
an early and a late
stage of my largest
collage painting to date
 
(click each for larger view)

 
 
 

Empress of Wings ~ John Andrew Dixon

Empress of Wings
collage on canvas by J A Dixon
42.25 x 30.375 inches
available for purchase

Does this have anything to do with collage?

Friday, September 30th, 2016

 
jadixon_waitingfordana
 

Waiting for Dana
combined mediums by J A Dixon
6.5 x 4.875 inches

My honest answer to the title question —
“We won’t know until I finish this post.”

During my annual “fishing retreat” in Les Cheneaux on Lake Huron, I convinced myself to make a small painting for the mate who holds our fort in Kentucky. It disturbed me to confront the idea that I had fallen woefully away from my practice of drawing or painting en plein air, so I found a spot to sit and scraped some rust off my lost habit. If a tradition of plein air collage exists, now or in the past, I so far have not discovered any evidence. One would think that the medium does not lend itself to it, but there is no fundamental reason why collage cannot be executed out of doors, or benefit from direct observation of nature or the built environment. If we are to think as the artists who “invented” it, collage is another variation of painting. And painting, as we know, is not about visual replication, but about capturing what the artist “sees” — in the fullest sense of the word.

As smiling fortune would have it, I had the opportunity to view a presentation of Painted Land at the Lake Superior State University Arts Center (in nearby Sault Ste. Marie) as a part of my visit to the Upper Peninsula. Proceeds from the screening of the new documentary helped benefit the Lake Superior Watershed Conservancy. The subject of the film is the Group of Seven, the twentieth-century artists who took the Canadian consciousness by storm when they rattled the national establishment with the first widely seen modern-art landscapes. The filmmakers successfully proved that the iconic paintings now revered by Canadians were created by the pioneering artists when they arduously discovered wilderness locations, and were not constructed from imagination, as many had previously believed. On top of that, most of these unspoiled sites in the vicinity of Lake Superior have the potential to remain so, if preserved and protected from development.

The breaking of my plein air dry spell, combined with a heightened awareness of how some of North America’s most daring artists actually made their works, has overwhelmed me with new ideas about ways to invigorate my approach to collage and its relationship to the seen image. I don’t know where these experiences will lead me, but those who follow my journey here no doubt will be the first to find out. Until then, thanks again for visiting.

 
“The most important thing a painter can do is
find a good place to sit.”
– J.E.H. MacDonald
 
 

Happy 33!

Friday, September 11th, 2015

Dana and I are observing 33 years of marriage, apart from each other. I have made an anniversary collage for her with the scraps of rubbish at hand. Is there not beauty and the potential for redemption in nearly everything, if you remember to look for it?
 

a hand-crafted 33rd anniversary card by John Andrew Dixon for his wife, Dana

Les Cheneaux Sails
collage miniature by J A Dixon
5 x 7 inches
collection of D L Dixon

Happy happy . . .

Saturday, April 11th, 2015

My fondest birthday greetings to a “partner in all things.”
 

For Dana
collage miniature by J A Dixon
6.3125 x 3.875 inches
collection of D L Dixon

Happy 32!

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

Celebrating 32 years of laughter, friendship, professional partnership, creative adventure, shared sorrow, deep affection, and mutual respect. Thank you, Dana, for the total package. (I think this might be working out.)
 

Happy 32!
collage miniature by J A Dixon
6.875 x 4.5 inches
collection of D L Dixon

G A B B F

Saturday, May 31st, 2014

“Design is moving an existing condition to a preferred one.”
— Milton Glaser

I attended the first Great American Brass Band Festival in 1990 with my wife and partner, Dana, the same summer that we relocated our home-based design business to Danville, Kentucky. Big portions of the previous year had been spent apart, as I developed business contacts in Central Kentucky while she held the fort at our studio in Dayton, Ohio. That inaugural Festival was an opportunity to spend time together in downtown Danville, and the ambiance of that weekend supported all that we were discovering about our new home community. We have been devoted fans of the Festival ever since, and it is now impossible for us to imagine a June in Danville without world-class brass music within walking distance. After that first Festival, my capabilities as a graphic designer and lettering artist came to the attention of the organizers. I have since worked closely with them on establishing the visual identity of the event and creating designs for nine commemorative posters.

The 25th Great American Brass Band Festival will be held next weekend, and I shall be signing posters at the kick-off Gallery Hop Stop. Coming up with a suitable theme for this year’s poster was a challenge. We recognized that the milestone 25th Festival demanded a visual approach that would pay bold tribute to its heritage. No single aspect would do that, so I built a montage of images to salute the key elements of the Festival: the musicians, the parade, the picnic, the patriotism, the balloons, the fireworks, and the long history of enthusiasm for brass. With a quarter century of photography on file, it was a tough editing task. The result is a colorful, celebratory design intended to bring a smile to the face of every fan of the event.

The visual montage and the traditional collage are close cousins, and both techniques inform the other in my work as a fine and applied artist. The blurred boundary between graphic illustration and fine-art collage — conventional and digital — is an intriguing subject that I shall explore from time to time at this site. Please stop back here again (and do drop in at the Community Arts Center on Thursday evening, 5:30 to 7 pm, if you are in the Danville area).

Celebrating 25 Years
commemorative poster design by J A Dixon
available for purchase

Sustained Diversion

Friday, February 21st, 2014

“Works of art do not force meanings on their audience; meaning emerges, adds up, unfolds…”
— Robert Hughes

Today’s featured artwork is one of the most satisfying pieces I have created so far this year. It can be viewed in person at Ingredients Reclaimed, my solo exhibition that lasts until Friday the 28th. As we know, February is a short month, so it is no surprise to realize that the display is down to its last week. Fortunately, the Boyle County Public Library is open every day. Dana (a partner in all things and my most constructive critic) thinks that this is my most cohesive, best-looking show ever, and I cannot disagree. The Mahan Gallery is a fine space — an ideal, intimate setting for someone to study the progress I have made with my investigations over the past year. I hope as many people as possible in the geographic area are able to spend a bit of time at the show, and to let me know how they feel about my work. It is such a subjective medium. For me, the echoed response of an observer has always been at the heart of collage.
 

Sustained Diversion
mixed-media collage by J A Dixon
11 x 14.875 inches, available for purchase