Archive for the 'Assemblage' Category

Star of Commonwealth

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

“I have to trust for that crazy moment.”
— Christoph Niemann
 

It is no secret that creative work has not been flying off the walls in the current art market, but there is something about the theme of 225: Artists Celebrate Kentucky’s History, hanging this summer in the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea, that has provoked an unusual number of sales, including the mixed media construction that I titled I Must Have Kentucky and featured here in March. The kind folks at the Center asked me to deliver a replacement piece sight unseen. Sounded good — but the first work had made a serious dent in my stash of Kentucky-related scrap. I’ll admit that I scratched my head about what I could come up with. Fortunately, I had a second salvaged metal star that enabled me to utterly obliterate what was left of my repository of images with any connection to the Bluegrass State, including material from discarded books, hymnals, maps, magazines, product labels, and postage stamps.

I began with a goal of contrasting a simple dimensional configuration with a density of images and symbolic messages, but I was a bit dubious about where it would lead me. I recall the distinct turning point when I took comfort in the thought, “This is starting to look good. This just might work out.” How can one go wrong with images of Kentucky’s towering native sons? Her historical presence will always be linked to Abraham Lincoln (perhaps America’s greatest president, and who has come to represent much more to the world), as well as Louisville’s Muhammad Ali (perhaps America’s greatest athlete, and who also has come to represent much more to the world). Either, or both, can be called “The Greatest.” Can any other state match that? Other individuals featured in the work are Lincoln’s first lady, Mary Todd — plus Daniel Boone, Simon Kenton, Loretta Lynn, Robert Penn Warren, Ephraim McDowell, Ned Beatty, Frederick Douglass, George Rogers Clark, and Jefferson Davis. The viewer will also find visual references to faith, sport, thoroughbreds, whiskey, coal, tobacco, the U.S. Constitution, and the Civil War, with an institution central to the bitter national conflict: slavery. I am pleased with how the companion to its larger half-brother turned out. Perhaps it also will find a home, and then I can assign myself to replenishing my Kentucky file. The show lasts until September 23rd.

As I’ve probably told you before, I enjoy creating works that have visual appeal from across a room, but also provide a depth of interest on close observation, with stimulating details at an intimate viewing distance. A future entry will zoom in for another one of our nosey examinations.
 

Star of Commonwealth ~ John Andrew Dixon ~ collage construction ~ wood, metal, found printed material

Star of Commonwealth
mixed-media collage construction by J A Dixon
22 x 21 x 6 inches
available for purchase

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!

I Must Have Kentucky

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

There is a new exhibition by the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea — 225: Artists Celebrate Kentucky’s History — and I am proud to have my work as part of the display.paintings by Mark Selter and others at ‘225: Artists Celebrate Kentucky’s History’

My friend and fellow exhibitor Kathleen O’Brien wrote a fine account of the opening reception at her studio blog. She was kind enough to include some information about me.

From the KACB notice: “Kentucky has always cherished its history. The preservation of Kentucky stories, places and traditions has shaped its culture today. This exhibit includes over 60 works by 51 Kentucky artists who have recorded and celebrated numerous facets of Kentucky’s rich 225-year history. These works capture the essence of Kentucky — including its historical places, people, events, state commerce, agriculture and the state’s unique flora and fauna. Accompanied by written stories and histories in each artist’s words, this exhibit entices the viewer visually and verbally.” The show lasts until September 23, 2017.

My next entry will look a bit more closely at the work and its creation.

John Andrew Dixon with ‘I Must Have Kentucky’ ~ Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea

I Must Have Kentucky ~ John Andrew Dixon ~ collage construction ~ wood, metal, found printed material

I Must Have Kentucky
mixed-media collage construction by J A Dixon
42.75 x 20.5 inches

•  S O L D

a final glance back at JUXTAPOSE . . .

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

“Collage artists form a unique and interesting community. The hunt for found materials is crucial to the process of many collage artists, causing them to be consummate collectors of things. Their collecting of material artifacts for their artistic appeal and possibilities, rather than for rarity or value, often makes them keenly aware of popular culture — present and past — with the subtle eye of an anthropological curator.”
— Cecil Touchon

During a gallery talk in early March for JUXTAPOSE, I floated this question to my audience: “What makes collage and assemblage rewarding for those of us who can draw?” The answer for me is that we see in the found material of our physical surroundings the ingredients for a different kind of creative spontaneity. As in most improvisational activity, there is a splendid opportunity for mystery, surprise, discovery, and joy. But there is more to it than that. I am convinced that what distinguishes artists who do contemporary collage and assemblage is their acute 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, numbing effect on our sensibilities — to infuse a new energy into that which would otherwise be discarded. It is a burning desire to create value when none exists and to find wonder, meaning, significance, and (yes) beauty, where none could have been expected.

It was a distinct privilege to exhibit with some of the finest collage and assemblage artists in Kentucky, and if nothing else happens on the art front for the balance of 2016, JUXTAPOSE will have made my year.
 

Pretty Please Peony ~ Meg Higgins, Louisville, Kentucky

Pretty Please Peony
Meg Higgins
collage on wood panel

collaborative collage on oversized playing cards ~ Terry Ray Flowers and Robert Hugh Hunt

collaborative collage on oversized playing cards
Robert H Hunt and Terry R Flowers

No Stopping ~ Brad Devlin, Louisville, Kentucky

No Stopping
Brad Devlin
assemblage, found objects

Intergalactic Passion ~ Brandon Long, Danville, Kentucky

Intergalactic Passion
Brandon Long
recycled promotional banners

six collage/assemblage artworks by Lisa Austin, Louisville, Kentucky

six collage/assemblage artworks
Lisa Austin

Pollinators 1 ~ Kathleen O’Brien, Harrodsburg, Kentucky

Pollinators 1
Kathleen O’Brien
mixed-media collage

Crossroads ~ Teri Dryden, Louisville, Kentucky

Crossroads
Teri Dryden
collage from discarded books on panel

Einstein ~ Robert Hugh Hunt, Richmond, Kentucky

Einstein
Robert Hugh Hunt
collage with watercolor on canvas board

JuxtaposeGrouping

This image represents to me the strong diversity of the JUXTAPOSE exhibition and reminds me of the exceptional “company” my art shared earlier this year — a pair of shadow boxes by yours truly in proximity to pieces by Robert Hugh Hunt, Cynthia Carr, Teri Dryden, and Lisa Austin.

It won’t surprise you to learn that I am looking for a good excuse to publish a compilation of JUXTAPOSE images with artist comments. Please let me know if that interests you!

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

Spot Checker

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

“I force myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste.”
— Marcel Duchamp

The generous invitation to create new works for JUXTAPOSE had me thinking about constructing my first surrealist assemblage, but I had no specific concept in mind. I had some ruined wood frames, ornate in style, and started cutting them with a mitre saw to form a Swiss cross. To be honest, I didn’t want to use that symbol, so it was easy to “cancel” the idea by rotating it 45 degrees, and now I had an X to “mark the spot.” Dead end? There had to be more to it than that. I shifted my attention to completing a collage, and I must have unwittingly assigned the problem to my subconscious, because I awoke after a night’s sleep with the total solution in my head. How can one explain something like that (or Dada, for that matter)?

A few words of caution, however: Don’t actually plug it in.
 
Dixon_SpotChecker

Spot Checker
assemblage by J A Dixon
30 x 30 inches (+ “tail”)
available for purchase

JUXTAPOSE opens in Danville, Kentucky

Friday, February 12th, 2016

An outstanding group show of Kentucky-based collage and assemblage artists has opened in my hometown at the local Community Arts Center, and it is an unprecedented exhibit of these mediums for our geographic area. Thanks to the support of the Corning Incorporated Foundation, curator Brandon Long has organized a must-see destination, and I am thrilled and gratified to be a part of it, along with Robert Hugh Hunt, Teri Dryden, Kathleen O’Brien, Lisa Austin, Patrick Donley, Brad Devlin, and others. With create-your-own-collage installations and multiple sets of 365 miniatures from full-year collage-a-day challenges, it is more than a typical exhibition. And where else can one experience 162 cards made available for public viewing by prolific collage collaborator Hunt, including items from his Hillbilly Voodoo series? Please pay a return visit here at this site for much more about this show!
 
Kentucky-based collage and assemblage artists at the Juxtapose reception, Community Arts Center, Danville, Kentucky

JUXTAPOSE collage and assemblage artists at the opening reception—
Front row, left to right: Meg Higgins, Virginia Birney, Cynthia Carr,
Nan Martindale, Kathleen O’Brien. Back row: Patrick Donley, Brad Devlin,
Brandon Long, Robert Hugh Hunt, John Andrew Dixon.

162 collage collaborations
R H Hunt, T R Flowers, and various artists

detail of Cherry Balm ~ J A Dixon

Cherry Balm (detail)
collage on canvas by J A Dixon
20 x 16 inches

A Kentucky Collaboration

Monday, August 24th, 2015

“I’ve collaborated with many artists over the years but never on a project of this size. The two pieces were to be 24″ x 24″ on structured panels. What made this collaboration successful was the interplay between the two artists. We both sent numerous pictures of our starts in progress and were able to play off the ideas and techniques the other was using, in this we created a true pair of collages instead of two separate pieces.”
— Robert Hugh Hunt
 

Collaboration between collage artists is a widespread, dynamic development within a medium that has shown extraordinary vitality after its centennial milestone in 2012. This very well may be part of a broader phenomenon, due in no small way to the explosion of social media and a greater networking among artists of all kinds. I was not surprised when, earlier this year, here in my home state, the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea announced a major exhibition called It Takes Two: Collaborations by Kentucky Artisans.

In response to this opportunity, I decided to contact Robert Hugh Hunt, an artist from Richmond, Kentucky whose work I had come to respect after we made a connection through Facebook. Both of us were aware of our geographic proximity, but had not previously met in person, nor had we collaborated remotely on a casual project. Appreciating each other’s prior work is no guarantee that two artists will enjoy the collaborative process or value the creative end result. Only by risking a joint venture will both artists find out if they actually are “on the same wavelength.” I am pleased to report that the results of my teamwork with Robert exceeded our optimistic expectations, and that one of the two pieces we created was selected for the “Takes Two” show.

As artists, Robert and I both work regularly with combined mediums, but we chose collage as the foundation of our approach because we recognize how ideally suited it is for collaboration. There was no inclination to think small. We each fabricated larger dimensional panels and created a “start” for the other — to establish the background and organize the two-dimensional space with found material and other recycled/repurposed elements. collage collaboration ~ the start by Robert Hugh Hunt for Kentucky Sovereign ~ collage on structured panelAfter meeting for the first time (with spouses, over lunch at a delightful new Cuban eatery halfway between our studios), we exchanged the unfinished works to complete the compositions with additional ingredients and renderings. Robert’s recognized practice of layering his cut-and-paste collage artworks with mixed-media additions had already caught my attention, and his expressed aim to do the same within our collaboration inspired me to include a hand-rendered element as a focal point in my “finish,” which we titled Kentucky Sovereign. Robert’s finish, Kentucky Madonna, features multiple mixed-media treatments on top of my background shapes. The effect helps to integrate our respective techniques and to bond the artworks as a “true pair,” to use Robert’s phrase.

For my start, I began with a section of an Iraqi newspaper brought home by a member of the Kentucky National Guard. Robert made use of clippings from a 1940s-era newspaper that he got from fellow collage artist Ted Tollefson. collage collaboration ~ the start by John Andrew Dixon for Kentucky Madonna ~ collage on structured panelOur range of “merz-strokes” was unfettered, but we shared a desire to “Kentuckify” our choices, although neither of us knew exactly what we meant by that. Other ingredients include magazine scraps, printed papers, antique maps, used packaging, illustrations from discarded books, mesh bag material, tissue, fabric, plastic clasps, wood, gummed labels, metal, emptied tea-bags, produce stickers, foil, wallpaper, digital printouts, a paper doily, and more (with a modest assemblage aspect thrown in for good measure). As with any collaboration, the challenge is to discover a way to enhance the start in a complimentary manner and also to bring one’s personal approach to the finish. Our decision to avoid isolation was a good one. Images exchanged during development kept the creative energy in flux and maintained a visual cord (a common chord?) between the surfaces as they evolved separately. It was a positive experience for both of us and boosted our enthusiasm to continue as active collaborators.

Thanks, Robbo!
 

finish by John Andrew Dixon for Kentucky Sovereign ~ a collaboration with R H Hunt ~ collage on structured panel

Kentucky Sovereign
a collaboration by R H Hunt and J A Dixon
collage on structured panel, 24 x 24 inches
(start by Hunt, finish by Dixon)
selected for It Takes Two: Collaborations by Kentucky Artisans
available for purchase

finish by Robert Hugh Hunt for Kentucky Modonna ~ a collaboration with John Andrew Dixon ~ collage on structured panel

Kentucky Madonna
a collaboration by J A Dixon and R H Hunt
collage on structured panel, 24 x 24 inches
(start by Dixon, finish by Hunt)
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

Not So Big

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

“Shadow boxes become poetic theater or settings wherein are metamorphosed the elements of a childhood pastime.”
— Joseph Cornell
 

The creations of Joseph Cornell are small, and remained so throughout his unusual life as an artist, even as many of his contemporaries responded to the fashion of producing ever larger works. For me, a salute to this influential American seemed like the fitting approach when I decided to enter notBIG(3), an annual juried exhibition devoted to small art. I am pleased to have had a piece accepted to this show, which hangs from 8/11 to 9/11 at Lexington’s M S Rezny Studio/Gallery.

The “poetic theater” of little shadow boxes is not an isolated medium in collage/assemblage. To consider one’s activity in this comprehensive oeuvre as anything but an homage to Cornell would be an act of mild self-delusion. His singular, enduring presence overarching the genre must be acknowledged. There was a concern that my taking this approach with the notBIG(3) entry might appear to the juror as too derivative, but I pushed ahead with the “sincere flattery” of my plan. I had failed to crack this competition in its previous calls to artists, and I had hopes that the third time would be a charm for me. In addition, I wanted to assemble a range of ingredients outside my norm, including metal, wood, organic material, glass vials, and vinyl dimestore figures.

I created and entered two works as a pair — Histopia and Hertopia — a dual allusion to Utopia Parkway and its significance to the art history of the 20th century. It was not possible to enter both as a combined entry because the dimensions would have exceeded the size limitation of 12 x 12 inches. Only the first shadow box was selected. I was delighted to learn of my getting in the show, but it came with a small serving of disappointment, knowing that the gender balance of my overall idea would be lost with the “boy scene” presented to viewers by itself. It is something I can accept. Out of 380 works submitted, the 45 artists who make up the exhibition have a single artwork included. At any rate, this is what blogsites are for. Both pieces can be viewed together, and I have the opportunity to explain the whole thing to anyone kind enough to read this far. I also anticipate that many of you will be able to visit what appears to be shaping up as a strong exhibition. The opening reception is Friday evening, August 14th, 5 to 8 pm.
 

Histopia ~ collage/assemblage in shadow box frame by John Andrew Dixon

Histopia
collage/assemblage in shadow-box frame by J A Dixon
10 x 10 x 1.75 inches, available for purchase

Hertopia ~ collage/assemblage in shadow box frame by John Andrew Dixon

Hertopia
collage/assemblage in shadow-box frame by J A Dixon
10 x 10 x 1.75 inches, available for purchase

Pearental Discretion

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

“When people think about creativity, they think about artistic work — unbridled, unguided effort that leads to beautiful effect. But if you look deeper, you’ll find that some of the most inspiring art forms, such as haikus, sonatas, and religious paintings, are fraught with constraints. They are beautiful because creativity triumphed over the ‘rules.’ Constraints shape and focus problems and provide clear challenges to overcome. Creativity thrives best when constrained.”
— Marissa Ann Mayer

I have been intrigued by the recent work of participants in the Matchbook Collage Collaboration Project. Collage artists, whether working alone or in collaboration, are increasingly known for imposed restrictions — time, scale, format, or ingredients. Early on I gained a healthy respect for the power of parameters, most likely because I was educated as a designer and trained as an applied artist. Years later, this respect was amplified significantly when I witnessed my nephew create thousands of 101-word stories as an exercise in creative writing.

A big part of managing open-ended potential when initiating new work is to dig for an “inner assignment” that limits the options and sparks a creative impulse. Another good catalyst is to look around for an external constraint. I enjoy reacting to calls-to-artists that focus on an organizing concept. Even if I don’t actually apply, the triggered intuitive process can be informative. Here is a piece that I just finished in response to the exhibition theme of “Home.” In addition to framing the possibilities, it provided an opportunity for me to work more three-dimensionally, explore color scheme limitations, and further investigate the combining of found materials.
 

Pearental Discretion ~ John Andrew Dixon

Pearental Discretion
mixed-media artifact by J A Dixon
11.25 x 9.25 inches
available for purchase