Archive for the 'Collage' Category

Star of Commonwealth ~ through the glass

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”
— Muhammad Ali
 

Let us take “our telescope” and look more closely at the Star. My strong appreciation of fine-art collage is second to none, but there is something equally as satisfying when one is called upon to create an “artifact” that pays tribute to a unique historical or personal legacy. I think that I managed to compile enough ingredients to do justice to the theme of the current exhibition — Kentucky’s 225th birthday celebration.

If anyone asks, “Where is he or she? Why did you not include this or that?” the answer might be as simple as an absence of “stuff.” The reason for that is my firm reluctance to use anything but original source material that would otherwise be destined for the recycling bin or landfill. I cannot bring myself to go online to search for, print, and use digital imagery, even though nearly anything can be “acquired” in that format these days. For me, art is always about constraint. Or, as the late Martin Landau put it, “It’s not about comfort, it’s about discovery.”

Please click on the images below to zoom in on Star of Commonwealth.
 

detail from ‘Star of Commonwealth’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

How can a collage artist go wrong, relying on images of
Kentucky’s two most widely recognized and revered native sons?
For me, Frederick Douglass is the figure who links them best.

detail from ‘Star of Commonwealth’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

One of my organizing factors was to confine the more intense colors to the
‘floating’ star and to use the plank surfaces to carry a more historical tone.

detail from ‘Star of Commonwealth’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

Kentucky has one of the greatest multitude of counties for any state in the union.
Woefully inefficient, or one of the better examples of self-government close to
the people? You can decide. I just like how colorful it makes an antique map.
At any rate, the frontier’s exploding population pushed Dan’l toward the sunset.

detail from ‘Star of Commonwealth’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

One of my favorite zones involves a visual juxtaposition of worship, whiskey,
constitution, thoroughbreds, coal mining, confederate leader, battle flag, and a
reference to human slavery. Only the history of Kentucky could contain all that.

Collage En Plein Air ~ third chapter

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

“Try to understand, not only the nature of what you’re looking at, but your own perception and the judgments behind what you’re looking at.”
— Nicolas Uribe
 

Are you still as interested in this subject as I am, my dear reader? I hope so. Permit me to begin this entry with an update on my evolving ‘Plein Air Collage Kit.’ After two more productive “art-outs,” minor refinements are still taking place. Protective feet were added to the base, a better diversity of colored and printed papers were organized, and, since it isn’t necessary to take much adhesive on location, I downsized the glue bottles for a better fit.

Plein Air Collage Kit based on a re-purposed dish drainer ~ by J A Dixon, collage artist from Danville, Kentucky
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The PAACK group was welcomed to a home with lovely farmscapes in every direction. I picked a breezy spot to test my methodology and to capture one of our host’s flower gardens. I liked the sloping road and cornfield in the background and a central tree at its summer peak. John Andrew Dixon ~ plein air collage artistThe composition was complex enough that I would push the limit of the 50/50 ratio of location-to-studio labor before it was finished. I wanted to do justice to the impatiens in the foreground. Although I intend to get back to some strictly on-site studies, I decided to create a companion piece with the same ratio on my next venture into the countryside.

In my adopted area of the southern bluegrass region of Kentucky, there are many historic farm estates. Two of my favorites are Isaac Shelby’s Traveler’s Rest, which is partially accessible to the public, and pioneer surgeon Ephraim McDowell’s summer retreat named Cambus-Kenneth Farm, which is not. It was a rare treat for our group to be offered the opportunity to wander among the paddocks and historic structures of the serene Cambus-Kenneth on the last day of July.

It’s not as though I haven’t drawn or painted out of doors many times since youth, but the recent, more systematic approach has introduced me to aspects of the plein air discipline that are no doubt familiar to artists who have made the practice a ritual. Personally, I find that it is important to not spend too much time selecting a spot to sit, John Andrew Dixon ~ plein air collage artisteven though the entire enterprise rests upon the decision. It seems as though the act should be part of the overall intuitive process to which the day is pledged. It was tough to avoid squandering valuable minutes at Cambus-Kenneth, since there were barns, ponds, pastures, an impressive Italianate home, and many remarkably preserved 18th- and 19th-century brick outbuildings, including an icehouse, springhouse, and slave quarters. By using a viewing card with square “window,” I zeroed in on the old red-roofed quarters. I was able to complete enough of the design that day to stay within the 50/50 restriction when I finished the artwork in the studio a few days later. Folks, I may just be getting the hang of this gig. Please let me know what you think of the results.
 

Intermediate stage of ‘Garden of Alice’ ~ J A Dixon Intermediate stage of ‘Old Quarters’ ~ J A Dixon

Here are the intermediate stages of two plein air miniatures, after completing
the on-location work. I start with my finding an appealing composition with a
viewing card, then roughly sketch the layout before picking a color scheme
from papers available in my kit. These artworks required studio time equal
to what I spent in the field — a total of approximately nine to ten hours each.

Garden of Alice ~ plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon

Garden of Alice
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
6.625 x 6.125 inches
available for purchase

Old Quarters ~ plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon ~ at Cambus-Kenneth Farm, Danville Kentucky

Old Quarters
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
6.625 x 6.125 inches
available for purchase

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

Collage En Plein Air ~ second chapter

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

“Detached from judgement, hesitation, fear of failure or imitation, one embraces the moment and the place, as revealed in value, color, and shape — the impossible can happen and the spirit of the place appears as if by magic.”
—Dean Taylor Drewyer
 

I joined the Plein Air Artists of Central Kentucky on one of their regular “art-outs” with a totally different system than I used in my first venture. Louis Degni is marketing an outdoor kit for collage artists that he calls the “St Hilaire System” (named for artist Elizabeth St Hilaire). John Andrew Dixon ~ plein air collage artistHis design may work fine, but the idea of using cups to control available source paper did not appeal to me, so I put together a different configuration based on a re-purposed plastic dish drainer. Using custom-cut folders fitted to the 14 dish slots, I have an array of potential ingredients that are fully protected from the wind. Needless to say, even a mild breeze can play the devil with small scraps of paper. After I got to the site and picked my location, I sorted through a spectrum of colors to choose a palette. John Andrew Dixon ~ plein air collage artist A central compartment between the little folders provides storage for this selected material under the large clipboard that secures my working surface. Bottles with two different adhesives fit handily into what was originally meant to hold kitchen flatware. The scale is ideal for a collage miniature. Additional refinements are anticipated, especially if I decide to increase the working dimensions, but I now have a solid approach that allows me to concentrate on capturing the essence of the scene.

The hospitality extended by our hosts for the day was remarkable. I was free to roam the property and found a grape arbor that had seen better days, but still looked handsome in a patch of sunlight. My subject may have been too complex for the time slot, or, more likely, the process remains slow, since my layering method is still inefficient. I wasn’t able to complete all the foliage on site, so I had to spend some studio time the following day to finish up. I’ll admit to being pleased with the results, although I hadn’t expected to be satisfied with my early attempts. I have no idea where this is heading, but I’m happy to follow my enthusiasm to the next phase!
 

Margo’s Arbor ~ plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon

Margo’s Arbor
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
4.625 x 4.625 inches
available for purchase

Their Desperate State

Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

Although I perceive aesthetic currents of spatial counterpoint, color harmony, and design unity, I find it nearly impossible to rationalize most of my individual collage compositions. As in most improvisational activity, there is sufficient value in the opportunity for mystery, surprise, discovery, and joy — plus, of course, the subjective response of each receptive observer.
 
Their Desperate State ~ J A Dixon

Their Desperate State
collage miniature on book cover by J A Dixon
5.875 x 9.25 inches
 
Purchase this artwork.

Collage En Plein Air

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

“When painting and sketching plein air I sink into the landscape, an attuned witness to its mood and beauty.”
—Dianne Bersea
 

After the experience I had last September in Sault Ste Marie, I stayed attached to the particular idea that I could perfect a method of doing collage en plein air. I had no illusions about becoming a Tom Thomson or Rockwell Kent. I was just waiting for an opportunity to put my notion to the test, and I found it when the Plein Air Artists of Central Kentucky invited me to one of their summer outings.

I assumed going into the experiment that, aside from the creative challenge that faces any person working out of doors, a collage artist would need to be prepared to accommodate even the slightest of breezes. I had no coherent system for doing that and placed more of my focus on how to transport what I thought I would need on location. Fortunately, the scheduled gathering was on a day of gentle weather, so I was able to measure the potential hazard under ideal conditions. Truth be told, I still spent some time on hands and knees, searching for wayward scraps in the surrounding grass. Ideas for a more systematic approach took shape as I worked, and I also learned what would not be needed the next time out (perhaps equally important as identifying what was essential). Forgetting common white glue was a blunder, so I fell back on a desirable combination of wheat paste and gel medium. I rarely use a single adhesive anyway.

The process was more like painting with paper than what I have been used to — studio collage is more concerned with the ingredients themselves, but this was about interpreting what was visually in front of me. I was reminded of the small, square studies that an accomplished plein air painter showed me when I visited her studio in Berkeley, California. To develop the capacity to genuinely SEE what is before me is an exciting prospect (admittedly long overdue). As I move from everything being new and unfamiliar to a clearer sense of the potential for this activity, I can eventually pursue the inherent spontaneity and unexpected juxtapositions of true collage, rather than the effect of a simple, torn-paper rendering. Nevertheless, my initial emphasis must be on devising a more workable, mobile kit that guards against the qualities of wind, of which there is no degree so minimal as to not be undesirable when handling small paper ingredients. It is no surprise to me that relatively few collage artists are creating works entirely outside.
 

JWDB’s Domain ~ plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon

JWDB’s Domain
first plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
4.625 x 4.625 inches
available for purchase

time for another Art-full Affair . . .

Sunday, May 21st, 2017

As I have done every other spring for a number of years, I create an artwork for an event sponsored by the Arts Commission of Danville / Boyle County — An Art-full Affair, our biennual push to raise dollars for local arts scholarships. Each donation of artwork or creative service is matched by a ticket sale that admits a buyer and her guest to back-to-back parties — a Friday preview and a Saturday drawing. The first name pulled from the jar is able to pick from every available donation on display, until there is only one ticket holder and one item remaining. Each prize is guaranteed to be worth at least twice the value of the $100 admission. In addition, the final evening is broken up by two live auctions.

There are artists who, based on a perspective of refusing to support exploitation, are unwilling to contribute artwork to a charitable cause. I’ll admit that many people who run non-profit organizations can be cavalier about the value of creative labor, but nobody will ever take advantage of artists without their consent and participation. When I look at the deep tradition of pro-bono work in America, the adamant stance of certain creatives strikes me as “a tempest in a teapot.” I make my art donations infrequent and always local. I confess to taking satisfaction from helping a deserving youngster who otherwise would not be able to experience art, music, drama, or dance. It has nothing to do with exposure or professional advancement — a silly motivation from my point of view.

To Peach Is Owed was taken home by Kristin and Brandon Long, a pair of wonderful artists who preside over the most “art-full” family I know. A great outcome ~ a fun time ~ a worthy enterprise!
 

a detail from ‘To Peach Is Owed’ ~ donated by John Andrew Dixon to ‘An Art-full Affair’ ~ an event sponsored by the Arts Commission of Danville / Boyle County a detail from ‘To Peach Is Owed’ ~ donated by John Andrew Dixon to ‘An Art-full Affair’ ~ an event sponsored by the Arts Commission of Danville / Boyle County

Two square details of the peach-themed collage artwork
were posted to the Instagram page of The Collage Miniaturist.

To Peach Is Owed ~ donated by John Andrew Dixon to ‘An Art-full Affair’ ~ a biennial fundraising event sponsored by the Arts Commission of Danville / Boyle County

To Peach Is Owed
collage on structured panel by J A Dixon
inset into handcrafted frame from salvaged wood
18 x 20.5 inches
collection of the Long Family

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

First cause: the intuitive response

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

“Every athlete, every musician practices every day. Why should it be different for artists?”
— Christoph Niemann
 

Creating a collage within constraints is one of the most enjoyable activities within the medium, because it is necessary to throw oneself upon the mercy of pure intuition. Last week I was in the middle of caring for my mother at our family farm, and I assigned myself this exercise:

Mombo (V E Dixon) with her son (J A Dixon) ~ Easter at the Blue Bank Farm, 2017Complete one full-page collage in my journal within the time of Mombo’s two-hour afternoon nap, using only ingredients found in the recycling bin.

Naturally, my journal is the perfect place to conduct such exercises. I take what I learn from the small format and bring it to larger artworks. What is it that I learn? That, too, is primarily a matter of fortifying one’s intuition. I hope to internalize the creative response that each experiment reveals and keep my collage process as subjective as possible. For me, nothing bogs down the making of a collage more than too much rational thinking, which is best reserved for aesthetic refinements, finishing touches, and creating titles.
 
Untitled (first cause) ~ a collage miniature by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

Untitled (first cause)
constrained collage exercise by J A Dixon
page from 11×14 Strathmore journal
not for sale

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 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.