Archive for the 'Collage' Category

Abstraction in Collage

Saturday, March 10th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

(title unknown)
abstract collage by L Letscher

(title unknown)
abstract collage by M Tidwell

abstract collage by Z Collins

Elysburg IV
abstract collage by C Chapman

abstract collage by D McKenna

Osmosis 3
abstract collage by C Emeleus

abstract collage by W Strempler

abstract collage by S Kraft

from her series, BALANCE
abstract collage by S A Herman

Day 18 of 40
abstract collage by C Neubauer

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

(title unknown)
abstract collage by J C Martin

Reap ~ G Cooper

abstract collage by G Cooper

Cognitives and Conclusions
abstract collage by S Ringler

Dynamic Stability ~ J A Dixon

Dynamic Stability
abstract collage by J A Dixon

Haus of Categories

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

“As an art of its time, collage art — its imagery, its techniques, its attitude — speaks to our confrontation with a fractured multifarious image of the world in an age of information overload. The activities of sifting, sorting, organizing and prioritizing has become the basis and the goal of artistic activity in this hummingbird era of ADHD”
— Cecil Touchon

“A light bulb in the socket is worth two in the pocket.”
— Bill Wolf

Categorization is integral to the practice of collage. It is part and parcel of the ongoing acquisition, storage, and retrieval of compositional ingredients. I doubt if there is a dedicated collage artist out there who does not possess a particular method of processing the studio material that results in a work of art. We do relish the hunt, and, to some degree, we enjoy accumulation for its own sake, but, more than that, we like to be able to find our stuff when we want to use it.

Not long ago, Allan Bealy brought an article about the library of Vito Acconci to my attention. Like many artists, I devised a method of classification early in life and refined it over the years, and I found benefits in developing a “morgue” according to my own “creative code” rather than adopting a predetermined system. In whatever way we catalog it, we must be able to access the ingredients we need without impeding a flow of intuitive spontaneity. My studio repository began as a few “youthful” files of tear sheets that simply caught my eye as catalytic images. With the demands of professionalism, it grew into an illustrator’s resource that spared me many a trip to the public library. It mushroomed over time and finally evolved into a collage artist’s stash, with many subdivisions (such as antiquity, language, creatures, environments, attire, icons, themes, botanicals, patterns, vintage, surreal, and cosmic).

Individualized categories also help me to organize self-perceptions of what I make, even if these “sets” or “series” make limited sense to others. Although crafting personal greeting cards continues at a significantly reduced rate, I can now look back on the life-long activity as a key practice in my transition from applied to fine arts. It has had a strong influence on how I codify work that typically begins with intuition and ultimately ends with inclusion within some sort of idiosyncratic classification.

Please examine seven images recently created for my outgoing cards (with their designated categories). Some are considered hybrids (for lack of a better term). Those with an interest can find more at The Collage Miniaturist with this link and its associated archive.

Long live John’s Haus of Cards!

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

collage greeting card by J A Dixon
series Omega/Pi hybrid, collection of W Bates

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

Eagle Nest Goddess
collage greeting card by J A Dixon
series Pi, collection of J Hellyer

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

collage greeting card by J A Dixon
series Omega, collection of R W Breidenbach

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

G is for Gray
collage greeting card by J A Dixon
series Omega/Pi hybrid, collection of G Zeitz

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

Nurse Saw It
collage greeting card by J A Dixon
series Pi, collection of R K Hower

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

collage greeting card by J A Dixon
series Omega, collection of J M Hoover

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

O Lovely Perch
collage greeting card by J A Dixon
series Omega, collection of W W Barefoot


Monday, January 15th, 2018

“When you take risks you learn that there will be times when you succeed and there will be times when you fail, and both are equally important.”
— Ellen DeGeneres

Although it was created in the studio, my new collage landscape titled ‘Wetland’ benefits from a summer of plein-air activity. My “painting with paper” out of doors has opened a rewarding area of investigation for my work as a collage artist. I’m pleased to share this piece with the art-viewing community at my first invitational exhibition of the year, the annual New Year New Art show at our Community Arts Center, just a biscuit toss from my home base in downtown Danville, Kentucky. This event has been a fortifying tradition for regional artists, because we can complete our year of work at a risk-taking level, and still know that the result will get a prominent public display. An artist working outside a metropolitan center could not ask for greater support from a local institution.

Based on an excellent photograph by a longtime pal, this artwork was created as an entry for a contemporary landscape show, but the juror rejected it for unknown reasons. I kept it handy for a pair of upcoming open studio events (my participation in the Central Kentucky ARTTOUR and Gallery Hop Stop). Plenty of praise ensued, but nobody took it home, so I decided to make additional refinements, leading up to the deadline for the January exhibition. A full makeover was unnecessary, as the in-process image above indicates. However, I was not entirely pleased with the vegetation at the waterline, above the dark shadow that spans the composition. In this case, less was not more. Additional ‘foliage’ was needed. I also thought that the lower right corner was too abstract. The desired sense of realism would profit from a more detailed foreground. Late-season ironweed, a favorite of mine, seemed a suitable choice. That led intuitively to a few closing decisions in the sky reflection and distant terrain. stash of premium paper samplesNearly all of the ingredients were infused with wheat paste and press firmly onto the evolving surface with polymer gel. After thorough drying, selected areas were lightly sanded and the total surface evenly daubed with a flat sealant.

It is very satisfying to work with a palette of elegant papers, and I am fortunate to have them. Some of you may remember (especially those with a background connected in some way to the graphic arts) the pre-internet days of a more diversified paper industry. Numerous mills and distributors slugged it out in a highly competitive market. Inkjet printing was still on the horizon and multi-color offset printing was expensive. Printing on colored stock was a cost-effective way to get more color into published material. Paper producers went out of their way to demonstrate creative ways to use colored paper and many of us who specified paper for printing projects were lavished with promotional samples. Decades later, I still have a stash from that era, and I rely on it now for my plein-air miniatures and studio landscapes. A piece such as ‘Wetland’ puts this hoard to good use; it would not look the same with scrapbook or construction paper. The richness of premium papers manufactured for fine printing were accented with fragments of dulled foil, tissue, scraps of found packaging, and fragments of typography. After all, it’s meant to be a collage artwork!

The opening reception for NYNA is this Friday evening, 5 to 8 pm. Perhaps I shall see you there to discuss ‘Wetland’ in person.
Wetland ~ collage landscape by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

collage landscape by J A Dixon
21.25 x 19.25 inches
on structured panel, framed
currently on consignment

Top collage artists I never even knew about !!!

Saturday, January 13th, 2018

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

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

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

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

Woman reading ~ Eileen Agar

Woman reading
by Eileen Agar, 1936
Museum of New Zealand

Protagonists ~ Nancy Spero

by Nancy Spero, 1989
disposition unknown

Grima - mit Katze ~ Annegret Soltau

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

Year Five: a new “Janus Project” in the works?

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017

“There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say ‘It is yet more difficult than you thought.’ This is the muse of form. It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction, to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
― Wendell Berry

Someone once opined that “since most people feel that the world gets worse, not better, the only basis of genuinely popular art is nostalgia.” There may be some truth in that. However, one could recall examples of entirely new things gaining wide popularity, too, especially in music. The visual artist must accept that most people will never grant them the position that they ascribe to musical and culinary artists, because nothing in life will supplant music and food in their daily routine of emotional attachments (although, with the current explosion of binge-on-demand streaming entertainment, other creatives may be poised to achieve a similar status).

When I reflect on my fifth year of musing about collage at this blogsite and look ahead to the next, I realize just how much work there is in front of me to puzzle through some of these ideas. Like many artists, I hope to juggle goals that may at first seem in contradiction: to attract patrons, to inspire colleagues, and to please myself. I don’t see any way to approach it other than to balance elements of our past (the appeal of the nostalgic), our present (the lure of the trend), and our future (the surprise of the new). How convenient that balancing elements in Janus-like fashion just happens to be my craft!

In all seriousness, collage (and the related montage-inherent media) are almost uniquely suited to the challenge at hand, and perhaps that is why post-centennial collage is becoming a worldwide phenomenon in the 21st. Diving more deeply into this quandary will provide ample food for thought in the coming year. Meanwhile, I shall make more!

an untitled ‘ultra miniature’ by the prolific N Soppelsa

Nikki Soppelsa
Look ahead to a discussion of “ultra miniaturism” in collage.

The Skin Trade ~ R H Hunt

Robert Hugh Hunt
Stay tuned for a review of contemporary collage abstraction.

another example of humor in collage by T R Flowers

Terry R Flowers
Is it time to peruse the long history of humor in collage?

Construction of Space ~ K Schwitters, 1921

Kurt Schwitters
And I shall never tire of studying and sharing the work of KS.

Three more book covers . . .

Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”
— Ellen Parr

“What do I make next?”
— Paula Scher

Curiosity is perhaps a common characteristic of all visual artists, but certainly it is a driving feature of what motivates the collage practitioner — curiosity about acquiring and editing discovered remnants, curiosity about choosing a substrate or background context, and curiosity about composing selected ingredients for creative juxtaposition. We are all, in essence, “curators” of what others have cast aside.

Cecil Touchon has written, “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. Collage artists explore the artifacts that have poured out of the cornucopia of modern society, using them as grist for the creative mill, generating new works of art with materials that have already had their useful life and have been retired from their intended purpose. In the hands of collage artists, these materials often achieve poetic stature when their inherent visual qualities are brought to the fore and their former usefulness disregarded.”

Every creative person is interested in what comes next. Those of us who focus our curiosity on the discarded are also interested in what we shall rescue and transform in order to create it.

Touché ~ J A Dixon

collage miniature on book cover by J A Dixon
7 x 10 inches
Purchase this artwork!

Mussel Power ~ J A Dixon

Mussel Power
collage miniature on book cover by J A Dixon
7 x 10 inches
Purchase this artwork!

Evolucent ~ J A Dixon

collage miniature on book cover by J A Dixon
7 x 10 inches
Purchase this artwork!

Miniature vs. Miniature

Monday, November 20th, 2017

“Tie small-scale contrasts together compositionally, but also large-scale contrasts; for instance: confront chaos with order, so that both groups, which are separately coherent, become related when they are placed next to or above each other; they enter into the relation of contrast, whereby the characters of both sides are mutually heightened.”
— Paul Klee, 1915

For the most part, I consider any collage artwork that is 8 x 10 inches or smaller to be a “miniature,” but this is not a definition that I expect anyone else to adopt. It is just a personal rule of thumb within my nomenclature, based on a conviction that the small format has been at the heart of the evolving medium from the outset and continues to be the wellspring of innovation.

Cohesive collage artworks at this scale have always been qualified to stand on their own as finished creations, but I am increasingly fascinated by the process of assembling multiples or embedding miniatures into composite designs. It boosts their perceived character as “artifacts,” and offers the practitioner another level of discernment that balances intuitive spontaneity with more considered design judgments.

This is a series that I shall enjoy expanding.
Please let me know what you think.

Fresh-Full of Youth ~ J A Dixon

Fresh-Full of Youth
combined collage miniature segments
J A Dixon, 11 x 14 inches
Purchase this artwork!

Clarissa’s Beetle ~ J A Dixon

Clarissa’s Beetle
combined collage miniature segments
J A Dixon, 11 x 14 inches
Purchase this artwork!

More from the Crafted Series

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

“It’s very rare that writing music is easy. But you should ask my wife: she suffers more in these cases than I do.”
— Arvo Pärt

The new Crafted Series has come fully into focus, although it has been necessary to keep my concentration fiddle-string tight to keep from slipping into more established instincts and to avoid over-working the compositions. The selection of ingredients and the design development had to be as intuitive as possible, even as I consciously pushed outside my comfort zone — a tricky balance. More than ever, it was my goal to have the artisanship be at the highest level, but I did not want these pieces to look like they were difficult to make. Rather, they should look like they were just meant to be. In all honesty, refining the titles was almost as challenging as creating the artwork. The five examples below have been submitted to the Kentucky Arts Council for review by a panel of independent jurors.

Lutetia Night Crystal ~ J A Dixon ~ part of his Crafted Series

Lutetia Night Crystal
collage miniature by J A Dixon
5.75 x 7.75 inches
Purchase this artwork!

Humble Ruby Fillmore ~ J A Dixon ~ part of his Crafted Series

Humble Ruby Fillmore
collage miniature by J A Dixon
5.75 x 7.75 inches
Purchase this artwork!

Roberta Bloom Orbit ~ J A Dixon ~ part of his Crafted Series

Roberta Bloom Orbit
collage miniature by J A Dixon
5.75 x 7.75 inches

•  S O L D

Foxy Gold Hubbard ~ J A Dixon ~ part of his Crafted Series

Foxy Gold Hubbard
collage miniature by J A Dixon
5.75 x 7.75 inches
Purchase this artwork!

Karimata Core Cygnus ~ J A Dixon ~ part of his Crafted Series

Karimata Core Cygnus
collage miniature by J A Dixon
5.75 x 7.75 inches
Purchase this artwork!

The Crafted Series

Monday, October 16th, 2017

“Music, to me, is a matter of growth, development and rejuvenation.”
— Lalo Schifrin

Every so often, it is good to shove the status quo through the stern window into one’s wake. For me, that does not mean abandoning anything more than “business as usual.” Far from it. It becomes a matter of using everything that I have learned, showcasing all of my acquired skills, and tapping the full resource of internalized discernments to find a different level of creation. To whatever extent I am successful at doing that, there is hope for a renewed sense of discovery and joy.

As many of you know, I have considered collage to be an interactive medium. As a deeper back-and-forth, intuitive relationship with materials and compositional ingredients continues to develop, a corresponding interaction with those who respond to the work must also evolve. Art can indeed be a solitary, insular pursuit for some, but I consider collage to be more like music. How can the listener not be vitally important to the process?

In an interview, the late David Bowie said, “I think it’s terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfill other people’s expectations. I think they generally produce their worst work when they do that. And, if you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the border than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth, and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”

There is powerful insight in that observation, but holding the expectations of others at arm’s length does not exclude a goal of preserving their interest and involvement in the experiment. Not at all. Certainly not for me. I invite and value the feedback. Constructive criticism, too. There is no fulfillment in failing to elicit a sense of pleasurable intrigue and wonder in those who value the hundred-year story of collage artwork. For me, it will never be a private affair.

Hedra Cinq Sahara ~ J A Dixon ~ part of his Crafted Series

Hedra Cinq Sahara
collage miniature by J A Dixon
5.75 x 7.75 inches
Purchase this artwork!

Azulenco King Jetties ~ J A Dixon ~ part of his Crafted Series

Azulenco King Jetties
collage miniature by J A Dixon
5.75 x 7.75 inches
Purchase this artwork!

Magna Finch Bombus ~ J A Dixon ~ part of his Crafted Series

Magna Finch Bombus
collage miniature by J A Dixon
5.75 x 7.75 inches
Purchase this artwork!

Horse Tail Reasons

Monday, October 9th, 2017

“Que no haya novedad.”
— ancient Catalan saying

With my new “Crafted Series,” I am paying particular attention to capturing a dominant mood of mystery, surprise, and joy, while keeping the process as spontaneous as possible. These are not calculated artworks, even as I make an effort to hold dark undertones at bay. As with most of my compositions, there is an ordered structure, although not preconceived or based on a “preliminary layout.” The feelings to be evoked will arise as much from color choices (intuitively selected, rather than consciously built), as they will from the subjects of the assembled ingredients themselves. The example featured today was created with an individual recipient in mind, as with That Red Boot. From here I shall proceed with enthusiasm to a fuller series of slightly larger pieces. They will be made available to people interested in adding collage artwork to their collections. Stay tuned!
Horse Tail Reasons ~ J A Dixon

Horse Tail Reasons
collage miniature by J A Dixon
5.375 x 7.125 inches
collection of J M Menke

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