Archive for the 'Collage' Category

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

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.

Eros manet in nobis . . .

Sunday, February 19th, 2017

“I love the abstract, delicate, profound, vague, voluptuously wordless sensation of living ecstatically.”
— Anaïs Nin

I have to admit that I am weary of seeing the output of collage artists who glean from pornographic content and assemble images that generally fail to rise above the source material. It is a lazy way to shock at best and a mere trafficking in human objectification at worst. That being said, I do have a sincere regard for erotic minimalism, present throughout the full century of collage as an expressive medium. Needless to say, contemporary artists have kept the tradition alive — especially in Europe — and the best examples require no additional verbal explanation.
 

Alter Ego by Nicola Kloosterman

Nicola Kloosterman | Netherlands

Franz Falckenhaus

Franz Falckenhaus | Poland

Beatrice Squitti

Beatrice Squitti | Italy

Dance With Me by Una Gildea

Una Gildea | Ireland

Mother by Erin Case

Erin Case | Michigan, USA

Miriam Tölke

Miriam Tölke | Germany

Wim Maes

Wim Maes | Belgium

Eduring Beauty by Deborah Stevenson

Deborah Stevenson | Maine, USA

Multimedia 6 by Alexander D’Haese

Alexander D’Haese | Belgium

Waldemar Strempler

Waldemar Strempler | Germany

Odeur 11 by Katrien De Blauwer

Katrien De Blauwer | Belgium

Großwerden by Kerstin Deinert

Kerstin Deinert | Germany

Jaroslav Škojec

Jaroslav Škojec | Czech Republic

Another worthy collaborative alliance

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when
brothers dwell in unity!”
— Psalms 133:1
 

Collage collaboration is thriving in the Bluegrass. Robert Hugh Hunt and I began to think about a new project earlier last year, to follow our double-piece venture of 2015 (unveiled at the Kentucky Artisan Center’s It Takes Two show, featured at JUXTAPOSED, and also recognized in the state capitol rotunda as part of the 2016 Governor’s Derby Exhibit). Based on a thumbnail sketch in my journal that suggested a pair of interlocking shapes, we each took a 16×20 canvas-on-wood construction and worked independently on a solution to our “puzzle.” As we shared images online, a color scheme evolved as visual ideas echoed. Out of the gate, a found drawing of lupine eyes would demand a lower face with grinning mouth. Before long, we had exchanged a digital simulation of how the pieces would configure. Robert responded with a television element after I pasted the face of Fidel into a vintage TV set. (Strangely enough, this was a few weeks before the dictator’s demise.) When my partner, known for his mixed-media roosters, drew a chicken head, I added a corresponding game fowl to further the red-black theme. Did my fragment of a playing card spark his array of floating club symbols? His hand-drawn kissers certainly inspired my pencil and acrylic rendering of the “photo-booth” Kennedys.
   
   

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Finishing touches were made after we had shared our final interim images. When our halves converged for the culminating “intercourse,” we thought it desirable for me to install a clamping device, so that the components might stand alone in the future. I explored possibilities and tried some ideas at my workbench, but, alas, I have never been an engineer. Fortunately, my kind collaborator was comfortable with a decision to join them permanently and declare victory.

‘Dreams Aligned’ (a collaborative collage construction by John Andrew Dixon and Robert Hugh Hunt) at the 2017 NEW YEAR NEW ART exhibition ~ Community Arts Center, Danville, KentuckyAll in all, I found our creative teamwork to be an immensely satisfying collaboration. The result was selected to be part of the local NEW YEAR NEW ART winter exhibition. Even though the interlocking feature of the artwork is probably more discernible when viewing it in person, it makes for a provocative online impression, and we were pleased that it was designated as the promotional poster for the show. the 2017 NEW YEAR NEW ART exhibition ~ Community Arts Center, Danville, KentuckyAfter I had sorted through dozens of potential titles with a lack of conviction, Robert coined the phrase that stuck. He wrote this to me when he summed up our experimental process:

“Well, this collaboration was unlike any I had done. Most art collaborations have multiple artists working one at a time on a single piece until it is finished. As the artist, you are either ‘starting’ the collaborative piece or ‘finishing’ it, and, in cases with more than two collaborators, you could be working the ‘middle’ of the piece. But with Dreams Aligned, we took a different approach — creating two pieces, which I felt should stand on their own, and merging the two into one piece that not only worked as a whole, but made a stronger piece than the two works alone. And the fact that we had worked together successfully before, and understood each other’s artistic language, and that we kept a visual dialogue ongoing, showing each other the progress on their ‘half,’ following each other’s visual cues on medium, color, composition, etc. — in this way we were able to create a collaboration with two distinct artistic halves. It wasn’t a merging as much as an alignment of our artistic styles and languages, hence the title.”
 
Dreams Aligned ~ a collaborative collage construction ~ Kentucky artists John Andrew Dixon and Robert Hugh Hunt

Dreams Aligned
a collage collaboration by J A Dixon and R H Hunt
mixed-media construction, 26.75 x 26.5 inches
(left component by Dixon, right component by Hunt)
available for purchase

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?’”
– Burton 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

That dreaded Artist Tongue

Friday, December 2nd, 2016

“Somehow the language used for describing and discussing art has a reputation for unusual opacity, even sadism.”
– Robert Atkins

Someone recently remarked that my description of collage as an intuitive phenomenon sounds like “artspeak.” I know what she meant — confusing, overblown prose that tends to alienate the “uninitiated.” She may have had a point, although I would hope that there is a difference between jargon meant to exclude those who don’t speak the often-elitist language of contemporary art, and an honest attempt to write about something that is difficult to articulate (because, in essense, it is a non-verbal, non-rational process). If I fall prey to obscuring that distinction at The Collage Miniaturist, please call me on it. I can take it.

dixon_untitledindustry

Untitled (INDUSTRY)
collage experiment by J A Dixon
8 x 12 inches
not for sale

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 have not seen 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
 
 

a mini-tutorial for gel transfers

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.”
― Isaac Asimov

A growing number of people will now agree that most emerging social networks are not what they’re cracked up to be. For an artist who spends a lot of time in solitary activities, it can be a beneficial connection to a larger body of peers. I concur with Cal Newport that it can also be a habit-forming distraction that pulls one into a more shallow mode than the deep concentration necessary to produce exceptional creative work. There are times, however, when a Facebook interaction is so good that I have to marvel at the way people can quickly exchange valuable information across continents. Case in point: a recent back-and-forth between Peter Dowker (Lac-Brome, Quebec) and Matthew Rose (Paris, France) about image transfers for collage assembly. When Susanna Lakner (Stuttgart, Germany) and Melinda Tidwell (Santa Fe, New Mexico) jumped in, it developed into one of the best step-by-step descriptions of gel-medium transfer that I have seen. Here is my summary of Dowker’s technique—

“First of all, stay away from the hard stuff, like the toxic chemical cleaner trichlorethylene. Instead, use a gel-medium method to achieve an effective transfer. Apply a healthy coat of liquid acrylic medium to the image side of an ingredient and adhere it face down. GLOSS medium sticks better than matte. Rub with a brayer, or burnish gently with a soup spoon, and let it dry. Using a bit of water, gently rub off the paper backing with your finger or a piece of cloth. Don’t use too much water and slowly move over the surface, removing a bit at a time. Use oil varnish or vegetable oil to bring up the image. A minute amount of paper will always remain behind, giving it a cloudy appearance when dry. The oil varnish or vegetable oil will make that disappear and enhance the transparency. I formerly used matte oil-based varnish, which works okay. The vegetable oil idea comes from Allan Beally. There will be hardly any build up at all — probably less than any of the collaged pieces next to it. When making a transfer onto vintage papers, I find it’s better to seal them first before you begin — 1 or 2 coats of matte gel medium — the water involved to rub off the back of the transfer can destroy the substrate. Keep in mind that different papers react in different ways. Sealing is only necessary if the base is fragile. Be patient after gluing down the transfer. Letting it TOTALLY dry before rubbing off the paper is essential. If you’re not patient and start rubbing too soon, the image can start to break down. Wait a minimum of 2 hours (overnight is best) before removing the paper backing. If I know I’m going to be using a transfer from the outset, I start the piece on heavy card, to keep the substrate from becoming wrinkly in one spot from the water. The method works with original elements or copies. When I do use a laser print, it’s on thin, cheap office paper. Removing the paper backing can take ten minutes or more, because I go slow, not wanting to damage the image — not really that long at all. I’ve had the most luck since I began sealing the receiving surface with matte medium and waiting longer for it to dry. And the oil works wonders!”

My thanks to Mr. Dowker for allowing me to share this description here. Some of us have also used a variation that involves removing the paper backing independently, in a basin of water, before adding it to the collage surface. When doing that, one ends up working with a collage element that is essentially a veneer of acrylic medium, which introduces a size limitation and other aspects of craftsmanship. Peter calls this the “gel-skin method.” Although he has used it many times, a drawback for him is the need to build up 4 to 5 layers of medium — so it’s not too fragile for the rubbing stage — which makes for a thicker transfer. According to Peter, “not very appealing to the fussier ones among us.” The gel-skin method does allow for a right-reading image (if that’s important), otherwise the previous method will result in a flopped image (unless it can be photomechanically or digitally reversed prior to transfer). Each collage artist will refine an individual methodology, and, not surprisingly, new discoveries and “fortunate accidents” occasionally can result. As Peter reminds us, “Don’t be shy!”

Take a few minutes to savor a few of his extraordinary artworks below—
 

CUTTERS
collage with image transfer by P Dowker

ACORN
collage with image transfer by P Dowker

VAAVING
collage with image transfer by P Dowker

TOYS
collage with image transfer by P Dowker

Maximalism and Minimalism in Collage, part 6

Friday, August 26th, 2016

It would not be a mistake to put me in a category dedicated to “maximalism” in collage — the practice of adding more visual elements to achieve a balanced effect, in contrast to restricting a composition to a minimum of ingredients. Not that long ago I discovered the work of two maximalists when I happened upon an old blog post by fellow Kentucky collage artist Sharmon Davidson. I have never met the prolific Davidson, but it pleases me to find her concise survey of collage pioneers juxtaposed with examples of contemporary artists active in the medium. I have a high regard for collage artists who maintain a keen awareness of the history of mixed media. Her own work evokes for me the layerist tradition, and I especially like many of her miniatures. In addition to learning about Sharmon, her 2014 entry introduces me to Lance Letscher, a maximalist’s maximalist who also has been known to explore the spectrum’s opposite side with a minimalist approach. The widely exhibited Letscher is formerly a sculptor.
 

Sharmon Davidson
Her artwork emerges from the interplay of intention and intuition.

Lance Letcher
The spatial density of his designs exemplify a “maximalist” approach.

Various and Sundry — Four Years and Counting . . .

Friday, July 29th, 2016

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
— Flannery O’Connor

It looks as though I’m stepping into my fifth year writing about collage at this blogsite, and I hope that you’ve been with me for part of that enjoyable ride.

When I look back at my wish list for Year Four, I realize, not with any surprise, that my appetite for creating collage artwork has eclipsed a sometimes equally strong desire to delve verbally into the many interesting aspects of the medium. I would like to think that I met a few of the writing goals I set for myself last summer, and, of course, my ambitions to add to that list here in this post will be dutifully curbed. At any rate, I think that the best thing to do is to break this entry into a few parts that cover various and sundry topics on my mind.

The Social Network of Collage Artists
• For at least a couple of years I have wanted to write more about the influence of social media. Nearly every day I see a collage artist defeat the potential of a sharing platform with overexposure. Some may disagree and say, “the more, the merrier.” That is not a point I care to debate, because there may be something else to highlight more important than whether or not the quality-vs-quantity consideration can fall to the wayside — the vital role of networking among artists. I am more convinced than ever that the cross-pollination and mutual support of online networks has been of significant benefit to those of us working in the medium. Crystal Neubauer has one of the more interesting blogsites by a collage artist. She touched on the topic of creative communities so well that I direct you to her short essay at ClothPaperScissors.com. Another collage artist I admire who has recently made an impression as a strong blogger is Melinda Tidwell. I like her process-oriented posts. Although more of a mixed-media artist rather than a conventional collage practitioner, the versatile Kathleen O‘Brien maintains a steady flow of what I consider “must-read” entries at her studio blogsite. Create your own list of frequent art-blog destinations and branch out to new sharing platforms (I just learned about some new artist blogs from Caterina Giglio and opened a new account at Instagram.). As the entire evolving array of networking sites weeds out the fads, imitators and clunky interfaces (finding it difficult to tolerate LinkedIn as a user), you will settle into a community of online cohorts who reinforce your daily challenges as a creative person. When you come to know that someone else is on “the same wavelength,” reach out and make contact as an authentic being behind the profile. There are rewards to be discovered!

Cheap Collage Tricks
• Collage artist Allan Bealy seems to be everywhere, but, trust me, he is no gadfly. He recently raised a topic that struck a nerve with many. There are a lot of cheap tricks appearing in the medium, and most of them are harmless, if unimaginative, but the temptation to exploit visual ingredients readily available in our culture to “objectify women” is perhaps the most repugnant. Those of us who believe we are above that sort of thing need to think more deeply about how and why we use nudes in a collage. This suggests another potential self-assignment for my coming year — a “DON’T DO THIS” post illustrating the most prevalent cheap tricks in collage. (Not that there’s anything wrong with replacing a man’s head with a vulture to carry the banner of Dada during the art movement’s centennial year.) To be honest, I have nothing against a cliche, if it “works.” Isn’t that the reason something becomes a cliche in the first place? I say go for the cheap trick if you can score in the highest percentile (anyone who thinks that’s an easy thing to is wrong). I hope to post a follow-up look at the endurance of the surreal face in collage, so stay tuned. But let’s get back to Allan’s remonstrance. The woman as sex object can be traced back to long before the rise of Madison Avenue and Larry Flynt. Don’t bite the lure, folks. Everything one needs to dabble in this unworthy stunt abounds. Nevertheless, I long have been fascinated with the exemplars of erotic minimalism and their work in contemporary collage — those who transcend the cheap tricks to achieve a fine-art impression. Add another one to my wish list for Year Five of The Collage Miniaturist.

Priorities Get the Last Word
• My wife, Dana, and I managed to get two tickets to The Seer (a new documentary portrait of Kentuckian Wendell Berry, re-titled “Look & See” for Sundance Institute) before the Lexington screening sold out last night. It is a significant film that will become more widely available into next year, and it has my highest recommendation. Does it have anything to do with collage? Nothing at all, except for everything under the sun. If you haven’t discovered the poet, novelist, essayist, and farmer-philosopher, I have accomplished one meaningful thing with this site by inviting your interest. It was fitting that I got out of the studio and spent time at our farm. It was very hot work up on the shed roof, but pleasant to be away from all the noise (traffic, sirens, and incessant political jousting). Connecting with our rural place offered an opportunity, as it always does, to put priorities back into alignment. There is a place in the documentary when Laura Dunn (the filmmaker in voice-over) explains to Berry her motivation and how she looks “to places where there is still a remnant of togetherness, or unity, or community, of connection to the land, and I study those, because I don’t come from a place — I come from divorce …”
      “We all come from divorce!” her subject interrupts. “This is an age of divorce. Things that belong together have been taken apart. And you can’t put it all back together again. What you can do, is the only thing that you can do. You take two things that ought to be together and you put them together. Two things! Not all things.” It is his metaphor for the creative life, and a tremendously healing admonition to those of us with a tendency to become overwhelmed by the enormity of the world’s chaotic disintegration. Collage artists put things together to make something new, and often we are the ones who have taken apart discarded things to do it, but there is always a much larger phenomenon at work — one of discord vs harmony, wastefulness vs thrift, cynicism vs affection. When I return to the studio from a natural place that has responded to my care, I am in a better condition to ask myself, “To which side of the big equation are you making your contribution as an artist?”
 

Crystal Neubauer
Her blogging often touches on the complexity of a creative life.

Melinda Tidwell
Perhaps you will admire her solid abstractions as much as I do.

Kathleen O’Brien
Her art always nudges one toward a deeper sense of balance and wholeness.

Robert Hugh Hunt
Stay tuned for a continuation of my review of “the surreal face.”

Bene Rohlmann
Look ahead to my first discussion of erotic minimalism in collage.

Merely a metabolic event?

Sunday, June 19th, 2016

“I’m a ‘what if’ person. I have always felt that failure was a completely underrated experience.”
– Kevin Costner

Process is everything with some artists, and I respectfully get that. Experimental spontaneity within the small format is a vital and meaningful aspect of my art, but when I scale up for a larger work, I apply that experience and insight toward an end result — something more planned, with the intention to provoke a positive response in another — an agreeable product, if you will. So, what about the individual artwork that has “merely” contributed to the overall creative metabolism of an artistic investigation, and, as a stand-alone work, is little more than a “glorious failure,” in the final analysis?

I wish I knew how to answer that dangling question. Obviously, not every collage “sketch” is significant in its own right, but if the potential exists for it to engage a particular person, and that person wants to observe it repeatedly, to discover if it has a few secrets others have missed — how can anyone diminish its intrinsic value?

Dixon_Metabolism

Metabolism
collage miniature by J A Dixon
7.375 x 9.5 inches
 
Purchase this artwork.