Archive for the 'Constraints' Category

“LITTER-ALLY KENTUCKY” takes shape . . .

Friday, September 30th, 2022

“The thing is to be attentively present. To sit and wait is as important as to move. Patience is as valuable as industry. What is to be known is always there. When it reveals itself to you, or when you come upon it, it is by chance. The only condition is your being there and being watchful.”
— Wendell Berry
 

At the close of 2021, based on my plein-air practice to date, I applied to the Kentucky Arts Council and received a KAR grant with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. The goal of my project is an exhibition-worthy body of collage landscapes created from salvaged ingredients consisting of litter, trash, and recycled papers. The new works are en plein air interpretations of actual rural spots in Central Kentucky. The collection will be made available to partnering venues as a thematic exhibition that carries a call for greater awareness of how we interact with our environment. The traveling display will invite community engagement in the form of gallery talks, student opportunities, and online references — with a message for greater litter awareness and a cleaner countryside in the Commonwealth.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
To fulfill this grant-supported process, I am nearing the end of my creation phase. It’s been a period of acquiring paper litter, arranging visits to rural locations, engaging with property owners who accommodate my on-site sessions, starting the landscapes outside, and making follow-up studio refinements. Collage artworks will have been made at over a dozen locations in six contiguous Central Kentucky counties around Danville. I avoid exceeding my outside time when completing a landscape indoors, to stay within a 50:50 ratio. There are techniques for details that are best left to the end, when the breeze is not a factor, but my goal is to retain the fresh, intuitive quality of the initial impression.

It often seems like I’m behind schedule, until I remind myself that the entire process is not unlike the act of being present in nature. The way forward can be revealed as much by receptivity as by forced progression. I’ll spend the balance of the year with finishing touches, having the artwork professionally framed, preparing support materials and promotions for my sought-after series of shows, plus contacting venues suitable for the traveling display (which will be chosen in part based on the anticipated reach and exposure for optimum audiences, including youngsters).

An important part of this project has been my desire to interact with the public about a relatively recent area of concentration for me as an artist — representational collage. Until they observe more closely, many people think my landscapes are traditional paintings. It’s been rewarding to watch this sense of discovery, so similar to what I experience as I explore the potential of art made from paper. This connection with others fired my enthusiasm and prompted me to propose a way to engage audiences with another layer of meaning. By including a higher percentage of litter and trash, I hope to further a conversation about the ongoing problem of litter in Kentucky and the solid waste crisis in general. As I exhibit “painted” rural scenes that were created with by-products of our wasteful society, I’m optimistic that my art will promote a more conscious regard for stewardship of natural places.

 

Near Catnip Hill
collage en plein air by J A Dixon
50% / 50% — site to studio
8.375 x 8.625 inches, 2022

Training the trainers in Eastern Kentucky!

Tuesday, July 26th, 2022

“We make a living by what we get;
we make a life by what we give.”
— Winston Curchill
 

I’m still feeling a satisfying vibe from one of the most personally rewarding events ever! My hands-on collage workshop was part of the “Train the Trainer“ series in Paintsville, Kentucky for the Johnson County Extension Office. Participating artists intend to share this learning throughout their community in the coming months. My thanks to a fabulous group of creative individuals who were curious about “all things collage” and inspired to “pay it forward” among fellow citizens in their beautiful area of our Commonweath.

After an opening presentation with my whirlwind tour through over 200 years of collage history, a demonstration offered cutting tips, the basics of pasting technique, an overview of translucency and transfers, plus an emphasis on maintaining the flow of improvisational layering. (See my end-result demo piece below.) Throughout the day we stressed the fundamentals of visual aesthetics, while keeping our focus on intuitive spontaneity within an experimental process. Tables cluttered with potential ingredients were the norm, as participants tackled three time-based exercises and produced a collage miniature for each. Their well-crafted, colorful solutions were the take-home product, and we managed to fit in a closing discussion full of important observations. I was impressed with the group’s talent, curiosity, and spirit of creative adventure! It was an astonishing thing for me to observe how fluently they attuned to the vocabulary of collage expression, having no prior awareness of Hannah Höch, Joseph Cornell, or the Merz of Kurt Schwitters.

 
It’s been a while since I accepted the role of teacher. I was surprised and concerned to discover that it was no longer within my “comfort zone.” I faced a gauntlet of self-assurance to run before I felt prepared. The delightful, encouraging Brenda Cockerham, our project leader, provided vital support. As ever, Dana was an indispensable “partner in all things.” Why must I periodically be reminded that giving back is every bit as significant as anything I get from my artistic practice? I’m a fortunate man, because cutting and pasting offers a universal experience that is effortless to share with others — if I just get out of my own way. Collage at all levels presents an ideal opportunity for individual receptivity. It’s rewarding to watch this sense of discovery, similar to what I experience myself as I explore the wide potential of art made from paper that would otherwise be cast away. This connection with others fires my enthusiasm to compile additional collage insights and to continue passing them along. There is much to gain within a shared creative environment when we take discarded stuff and create value where none existed, and find wonder, meaning, and beauty where none had been expected.

 

Don’t Clown Around
collage experiment by J A Dixon
created during my workshop demonstration
6.5 x 8.5 inches

PAACK kicks off 2022 season!

Thursday, April 14th, 2022

I really enjoyed PAACK’s chilly kickoff outing at the home of Mrs. Penn. As everyone began to focus on her exploding flower beds, I turned my attention in the other direction (for some odd reason). I couldn’t deny an interest in her staging nook near a teal fence (in the same way I was captivated by the back of Tillie’s garage last year). I’m completing the collage I started that day, and it will be a challenge to finish it for our summer show within the 50:50 limitation. I wouldn’t mind interpreting the gardening table, but I’ll need to omit that element to pull this off. I’d rather “move” the nearby bird feeder into my composition for a splash of complementary color, and also to find some way, within the remaining time, to “paint” the hay bales with paper ingredients.

Do I have to count the minutes I spend staring at my reference photo?
 
 
 

My 50:50 time constraint will necessitate simplification,
but inserting the colorful bird feeder is a given!

Tenth Chapter: Painting from nature with paper

Saturday, February 19th, 2022

“Follow the ways of natural creation, the becoming, the functioning of forms, then perhaps starting from nature you will achieve formations of your own, and one day you may even become like nature yourself and start creating.”
— Paul Klee
 

As I pushed toward the hanging date for Change of Seen last month, I pulled out an unfinished work. In 2020 it had been my hope to complete it as part of the Paint By Nature entry — an interpretation of an urban oak tree. Everything was done except for the tree itself, which I’d wanted to paste together in a burst of spontaneity. The “start” went into cold storage when I ran out of time for two submissions. Fast forward to January 2022. Now I had the ideal scenario. My tight deadline would not allow me to indulge any slowdown or second guess. Positive, unanticipated things often happen when I occasionally challenge myself to work under a severe constraint. The hesitant, rational mind is sidelined in favor of an intuitive response that is rooted in everything one has ever created. This can be the case with music, writing, or nearly any artistic format, but the phenomenon especially lends itself to painting.

Interestingly, I’ve always preferred watercolors to other paint mediums because of its unpredictability and the “happy accidents” that occur. I admire oils greatly, but they hold no attraction for me as I approach my 70s. I hadn’t expected to discover that “painting in papers” could captivate me so and knit a reverence for nature into my art. One of the primary appeals of collage is total flexibility. It’s almost impossible to make a blunder, if one stays “in the zone” without letting the intellect gain an upper hand. When others use words such as exacting or meticulous to describe what I do, it usually throws me, because I consider my approach as more instinctive. And yet, there is no denying the presence of “artisanship.” With any task at hand, craft is essential. It was drilled into me with rigor after I chose the path of applied design. (That the young are asked to dedicate themselves to a particular discipline and to ignore countless alternatives is a weird fact of life. Many of us spend decades unraveling it.) So, a certain precision is fused into my method, even when I’m racing the clock. One man’s chaos is another man’s perfectionism.

I’ve lived my adult life trying to spin creative gold in a studio of one sort or another. A supremacy of the natural world in my youth had been set aside as part of an itinerary toward the graphic arts profession. Reflecting on a long journey that leads to the ever-rolling “now,” I recognize that nature was always calling. It influenced my leaving big cities for a smaller community. It provided a firm foundation for my diet and a health-oriented lifestyle. It was an unfailing source for well-being when conditions seemed out of balance. Even so, an unsatisfied need remained elusive until I finally took paper and paste outdoors, where the potential for inspiration was out of arm’s reach. That I could respond with collage, and find it so rewarding, is something I hadn’t foreseen.

If you want to start with the first chapter, you can find that story here. It’s been almost five years of direct observation, and I’m itching to begin a new season of working en plein air. The broader point I’d like to make is how the experience also has invigorated the way I approach representational collage in the studio. It feels like it’s all been funneled into an evolving intuition. Working outside has transformed how I make visual decisions even when using photographic reference under pressure, as I did with Grand Chinkapin. After quickly preparing piles of printed scrap that seemed appropriate for tree foliage, I was able to explode those ingredients into place with a minimum of conscious thought — not unlike I try to do every time I take my collage kit on location. “Painting from nature with paper” has become a more integrated practice, inside or outside. Change of Seen shares this adventure with others.

 

Grand Chinkapin
collage with combined mediums by J A Dixon
0% / 100% — site to studio
11 x 7.75 inches + shadow-box frame
available for purchase

Paint the town. (With paper!)

Saturday, July 3rd, 2021

“If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.”
— Mario Andretti
 

One week ago, I spent a windy Saturday in frantic competition with the clock, and managed to get an outdoor collage artwork framed and delivered for Lexington’s annual Paint the Town plein air event. At the opening reception that same evening, I was stunned to get a prompt sale and 2nd-place prize. It was one of the most exhilarating twelve hours I’ve experienced in quite a while.

Oh, the dubious lengths some of us will go to chase artistic intensity — even the temporary madness of extreme deadline pressure — all in the pursuit of rapt spontaneity. Heaven help me!

It doesn’t seem so long ago when I first took my collage obsession out of doors, and this kind of open challenge was a goal too absurd to contemplate. I had scouted the location and spent a couple days in preparation. By the time I’d registered a blank canvas, raced to my site and set up, one of the precious six hours had evaporated. I began to battle the breeze (nothing new there). Nor were the other 40 artists involved my foes. It was clear that the only towering opponent I faced was a daunting imperative to speed up my process. I’ve never pasted paper so fast in my life!

The judge said this about my piece: “I was very interested in the way this artist managed to create such an evocative landscape using collaged paper — and on a windy day! Places and buildings often hold so many memories and meanings, and the use of text on the siding of the buildings — with the words appearing in reverse, so they become texture and tone — adds another level of meaning.”

It’s gratifying, and profoundly reinforcing, to have a knowledgeable evaluator find significance in aspects that have evolved gradually to become a natural part of my plein air method. I appreciate her remarks, the organizing effort of all those with Arts Connect, the camaraderie of the participating artists, the buyers (Scott and Paul), the indispensable support of my dearest partner — and you, reader, for visiting here and for reading all of this!

Onward to the next challenge!

 

Off Upper
plein air collage on canvas by J A Dixon
12 x 12 inches

•  Second Place Prize / S O L D

March Ex(plosion)  |  Sixeenth Collage

Tuesday, March 16th, 2021

 

Forgot to Forget
collage miniature by J A Dixon
2 x 2 inches each
left square | right square
available for purchase
 
< to my comprehensive page of 2020 diptychs

Forgot to Quit (diptych 25-17)

Sunday, August 2nd, 2020

 

Forgot to Quit (diptych 25-17)
collage miniatures by J A Dixon
1.9375 x 1.9375 inches each
left square | right square
available for purchase
 
< back to the comprehensive page of collage diptychs

Forgot to Hold Her (diptych 23)

Saturday, August 1st, 2020

 

Forgot to Hold Her (diptych 23)
collage miniatures by J A Dixon
1.9375 x 1.9375 inches each
left square | right square
available for purchase
 
< back to the comprehensive page of collage diptychs

Forgot to Give a Damn (diptych 1161)

Friday, July 31st, 2020

 

Forgot to Give a Damn (diptych 1161)
collage miniatures by J A Dixon
1.875 x 1.875 inches each
left square | right square
available for purchase
 
< back to the comprehensive page of collage diptychs

Forgot to Notice Leaves (diptych 96)

Thursday, July 30th, 2020

 

Forgot to Notice Leaves (diptych 96)
collage miniatures by J A Dixon
1.875 x 1.875 inches each
left square | right square
available for purchase
 
< back to the comprehensive page of collage diptychs

Forgot to Hear the Music (diptych 308-1/4)

Wednesday, July 29th, 2020

 

Forgot to Hear the Music (diptych 308-1/4)
collage miniatures by J A Dixon
2 x 2 inches each
left square | right square
available for purchase
 
< back to the comprehensive page of collage diptychs