Archive for the 'Constraints' Category

For Your Protection

Monday, September 7th, 2015

“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”
– Henry David Thoreau

Another trip collage from my recent fishing retreat to the Les Cheneaux Islands of Lake Huron. Working within the constraint of limited scrap at hand is a worthwhile visual exercise in preparation for creating collage artworks at any scale.
 

Dixon_ForYourProtection

Untitled (For Your Protection)
journal experiment by J A Dixon
6 x 6 inches

Not So Big

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

another “trip collage” exercise

Monday, June 29th, 2015

“The absence of limitations is the enemy of art.”
– Orson Welles

Here is another journal experiment based on ingredient constraints. It has a more abstract emphasis, in contrast to the previous example. There are numerous ways to impose this instructive limitation. Some collage artists have been known to create a composition restricted to the random scraps found on their work surface. Others make it into collaborative play, swapping an envelope of ingredients within which to work. A speed requirement will reveal more aspects of creative decision making and give rise to other insights. Paradoxically, there is no limit to how limitations can unlock the freedom of artistic expression.
 

journal experiment ~ John Andrew Dixon

results of a “trip collage” exercise
journal experiment by J A Dixon
7.25 x 5.25 inches

It’s a trip collage, man . . .

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

“It is the limitation of means that determines style, gives rise to new forms and makes creativity possible.”
– Georges Braque

From the first decision an artist makes when confronting a blank format, available options are eliminated. As contradictory as it may sound, writers, designers, musicians, dancers, visual artists — all of us find fertile ground in restriction. Working within limitations, self-imposed or otherwise, is always at the heart of the creative process. One of my preferred journal experiments is a variation I call the “trip collage.” Mind you, this has absolutely nothing to do with psychotropic escapades. However, I do periodically “expand my consciousness” of the medium with an exercise based on limited ingredients. When on holiday or outside the studio, I produce a small collage only with the elements immediately available at hand. Litter, junk mail, discarded packaging, or the detritus of a particular environment will become the instruments of a miniature orchestration. Even within this constraint, choices about what to use and what to ignore will govern the approach, and the interesting relationship between spontaneity and intuitive judgment can be observed.
 

Journal experiment ~ John Andrew Dixon

results of a “trip collage” exercise
journal experiment by J A Dixon
5.5 x 6.75 inches

Pearental Discretion

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

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

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

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

Pearental Discretion ~ John Andrew Dixon

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

March Exercise  |  year nine, day twenty-four

Monday, March 24th, 2014

 

Untitled (Archangel)
collage experiment by J A Dixon
2 of 2 within 90-minute constraint
8.25 x 5.125 inches, not for sale
ingredients by Kathleen O’Brien

March Exercise  |  year nine, day twenty-three

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

 

Untitled (Alexander)
collage experiment by J A Dixon
1 of 2 within 90-minute constraint
8 x 5.25 inches, not for sale
ingredients by Kathleen O’Brien

Beyond “vacation art” . . .

Saturday, November 30th, 2013

“I have been producing collages for nearly fifty-five years, many of the early ones were done during long flights or in the waiting areas at airports.”
— Richard Meier

This season of the year finds many artists visiting family and friends. My spending time as a traveler without the suppletory activity of creating art makes for a less than satisfying experience. Visiting new places or returning to familiar haunts is noticably deficient if not combined with sketching or assembling ingredients for a collage experiment. Of course, we all need to relax now and then, sharing time with people who mean the most to us, but many of us also recognize a price to pay whenever the creative urge is asked to take a back seat for any length of time. What better opportunity than a change of environment to infuse our investigations with a fresh dose of spontaneity?

The sabbatical is a time-honored tradition for creative people, which brings to mind Cecil Touchon’s remarkable Paris Papers. But in contrast to this kind of planned artistic get-away, there is also much to be gained by a custom of fusing the influences of short-term travel with an ongoing artistic process. This makes me think of the highly publicized collage artwork of American architect Richard Meier. I saw something years ago which suggested the collage-making proclivity that runs parallel to his professional practice developed from the found material he acquired crisscrossing continents as an in-demand designer, and that many of the early works were created on airliners. I remember being impressed with his wooden case, crafted to accommodate several square working surfaces plus the modest number of accourtrements a collage artist requires to do one’s thing. No doubt his days of transporting blades and scissors on aircraft are part of the past. The status of being a celebrated architect has provided Meier ample “rare” opportunities to showcase examples of his collage. Whether or not the eventual significance of his work within the medium will prove commensurate with the attention it has already received remains a matter of opinion (like nearly everything in the art world).

Two years ago, I had the privilege to view a milestone exhibition of Kurt Schwitters originals at the Berkeley Art Museum. During my stay in Northern California, a brother-in-law was kind enough to let me set up a makeshift work area in his home office so that I could capture as collage experiments the flow of new stimuli. Please allow me to share two of those artworks for the first time:
 

Untitled (Back to California, part one)
collage experiment by J A Dixon
8 x 9.5 inches, not for sale

Untitled (Back to California, part two)
collage experiment by J A Dixon
8.5 x 7.5 inches, not for sale

Fortune Collage Project

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Here are the rest of the recent experiments from my participation in the Fortune Collage Project. Aside from the strict imposition of vintage magazine scrap, which dictates a particular look not in keeping with my typical eclectic mix of ingredients, the primary realization I gained from this exercise is a greater awareness of how much I rely on a series of closing decisions to fine tune my composition. A speed requirement strips nearly all of that phase from my process. It was interesting to observe the distinct difference between spontaneity and deliberate refinement. Each involves a different kind of intuitive response. 

A

B

C

D

A—   Life with Bobby
B—   Over the Weekend
C—   The Following Presentation
D—   Crocodile Tears

collage miniatures by J A Dixon
7.75 x 4.5 inches
Fortune Collage Project
available for purchase

Daze of Yore

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

“Creativity arises out of the tension between
spontaneity and limitations . . . ”
— Rollo May

If you want to see just how quickly 30 minutes can zip by, try your hand at the Fortune Collage Project. Charles Wilkin currently has a bunch of us speed-pasting his vintage scrap, as we take part in the latest collaborative exercise among facebook friends. It’s important to keep these kinds of involvements under control, but Wilkin has put together a thoughtful ritual that I could not resist. I have a tendency to pride myself on a high level of spontaneity, so occasionally I have to put it to a true test. It can be fun, informative, and more than a bit humbling, too. 

Daze of Yore
collage miniature by J A Dixon
7.75 x 4.5 inches
Fortune Collage Project
available for purchase