Archive for the 'Details' Category

I Must Have Kentucky ~ all the details

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017

“I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game. Kentucky gone, we cannot hold Missouri, nor Maryland. These all against us, and the job on our hands is too large for us. We would as well consent to separation at once, including the surrender of this capitol.”
— Abraham Lincoln, 1861
 

I am constantly experimenting, because I find it difficult to pluck a coherent idea from a “cold start,” and so I cultivate a habit of collage experimentation to preserve a state of receptivity and to invite the uncanny “synchronicities” from which a more rational concept can be refined. More often than not, there are no distinct memories associated with the genesis of an idea. It is unusual, therefore, to have a clear recollection of the creative lineage for I Must Have Kentucky, currently on display as part of 225: Artists Celebrate Kentucky’s History.

I was stumped about how to respond when a call to artists from curator Gwen Heffner announced an exhibition to observe Kentucky’s 225th birthday. I thought about the history of my own town (Danville, the first capital of the state), about the The Kentucky Documentary Photographic Project, about the story of tobacco growing families in Kentucky, and about the great Kentucky abolitionists. There were so many fascinating subjects, but none of them sparked a visual flame in my imagination. When I shared my befuddlement with Dana, my “partner in all things,” she suggested I consider doing something with Star of Abraham, an artifact I made in 2009 for the bicentennial of the 16th president’s birth. Star of Abraham ~ John Andrew DixonThe bulk of my collected Lincoln images had been exploited to cover a salvaged metal star. To produce a collage tribute to the martyred leader with a folk-art quality seemed a technique appropriate to the occasion, and it was still in my studio, generating little interest from visitors. I liked the notion of using it as a “found object” in a larger assemblage, but there needed to be more to it than that. The solution finally hit me on a drive to our family farm, when I turned off the radio and focused on the rolling “knobs” that surrounded me: Lincoln’s famous declaration about his home state during the Civil War!

I got down a flurry of thumbnail concepts in my journal when I arrived at my destination. It was barely necessary to ever look at them again, because the development toward a final idea took on a momentum of its own. I realized I could enlarge my Lincoln theme with additional artisanship to include the importance of Kentucky in his strategic thinking. A design took shape in my sketches, and I searched my stash for images that would do justice to the “brother against brother, family against family” character of the conflict in a state that gave birth to the presidents of each warring side.

The expanded mixed-media construction is created from recycled materials — found ingredients include salvaged wood and metal, plus discarded books, magazines, maps, and mailed promotions. My lettering is hand painted with acrylics. John Andrew Dixon at the Kentucky Artisan Center, Berea, KentuckyObviously, the dimensional star represents Abraham Lincoln. The five horizontal bands signify the final years of his life and the impact his decisions had on Kentucky and the United States during that time. Among the individuals featured are Kentucky native Jefferson Davis, Lincoln’s rival in war, and Senator Stephen A. Douglas, his rival in peace, plus Lexington native Mary Todd, her sons Willie and Robert, Munfordville native Simon B. Buckner, Frederick Douglass, U.S. Grant, Clara Barton, John Hunt Morgan, and others. Also represented: soldiers, their ladies, Kentucky coal miners, and the decisive Battle of Perryville.

The artwork commemorates our Commonwealth during 1860 to 1864, the most tumultuous period in its history. At the center of those pivotal years is the towering figure of its most illustrious native son, who encapsulated the significance of the border state to the cause of national unity when he reputedly declared:

“I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky”.
 

detail from ‘I Must Have Kentucky’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

I secured the existing ‘Star of Abraham’ to a construction of five salvaged
wood planks, which alternates hand-painted lettering with my typical collage
treatment. My Lincoln artifact had finally found a fitting context.

detail from ‘I Must Have Kentucky’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

I long have found interesting that Kentucky had given birth to both
presidential leaders in the national conflict, and I devoted a section of my
composition to that inexplicable fact.

detail from ‘I Must Have Kentucky’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

Border-state Kentuckians were divided when war broke out. Munfordville
native Simon B. Buckner attempted to enforce its neutrality before accepting
a Confederate commission. He led troops at the strategic Battle of Perryville
in 1862, and later became a scandal-plagued governor of the Commonwealth.

detail from ‘I Must Have Kentucky’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

One of my favorite spots in the piece: Lincoln’s boy Willie, U.S. Grant, a young
Frederick Douglass as a free man next to a slaveholder’s advertisement,
a superb wood engraving of combat, Clara Barton, Samuel Colt, and an image
of the Commander in Chief that indicates his unusual height.

Thanks for reading such a long entry. I invite you to register and comment here. Let me know what you think. If anything bugs you, constructive criticism is encouraged!

Empress of Wings ~ details

Sunday, February 5th, 2017

“Talking about my music traps me in a vicious circle and it’s very seldom that I manage to escape it. If I’m writing a new piece then I mustn’t talk about it because if I do then I have no impulse to write it any more. Once it’s written, then there is nothing left to say. That’s very apparent to me. It’s a matter of thinking in music, and I hope my music finds a direct way to the listener without any further explanation.”
— Arvo Pärt
 

Allow me to dive deeply into the context of my most prominent large-scale collage artwork to date. Some of you may dismiss my analytical subtext as obscure artspeak, or others might think that I have lost myself in an esoteric miasma. But to those of you who are kind enough to offer the benefit of the doubt, or who also conduct the same kind of “post-mortem” (heaven help us), this is the kind of thing that people with a visual design background have a tendency to do. Nevertheless, a collage artwork should stand on its own without a preliminary explanation or a closing summation (just so you know where I stand on that). For those of you who are still with me, let’s jump in…
 

detail from ‘Empress of Wings’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky ~ internationally known as The Collage Miniaturist

My goal was to create an illusion of depth with an abstract layering of value and
color contrasts, culminating with the “title character,” a Queen Alexandria Birdwing —
nature’s largest butterfly (which corresponds to this being the largest collage on
canvas that I have created so far).

detail from ‘Empress of Wings’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky ~ internationally known as The Collage Miniaturist

My development as an artist has been rooted in the small format, taking what I have
learned from that into the realm of a larger scale. It is not surprising that I find myself
embedding actual collage miniatures into bigger works, as I have done here.

detail from ‘Empress of Wings’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky ~ internationally known as The Collage Miniaturist

In addition to my preference for ingredients that represent the culture of language
and symbolic communication, I lean toward a “maximalist” approach, in this case
the clustering of dense material to contrast with bolder shapes and color-quantities.

detail from ‘Empress of Wings’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky ~ internationally known as The Collage Miniaturist

The counterpoise of angled polygons and strong diagonals forms the basis for a
dynamic visual tension, allowing for more nuanced details to serve as focal points, spatial anchors, and color accents.

detail from ‘Empress of Wings’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky ~ internationally known as The Collage Miniaturist

Although I have inserted into this artwork many details for literal association and
observational reverie, it is essentially a “collage painting,” with attention to the
artistic surface, an activation of visual space, and the overall viewing impression.

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A closer look . . .

Friday, September 9th, 2016

Here are a few detailed images of my repurposed chair, Good Morning, Mrs. Bradshaw. I knew from the outset that I would not be satisfied to achieve a “merely aesthetic” result, even though I am usually pleased if my collage artwork successfully does no more than that. I sought to visually communicate a symbolic tension that evoked my feelings as youngster, caught between the clarity of adult expectations and the fuzzy pleasure of indulging a literary genre that was generally frowned upon in the 1950s. I include the name of my first-grade teacher in the title. She was probably the first person outside my family who recognized and encouraged my creative interests.
 

The project took on a life of its own when I became convinced that it was
finally time to exploit some of my vintage typesetting specimens.

My concept rests on the visual contrast between “scholastic” and “vernacular”
imagery — what a ’50s schoolboy was supposed to read and what he was not.

My desire to preserve the circular “rivets” that held the wooden seat and back
slats to a metal structure presented challenges of collage artisanship.

A fun, rewarding part of the process was to capture the youthful energy of
reading comics and to avoid obvious narrative references at the same time.

Thank you for your interest and attention. Please let me know what you think of my work, this blogsite, or the medium of collage in general. Comment here or through TCM at Facebook. Stop back again!
 

Good Morning, Mrs. Bradshaw

Friday, September 2nd, 2016

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
— Mark Twain
 

My latest three-dimensional work, Good Morning, Mrs. Bradshaw, has been accepted for the new exhibition in the Kentucky Artisan Center at BereaHAVE A SEAT: Chairs by Kentucky Artisans. Gwen Heffner wears many hats at the Center, and she keeps coming up with strong ideas to showcase regional talent. She is not only an outstanding curator, but has become a significant catalyst for high-level artisanship in the Commonwealth. Her semi-annual calls for entry compel creative people across Kentucky to accept challenges they might not otherwise consider.

I chose the medium of collage to repurpose a child’s classroom chair that came into my possession as I debated with myself about whether this was a show I should enter. I was provoked to explore a time, not so long ago, when there was a well-understood line between what pupils should read and what they should not. Its vintage design took my imagination back to the earliest years of my public school education, with its sharp contrast between scholastic prescriptions and my personal interests.

“Dos and don’ts” have always been a part of the classroom, but times have changed. Nowadays, a youngster can find superhero stories and graphic novels in the school library. The goal was to capture what I remember as the tension that came with meeting an expectation of obedience to assignments, but always preferring to devote my attention to playful escapes. I decided to “resurface” the object with found material and mixed media — alphabetical specimens, printed text, game cards, book illustrations, calendar images, songbook fragments — plus colorful scrap from comic books and the Sunday funnies.
 

Good Morning, Mrs. Bradshaw
repurposed vintage classroom chair by J A Dixon
12 x 25 x 14 inches

details from Pearallelograms

Sunday, January 17th, 2016

“The artist is a collector of things imaginary or real. He accumulates things with the same enthusiasm that a little boy stuffs his pockets. The scrap heap and the museum are embraced with equal curiosity.”
— Paul Rand
 

One of my first large-scale collage concepts was an artwork I called Pearallel Universe. When it was purchased by a regional health care system to hang in a new patient facility, I temporarily set aside the “visual pun.” After creating Pearental Discretion last year, I continued to accumulate images in anticipation of another takeoff on the pear theme. I also had been looking to break out of the conventional rectilinear format by exploring thumbnail concepts with polygonal shapes. When the parallelogram repeatedly occurred in my tiny sketches, the two ideas merged, unsurprisingly, as Pearallelograms.

This latest collage construction is another attempt to liberate collage from the typical “framed-behind-glass” approach, to recapture the medium’s painterly roots with an exposed surface that can stand on its own, and to introduce a more three-dimensional context that presents the end result as an “artifact.” I would hope that I had a bit of success at meeting these objectives. So far, the piece has been well received.

In what is becoming a ritual post-mortem for bigger collage artworks, I have repeatedly cropped the composition to explore and internalize aspects that may not have been apparent to me during creative formation. It is something I recommend to fortify intuition. To be honest, I would rather not be thinking consciously about the design dynamics in process, but I can only maintain that orientation by imposing a rational critique on my work after the fact. This sometimes leads to the closing refinement of an unfinished piece. More importantly, it also provides a stronger foundation for spontaneity in the future.
 

detail from Pearallelograms by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky ~ internationally known as The Collage Miniaturist

My goal was to use many pears — as design elements,
for thematic rhythm, and as devices for a surreal touch.

detail from Pearallelograms by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky ~ internationally known as The Collage Miniaturist

As elements, the chosen thematic objects should oscillate
between representation and abstraction.

detail from Pearallelograms by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky ~ internationally known as The Collage Miniaturist

Diagonals with pears as “end points” were applied to
three negative areas that needed more spatial activation.

detail from Pearallelograms by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky ~ internationally known as The Collage Miniaturist

The last pear image was positioned between profiles and
resonates with a more literal treatment at the very top.

detail from Pearallelograms by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky ~ internationally known as The Collage Miniaturist

The final subject was “built” with an actual dried iris petal,
the torn image of a peacock feather, and a cut-paper stem.

Thanks for visiting! Forgive me if today’s entry is too verbose, because I generally try to avoid that. If, however, you don’t mind if I wax wordy, please register and comment here to let me know. I promise to reply.

selecting details . .

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

“We do have repeated patterns that arise, in differing ways for different people, every time we create. But how do you get excited by the downturns and turn this into a positive experience?”
— Lyne Marshall

After I finish a larger artwork and its temporary or permanent disposition is settled, I have this tendency to focus on the perceived flaws, the missed opportunities, or that appealing ingredient “left on the cutting room floor.” Diverting my observation to the areas that I prefer, I crop into the design, looking for interesting sub-compositions. I tell myself that I should create spin-off prints or note cards based of a series of details — it must be my built-in bias toward the miniature. In almost every case, I put market-driven notions aside and begin something new. Objective scrutiny usually becomes a catalyst to the creative process. The cycle continues.
 

detail from Selective Fusion ~ John Andrew Dixon

 

detail from Selective Fusion ~ John Andrew Dixon

two details from Selective Fusion
collage on structured panel by J A Dixon

more leaps . . .

Monday, June 15th, 2015

“Different themes inevitably require different methods of expression. This does not imply either evolution or progress; it is a matter of following the idea one wants to express and the way in which one wants to express it.”
— Pablo Picasso

The quick sale of Rhetorical Leap was among several factors that would cause me to create a slightly larger piece with similar themes. It was an interesting experience on multiple levels. I had the opportunity to revisit my original intuitive process in a more rational way. It is not for me to judge the relative “success” of either work. I prefer to focus on what it was like to make the journey a second time. Personally, I find the effort to recapture nearly any aspect of life to be a hit-or-miss proposition. For every time one scores the same enjoyment or sense of fulfillment, there is another that falls short of expectations. For this reason, I tend to resist variations on a theme or a defined series when approaching collage artwork. At any rate, that is my tendency, although the practice retains a special appeal that I have no reason to resist. Ideally, one’s entire body of work might be seen by others as an extended series of thematic variations. It is only natural for most observers to put emphasis on the end products, rather than the more obscure goings-on that make up the creative process.
 

detail from Rhetorical Leap ~ John Andrew Dixon  detail from Leap of Faith ~ John Andrew Dixon

left: Rhetorical Leap (detail)
right: Leap of Faith (detail)
two collage artworks on canvas by J A Dixon

Contemplation Ajar ~ details

Monday, June 1st, 2015

“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”
— John Wooden

One of my favorite things to do with an image of a collage is to explore alternative compositions by cropping. We can never stop training the eye. Visual ingredients are always elements in context and their character can change with different design relationships. The more we do this, the more a sense of balance and spatial harmony are internalized. As a bonus, any ideas that emerge can become the basis for new investigations.
 

square crop ~ detail from Contemplation Ajar ~ John Andrew Dixon ~ The Collage Miniaturist

 

square crop ~ detail from Contemplation Ajar ~ John Andrew Dixon ~ The Collage Miniaturist

 

square crop ~ detail from Contemplation Ajar ~ John Andrew Dixon ~ The Collage Miniaturist

 

square crop ~ detail from Contemplation Ajar ~ John Andrew Dixon ~ The Collage Miniaturist

four squares from Contemplation Ajar
collage on structured panel by J A Dixon
collection of J Wood

“Oh, the Places You’ll Go”

Friday, June 20th, 2014

“Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.”
— Twyla Tharp

Places to go, ways to travel, and flights of fancy . . . A series of local exhibitions at the Boyle County Public Library’s Mahan Gallery has been an effective catalyst for me to create new pieces based on unifying themes. I have recently experienced mixed emotions about the ubiquity of vintage material in contemporary collage, but the topic of this show had me hunting through my morgue of old postcards and other relics to produce a pair of artworks on canvas. Yes, we all dig the instant “gravitas” of using old stuff, but will art historians say we copped out, if we do not accept the challenge of working with ingredients from our own present-day culture? I am just musing about the state of the medium, not any artist in particular. I see a hundred or more collage artworks posted online each week that rely exclusively on 20th-century material, and much of it seems stuck in a bygone avant-garde style. It is important for all of us to keep in mind that the Dada artists so widely emulated worked with material from their own time. Perhaps the opportune approach is to blend it all together, past and present. As post-centennial collage artists, we also owe each other a bit more constructive criticism than I currently observe. As the details below illustrate, I have absolutely nothing against using vintage material. I think that artists such as Hope Kroll or Fred Free or Matthew Rose (to offer only three examples) are creating some of the more exceptional work in the medium. On the other hand, there are many who seem to be using it as a crutch, over-relying on the antique impression of the ingredient material itself, rather than the juxtapositional synergy or overall aesthetic effect.

As the artworks for “Places” also demonstrate, I continue my effort to liberate a collage from the traditional glass barrier. To do so, it is necessary to find a proper level of protective sealant to balance visual appeal and durability. I prefer to avoid an overly polymerized impression with a finished surface. Because I primarily work with found material, I have had to learn which ingredients can handle direct exposure (for an effect similar to the painted surface). Nevertheless, some are simply too fragile and will always require a safe abode under glass.
 

 

left: Here and There (detail)
right: Now and Then (detail)
two collage artworks on canvas by J A Dixon
12 x 12 x 1.5 inches each
(currently on consignment)

On collage derivations . . .

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

“I believe that it is better to be receptive to correction than to be satisfied with one’s own imperfection, and to think that one is oh so original!”
— Piet Mondrian

As I mentioned in a welcome statement from over a year ago (and perhaps more recently), I have nothing against digital collage, although I do maintain a bias in favor of conventional (so-called analogue) techniques, especially at this site, but don’t expect me to become “all blogmatic” about the topic, since I have been known to gratefully accept commissions for digital montage and affirm my respect for those who do collage illustration at a high level. The point I want to make today is that, so far, I have not generated much enthusiasm for manipulating or reproducing my “tear and glue” artworks as digital prints or “art merchandise.” Someone recently asked if I sold note-card versions of my miniatures, and I had to admit that “I have never quite gotten around to that.”

There are many reasons, both good and bad, to produce derivations of one’s own work for the marketplace. There are also many reasons, both good and bad, to restrain oneself. I would hope to be open-minded about the subject. Not everyone who enjoys collage can afford to collect originals. In addition, I often get ideas about how to combine separate works into a composite digital design, exploring in the process a distinctive aesthetic resonance that might not be discovered in other ways. I occasionally imagine how one of my miniatures would look as a super-enlargement, or I envision an exhibition of large canvases created from Giclée blow-ups of small works. No doubt, there is an appropriate place for digital technology in the medium, whether on the front- or back-end of the process. The digital image is, of course, the stock in trade of any artist with an active presence on the Interet. That comes with its own set of issues that I plan to cover in my next discussion. Meanwhile, I hope to preserve my emphasis on a traditional methodology and observe how other collage practitioners adopt emerging technology to enhance their fine-art investigations.
 

Microcosmic Moments
compilation of nine miniatures by J A Dixon
proposed digital concept, variable in dimensions

Modular Zowee
composite of collage details by J A Dixon
proposed digital concept, variable in dimensions

Mystery Solved (detail)
super-enlargement of collage detail by J A Dixon
proposed digital concept, variable in dimensions

Mystery Solved (set of four cards)
merchandise with collage details by J A Dixon
proposed digital reproductions, 5.75 x 4.5 inches

Broadband Access
digital montage by J A Dixon
editorial illustration for ACUTA Journal

Mystery Solved ~ details

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

For the full viewing experience, one can never get too close to a collage, but this opinion from a person so enamored with the miniature probably comes as no surprise. When I create a larger piece, lessons learned from the small format have a strong bearing on my approach. As a concluding exercise to hone compositional awareness, it is beneficial to discover croppings that can stand successfully on their own. Before Mystery Solved left the studio, it was interesting to visually isolate six square miniatures, just to see if they might capture in microcosm the essence of the parent design.
 

A ‘Jack of Diamonds’ was too visually outstanding
at first and had to be massaged into balance.

I enjoy creating a montage of linguistic symbols,
but “a-l-e” was accidental (or perhaps subliminal;
one never really knows with collage).

Integration through color: photo of butterfly
specimen + ticket stub + magazine scrap.

Juxtaposition: illustration from an exotic soap
wrapper + book engraving + photo of flower.

The interesting effect of a raised panel: the
illusion of depth versus actual dimensionality.

From diverse sources: combining ingredients
that seem to have always belonged together.

Thanks again for looking. Please share your thoughts, suggestions, or constructive criticism (frankly, our medium of collage always needs a healthy dose of it).