Archive for the 'Ingredients' Category

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, Schwitters, and their fellow collage “inventors” included found material contemporary with their times. There are many current practitioners who restrict themselves to “vintage” scrap, and some of them avoid using anything younger than 50 years ago. Whatever they choose to do is fine, but, in my opinion, 21st-century collage artists need 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 cherry-pick 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 most likely using something that he just acquired on the street. Let’s think about that when we ask, “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
available for purchase

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.

Thanks for visiting! Please register and comment here to let me know what you think. Criticism is permitted here. I promise to respond.

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 to view larger)

 
 
 

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 compelling beat . . .

Sunday, January 8th, 2017

“Rhythm is one of the most powerful of pleasures, and when we feel a pleasurable rhythm we hope it will continue,”
– Mary Oliver

Not long ago I thought this series had run its course, but now I realize that it contains a rhythm which I hope will never stop. Originally inspired by the lost bibelots of George Headley, it has taken on its own continuity as a collage exercise that calls me back. I might spy a particular color, a certain fragment of printed typography, a shiny ingredient, a scrap of this or that — the next thing I know, a new miniature has cracked its shell, and it is unmistakably a “bibelot.”

It will not portend the fruitful struggle of demanding art. Rather, it is a favorite tune sung again, a pleasing walk taken more than once before, a quiet gift to oneself. And, just perhaps, a new mystery will be revealed — something worth investigating later — when simple delight must give way to challenge.
 
Churn (Bibelot 151) ~ a collage miniature by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

Churn (Bibelot 151)
collage miniature by J A Dixon
6.625 x 7.75 inches
 
Purchase this artwork.

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

Pink Cat

Friday, September 16th, 2016

When fragments of everyday living are repurposed, and the literal characteristics of collage ingredients are transcended, we have probed toward the heart of creative spontaneity and offered a shared experience with a receptive observer.
 
Pink Cat ~ a collage miniature by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

Pink Cat
collage miniature by J A Dixon
4.25 x 4.25 inches
 
Purchase this artwork.

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

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.