Archive for the 'Ingredients' Category

20th-Century Man, 21st-Century Artist

Wednesday, February 21st, 2018

Earlier this month I had the privilege of attending a gallery talk by Kentucky artist Robert Hugh Hunt, as he outlined his ambitious “Twentieth-Century Icons” collage portrait project and described an attitude toward the medium that is profoundly thought provoking.

R H Hunt gallery talk at the Community Arts Center in downtown Danville, Kentucky









You may be aware of Robert from his long-running Hillbilly Voodoo collaboration with T R Flowers or the way he brings an individualistic mixed-media aspect to contemporary collage. Hunt and I have done our own collaborative works together and we share the experience of creating collage artwork in a geographic environment that often responds to the medium with a sense of bewilderment. Clearly, this circumstance is no impediment to the strong personal approach that runs through Robert’s body of work. He describes himself as a twentieth-century man, but his art is always fresh and intuitive. It springs from a deep cultural awareness that is inseparable from his creative identity.

Hunt told me that he thinks there is lot of negativity towards collage. “I hear people say that collage artists are only using something someone else has created,” he said. “The word appropriation is bandied about. This is true to a certain extent. Collage is a medium steeped in appropriation, and as such is delegated to the status of the red-headed stepchild of art. But to me collage or any medium has to transcend the material used to make it, to truly be art. It is the collage artist’s job to use the appropriated imagery, and, by changing and manipulating it, to relay his own message and to find his own voice.”

Katrien De Blauwer recently brought our attention to the same topic with a link to this page at WIDEWALLS, where Elena Martinique suggests that the term adoption is “more appropriate to describe the level of care one should take when using someone else’s creativity” as a point of takeoff. Many of us who pay attention have seen collage after collage that exploits a prominently featured, “load-bearing” image, with trite or superficial treatments that rely almost solely on the power or interest of a photographer’s or illustrator’s invested creativity. Most of us probably started out this way, and it can be initially absolved in student work. Professional or serious amateur collage artists must hold themselves to a much higher standard.

Perhaps that is why I lean toward “maximalism” in my own work. I don’t know what I would say to other creative people if they called me on merely tweaking their intellectual property with a note of irony, humor, or cosmic wonder. Robert Hugh Hunt’s in-process portrait of the 14th Dalai Lama ~ newest addition to his ‘20th-Century Icons’ seriesI have great respect for collage minimalists who bring a consistent level of innovation to work that actually transcends the component parts.

Robert Hugh Hunt moves from minimalism to maximalism with a particular voice that defies imitation. In the tradition of fine art collage, the unique instrumental sound of “Robbo” is heard above whatever compilation of raw ingredients he puts to use. But, for me, there is another dimension that is also present — an authenticity rooted in drawing that cannot be imposed with a contrived “outsider” style. I look forward with high anticipation to how he brings all of this capability to his emerging series of famous faces.


EinsteinTeddyAliAnne Frank
mixed media collage portraits by R H Hunt
16 x 20 inches each, 2014-2017

(below) R H Hunt at the Community Arts Center with his
in-process portrait of the 14th Dalai Lama

R H Hunt with his in-process portrait of the 14th Dalai Lama

Mama’s Story ~ R H Hunt

Mama’s Story
monochromatic collage by R H Hunt

collaborative collage on playing cards from ‘Hillbilly Voodoo’ series ~ R H Hunt and T R Flowers

collaborative collage
from ‘Hillbilly Voodoo’ series
R H Hunt and T R Flowers

The Story ~ R H Hunt The Five of Arts ~ R H Hunt Let Dad Live ~ R H Hunt
Struggling Man Upon the Rock ~ R H Hunt The Number ~ R H Hunt The Death Of Billy ~ R H Hunt
His Big Day ~ R H Hunt Thirst ~ R H Hunt

mixed media collage by R H Hunt
(click each to view larger)

Haus of Categories

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

“As an art of its time, collage art — its imagery, its techniques, its attitude — speaks to our confrontation with a fractured multifarious image of the world in an age of information overload. The activities of sifting, sorting, organizing and prioritizing has become the basis and the goal of artistic activity in this hummingbird era of ADHD”
— Cecil Touchon

“A light bulb in the socket is worth two in the pocket.”
— Bill Wolf

Categorization is integral to the practice of collage. It is part and parcel of the ongoing acquisition, storage, and retrieval of compositional ingredients. I doubt if there is a dedicated collage artist out there who does not possess a particular method of processing the studio material that results in a work of art. We do relish the hunt, and, to some degree, we enjoy accumulation for its own sake, but, more than that, we like to be able to find our stuff when we want to use it.

Not long ago, Allan Bealy brought an article about the library of Vito Acconci to my attention. Like many artists, I devised a method of classification early in life and refined it over the years, and I found benefits in developing a “morgue” according to my own “creative code” rather than adopting a predetermined system. In whatever way we catalog it, we must be able to access the ingredients we need without impeding a flow of intuitive spontaneity. My studio repository began as a few “youthful” files of tear sheets that simply caught my eye as catalytic images. With the demands of professionalism, it grew into an illustrator’s resource that spared me many a trip to the public library. It mushroomed over time and finally evolved into a collage artist’s stash, with many subdivisions (such as antiquity, language, creatures, environments, attire, icons, themes, botanicals, patterns, vintage, surreal, and cosmic).

Individualized categories also help me to organize self-perceptions of what I make, even if these “sets” or “series” make limited sense to others. Although crafting personal greeting cards continues at a significantly reduced rate, I can now look back on the life-long activity as a key practice in my transition from applied to fine arts. It has had a strong influence on how I codify work that typically begins with intuition and ultimately ends with inclusion within some sort of idiosyncratic classification.

Please examine seven images recently created for my outgoing cards (with their designated categories). Some are considered hybrids (for lack of a better term). Those with an interest can find more at The Collage Miniaturist with this link and its associated archive.

Long live John’s Haus of Cards!

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

collage greeting card by J A Dixon
series Omega/Pi hybrid, collection of W Bates

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

Eagle Nest Goddess
collage greeting card by J A Dixon
series Pi, collection of J Hellyer

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

collage greeting card by J A Dixon
series Omega, collection of R W Breidenbach

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

G is for Gray
collage greeting card by J A Dixon
series Omega/Pi hybrid, collection of G Zeitz

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

Nurse Saw It
collage greeting card by J A Dixon
series Pi, collection of R K Hower

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

collage greeting card by J A Dixon
series Omega, collection of J M Hoover

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

O Lovely Perch
collage greeting card by J A Dixon
series Omega, collection of W W Barefoot


Monday, January 15th, 2018

“When you take risks you learn that there will be times when you succeed and there will be times when you fail, and both are equally important.”
— Ellen DeGeneres

Although it was created in the studio, my new collage landscape titled ‘Wetland’ benefits from a summer of plein-air activity. My “painting with paper” out of doors has opened a rewarding area of investigation for my work as a collage artist. I’m pleased to share this piece with the art-viewing community at my first invitational exhibition of the year, the annual New Year New Art show at our Community Arts Center, just a biscuit toss from my home base in downtown Danville, Kentucky. This event has been a fortifying tradition for regional artists, because we can complete our year of work at a risk-taking level, and still know that the result will get a prominent public display. An artist working outside a metropolitan center could not ask for greater support from a local institution.

Based on an excellent photograph by a longtime pal, this artwork was created as an entry for a contemporary landscape show, but the juror rejected it for unknown reasons. I kept it handy for a pair of upcoming open studio events (my participation in the Central Kentucky ARTTOUR and Gallery Hop Stop). Plenty of praise ensued, but nobody took it home, so I decided to make additional refinements, leading up to the deadline for the January exhibition. A full makeover was unnecessary, as the in-process image above indicates. However, I was not entirely pleased with the vegetation at the waterline, above the dark shadow that spans the composition. In this case, less was not more. Additional ‘foliage’ was needed. I also thought that the lower right corner was too abstract. The desired sense of realism would profit from a more detailed foreground. Late-season ironweed, a favorite of mine, seemed a suitable choice. That led intuitively to a few closing decisions in the sky reflection and distant terrain. stash of premium paper samplesNearly all of the ingredients were infused with wheat paste and press firmly onto the evolving surface with polymer gel. After thorough drying, selected areas were lightly sanded and the total surface evenly daubed with a flat sealant.

It is very satisfying to work with a palette of elegant papers, and I am fortunate to have them. Some of you may remember (especially those with a background connected in some way to the graphic arts) the pre-internet days of a more diversified paper industry. Numerous mills and distributors slugged it out in a highly competitive market. Inkjet printing was still on the horizon and multi-color offset printing was expensive. Printing on colored stock was a cost-effective way to get more color into published material. Paper producers went out of their way to demonstrate creative ways to use colored paper and many of us who specified paper for printing projects were lavished with promotional samples. Decades later, I still have a stash from that era, and I rely on it now for my plein-air miniatures and studio landscapes. A piece such as ‘Wetland’ puts this hoard to good use; it would not look the same with scrapbook or construction paper. The richness of premium papers manufactured for fine printing were accented with fragments of dulled foil, tissue, scraps of found packaging, and fragments of typography. After all, it’s meant to be a collage artwork!

The opening reception for NYNA is this Friday evening, 5 to 8 pm. Perhaps I shall see you there to discuss ‘Wetland’ in person.
Wetland ~ collage landscape by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

collage landscape by J A Dixon
21.25 x 19.25 inches
on structured panel, framed
currently on consignment

Something worth thinking about

Monday, January 8th, 2018

“Whatever comes to mind is a good thing. Don’t think before you work, work before you think.”
— George Condo

As collage artists, we respond to the visual ingredients. Twyla Tharp calls it “scratching.” It has been described by various artists over the decades: Don’t wait for an idea. Don’t spin a mental wheel. If you are a storyteller, write some words. If you are painter, work the brush. If you are a dancer, let movement happen. At any rate, just go to the studio and do what you do. React to what takes place. Before long, there will be something worth thinking about.
That Red Boot ~ J A Dixon

Fairy Ring Flux
collage miniature by J A Dixon
4.6875 x 4.6875 inches
Purchase this artwork!

Three more book covers . . .

Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”
— Ellen Parr

“What do I make next?”
— Paula Scher

Curiosity is perhaps a common characteristic of all visual artists, but certainly it is a driving feature of what motivates the collage practitioner — curiosity about acquiring and editing discovered remnants, curiosity about choosing a substrate or background context, and curiosity about composing selected ingredients for creative juxtaposition. We are all, in essence, “curators” of what others have cast aside.

Cecil Touchon has written, “The hunt for found materials is crucial to the process of many collage artists, causing them to be consummate collectors of things. Their collecting of material artifacts for their artistic appeal and possibilities rather than for rarity or value often makes them keenly aware of popular culture — present and past — with the subtle eye of an anthropological curator. Collage artists explore the artifacts that have poured out of the cornucopia of modern society, using them as grist for the creative mill, generating new works of art with materials that have already had their useful life and have been retired from their intended purpose. In the hands of collage artists, these materials often achieve poetic stature when their inherent visual qualities are brought to the fore and their former usefulness disregarded.”

Every creative person is interested in what comes next. Those of us who focus our curiosity on the discarded are also interested in what we shall rescue and transform in order to create it.

Touché ~ J A Dixon

collage miniature on book cover by J A Dixon
7 x 10 inches
Purchase this artwork!

Mussel Power ~ J A Dixon

Mussel Power
collage miniature on book cover by J A Dixon
7 x 10 inches
Purchase this artwork!

Evolucent ~ J A Dixon

collage miniature on book cover by J A Dixon
7 x 10 inches
Purchase this artwork!

Miniature vs. Miniature

Monday, November 20th, 2017

“Tie small-scale contrasts together compositionally, but also large-scale contrasts; for instance: confront chaos with order, so that both groups, which are separately coherent, become related when they are placed next to or above each other; they enter into the relation of contrast, whereby the characters of both sides are mutually heightened.”
— Paul Klee, 1915

For the most part, I consider any collage artwork that is 8 x 10 inches or smaller to be a “miniature,” but this is not a definition that I expect anyone else to adopt. It is just a personal rule of thumb within my nomenclature, based on a conviction that the small format has been at the heart of the evolving medium from the outset and continues to be the wellspring of innovation.

Cohesive collage artworks at this scale have always been qualified to stand on their own as finished creations, but I am increasingly fascinated by the process of assembling multiples or embedding miniatures into composite designs. It boosts their perceived character as “artifacts,” and offers the practitioner another level of discernment that balances intuitive spontaneity with more considered design judgments.

This is a series that I shall enjoy expanding.
Please let me know what you think.

Fresh-Full of Youth ~ J A Dixon

Fresh-Full of Youth
combined collage miniature segments
J A Dixon, 11 x 14 inches
Purchase this artwork!

Clarissa’s Beetle ~ J A Dixon

Clarissa’s Beetle
combined collage miniature segments
J A Dixon, 11 x 14 inches
Purchase this artwork!

More from the Crafted Series

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

“It’s very rare that writing music is easy. But you should ask my wife: she suffers more in these cases than I do.”
— Arvo Pärt

The new Crafted Series has come fully into focus, although it has been necessary to keep my concentration fiddle-string tight to keep from slipping into more established instincts and to avoid over-working the compositions. The selection of ingredients and the design development had to be as intuitive as possible, even as I consciously pushed outside my comfort zone — a tricky balance. More than ever, it was my goal to have the artisanship be at the highest level, but I did not want these pieces to look like they were difficult to make. Rather, they should look like they were just meant to be. In all honesty, refining the titles was almost as challenging as creating the artwork. The five examples below have been submitted to the Kentucky Arts Council for review by a panel of independent jurors.

Lutetia Night Crystal ~ J A Dixon ~ part of his Crafted Series

Lutetia Night Crystal
collage miniature by J A Dixon
5.75 x 7.75 inches
Purchase this artwork!

Humble Ruby Fillmore ~ J A Dixon ~ part of his Crafted Series

Humble Ruby Fillmore
collage miniature by J A Dixon
5.75 x 7.75 inches
Purchase this artwork!

Roberta Bloom Orbit ~ J A Dixon ~ part of his Crafted Series

Roberta Bloom Orbit
collage miniature by J A Dixon
5.75 x 7.75 inches

•  S O L D

Foxy Gold Hubbard ~ J A Dixon ~ part of his Crafted Series

Foxy Gold Hubbard
collage miniature by J A Dixon
5.75 x 7.75 inches
Purchase this artwork!

Karimata Core Cygnus ~ J A Dixon ~ part of his Crafted Series

Karimata Core Cygnus
collage miniature by J A Dixon
5.75 x 7.75 inches
Purchase this artwork!

The Crafted Series

Monday, October 16th, 2017

“Music, to me, is a matter of growth, development and rejuvenation.”
— Lalo Schifrin

Every so often, it is good to shove the status quo through the stern window into one’s wake. For me, that does not mean abandoning anything more than “business as usual.” Far from it. It becomes a matter of using everything that I have learned, showcasing all of my acquired skills, and tapping the full resource of internalized discernments to find a different level of creation. To whatever extent I am successful at doing that, there is hope for a renewed sense of discovery and joy.

As many of you know, I have considered collage to be an interactive medium. As a deeper back-and-forth, intuitive relationship with materials and compositional ingredients continues to develop, a corresponding interaction with those who respond to the work must also evolve. Art can indeed be a solitary, insular pursuit for some, but I consider collage to be more like music. How can the listener not be vitally important to the process?

In an interview, the late David Bowie said, “I think it’s terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfill other people’s expectations. I think they generally produce their worst work when they do that. And, if you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the border than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth, and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”

There is powerful insight in that observation, but holding the expectations of others at arm’s length does not exclude a goal of preserving their interest and involvement in the experiment. Not at all. Certainly not for me. I invite and value the feedback. Constructive criticism, too. There is no fulfillment in failing to elicit a sense of pleasurable intrigue and wonder in those who value the hundred-year story of collage artwork. For me, it will never be a private affair.

Hedra Cinq Sahara ~ J A Dixon ~ part of his Crafted Series

Hedra Cinq Sahara
collage miniature by J A Dixon
5.75 x 7.75 inches
Purchase this artwork!

Azulenco King Jetties ~ J A Dixon ~ part of his Crafted Series

Azulenco King Jetties
collage miniature by J A Dixon
5.75 x 7.75 inches
Purchase this artwork!

Magna Finch Bombus ~ J A Dixon ~ part of his Crafted Series

Magna Finch Bombus
collage miniature by J A Dixon
5.75 x 7.75 inches
Purchase this artwork!

Creating collage artwork on a book cover

Saturday, August 19th, 2017

“A cold start is a hard start.”
— Stephen King

There must be a lot of ruined publications out there, because the “collage on book cover” has become a staple of the medium in recent years. I happen to live across the street from a public library, and I’ve been known to peek into their recycling bins from time to time. If the decisions of libraries are any indication, cast-off books will supply the needs of artists for quite a while, and I’m not talking about just covers. Perhaps the societal move from print to digital has in some measure fueled the explosion of collage worldwide. Much could be said about that alone, but let’s stay focused on the book cover.

As a substrate, it has all the aspects for which a collage artist is looking — strength, durability, unusual textures, and it often provides other desirable features, such as embossing, foil stamping, plus interesting typography that need not be superimposed. I will generally wrap my collage ingredients around the dimensions of the working surface, and this adds an “artifact” quality to the creation, because it takes on the perceptual properties of an actual object. Book covers can lend themselves to this effect.

For me, the book cover also triggers its own unique intuitive responses — unconscious associations that will “jump-start” the process in a more experimental way than the typical “blank canvas,” which invites more initial calculation. Any component of a publication has the vestiges of an anonymous designer’s preexisting sensibility. There is already a context, perhaps a pictorial or narrative allusion, but, at minimum, a tactile or color stimulus. It is not a cold origin.

There are times when a collage at the scale of a book cover will capture a microcosm of “the moment,” whether or not we can interpret all the elements at a rational level, whether or not we can ascribe “meaning” to it. I see many collage artworks that communicate little beyond “disorganization” or “chaos.” But there are others that probe deeper to the heart of something more significant, and are the result of an artistic intent at some level of mindfulness, even if it has not derived from a series of choices that involve an outer, deliberative awareness. Then again, it is dangerous for me to generalize about anything. Each creative process is distinctive. Discover yours!
Threshold Of Control ~ J A Dixon

Threshold Of Control
collage miniature on book cover by J A Dixon
7 x 10 inches
Purchase this artwork!

This Side of Recklessness ~ J A Dixon

This Side of Recklessness
collage miniature on book cover by J A Dixon
7 x 10 inches
Purchase this artwork!

Star of Commonwealth ~ through the glass

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”
— Muhammad Ali

Let us take “our telescope” and look more closely at the Star. My strong appreciation of fine-art collage is second to none, but there is something equally as satisfying when one is called upon to create an “artifact” that pays tribute to a unique historical or personal legacy. I think that I managed to compile enough ingredients to do justice to the theme of the current exhibition — Kentucky’s 225th birthday celebration.

If anyone asks, “Where is he or she? Why did you not include this or that?” the answer might be as simple as an absence of “stuff.” The reason for that is my firm reluctance to use anything but original source material that would otherwise be destined for the recycling bin or landfill. I cannot bring myself to go online to search for, print, and use digital imagery, even though nearly anything can be “acquired” in that format these days. For me, art is always about constraint. Or, as the late Martin Landau put it, “It’s not about comfort, it’s about discovery.”

Please click on the images below to zoom in on Star of Commonwealth.

detail from ‘Star of Commonwealth’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

How can a collage artist go wrong, relying on images of
Kentucky’s two most widely recognized and revered native sons?
For me, Frederick Douglass is the figure who links them best.

detail from ‘Star of Commonwealth’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

One of my organizing factors was to confine the more intense colors to the
‘floating’ star and to use the plank surfaces to carry a more historical tone.

detail from ‘Star of Commonwealth’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

Kentucky has one of the greatest multitude of counties for any state in the union.
Woefully inefficient, or one of the better examples of self-government close to
the people? You can decide. I just like how colorful it makes an antique map.
At any rate, the frontier’s exploding population pushed Dan’l toward the sunset.

detail from ‘Star of Commonwealth’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

One of my favorite zones involves a visual juxtaposition of worship, whiskey,
constitution, thoroughbreds, coal mining, confederate leader, battle flag, and a
reference to human slavery. Only the history of Kentucky could contain all that.

Collage En Plein Air ~ second chapter

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

“Detached from judgement, hesitation, fear of failure or imitation, one embraces the moment and the place, as revealed in value, color, and shape — the impossible can happen and the spirit of the place appears as if by magic.”
—Dean Taylor Drewyer

I joined the Plein Air Artists of Central Kentucky on one of their regular “art-outs” with a totally different system than I used in my first venture. Louis Degni is marketing an outdoor kit for collage artists that he calls the “St Hilaire System” (named for artist Elizabeth St Hilaire). John Andrew Dixon ~ plein air collage artistHis design may work fine, but the idea of using cups to control available source paper did not appeal to me, so I put together a different configuration based on a re-purposed plastic dish drainer. Using custom-cut folders fitted to the 14 dish slots, I have an array of potential ingredients that are fully protected from the wind. Needless to say, even a mild breeze can play the devil with small scraps of paper. After I got to the site and picked my location, I sorted through a spectrum of colors to choose a palette. John Andrew Dixon ~ plein air collage artist A central compartment between the little folders provides storage for this selected material under the large clipboard that secures my working surface. Bottles with two different adhesives fit handily into what was originally meant to hold kitchen flatware. The scale is ideal for a collage miniature. Additional refinements are anticipated, especially if I decide to increase the working dimensions, but I now have a solid approach that allows me to concentrate on capturing the essence of the scene.

The hospitality extended by our hosts for the day was remarkable. I was free to roam the property and found a grape arbor that had seen better days, but still looked handsome in a patch of sunlight. My subject may have been too complex for the time slot, or, more likely, the process remains slow, since my layering method is still inefficient. I wasn’t able to complete all the foliage on site, so I had to spend some studio time the following day to finish up. I’ll admit to being pleased with the results, although I hadn’t expected to be satisfied with my early attempts. I have no idea where this is heading, but I’m happy to follow my enthusiasm to the next phase!

Margo’s Arbor ~ plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon

Margo’s Arbor
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
4.625 x 4.625 inches
available for purchase