Archive for the 'Ingredients' Category

Strike a light!

Sunday, May 31st, 2020

“Edinburgh Collage Collective would like to send a huge thank you to all the participating collage artists from around the world who have joined us for this project. Our matchbox project has attracted over 1000 submissions. It’s been a great pleasure and inspiration to receive and share all the incredible work. We have certainly seen examples of artists thinking both inside and outside the box. The exploration of the medium has resulted in a wide variety of diverse approaches and interpretations. We have seen everything from 2d flattened boxes to full blown dioramas – all taking their inspiration from the humble matchbox.”
— Rhed Fawell, E C C
 

I was inspired to compose something different for the “STRIKE A LIGHT” Matchbox Project, an open call from Edinburgh Collage Collective, which invited international collage artists to make work incorporating the matchbox as a visual starting point. It was a fun submission for me, since I rarely explore 3D collage.

The two shuttle trucks by Tootsie Toy® are from 1967. The original Union Match box (with Vincent peeking out) is one I brought back from Brussels in 1974. The whole thing was sparked by finding a tree frog.

Better not ask me to explain how my mind works. I’m still as baffled by creativity as I was when I decided, as an adolescent, that there was no possible aspiration for me other than to become a visual artist.
 

Strike a Light
photo-collage by J A Dixon
created for the #strikealight2020 project

a ‘Mother’s Day / Collage Day’ weekend

Sunday, May 10th, 2020

 
“And if my own children
  should come to a day,
When a new Mother comes
  and the old goes away,
I’d ask of them nothing
  that I didn’t do.
Love both of your Mothers
  as both have loved you.”
— Joann Snow Duncanson
 

Happy Happy to all the mothers on their day of honor!

The two 10x10s I posted yesterday on Instagram are my salute to World Collage Day, an international event contrived to celebrate and boost participation in the medium. The ingredients were generously sent to me by members of the Arizona Collage Collective. Using elements not personally selected was a rewarding exercise — an opportunity to better understand the distinction between my process of spontaneous composition and choosing qualities in the subject matter itself. For those who enjoy seeing my newest work, follow “thecollageminiaturist” at Instagram, too.
 
 

When You’re Going through Hell
collage on structured panel by J A Dixon
10 x 10 x 1.5 inches, unframed
available for purchase

 

When the Going Gets Tough
collage on structured panel by J A Dixon
10 x 10 x 1.5 inches, unframed
available for purchase

It’s all about the stash.

Wednesday, April 29th, 2020

“This is a stash, not a hoarding disorder.”
— source unknown
 

I guess that I’ve been stashing printed scrap since I was in my teens. Not so much as a collector, but acquiring things that caught my eye in a particular way. It grew into an illustrator’s reference “morgue” for client assignments, and then it gradually became my primary source for collage ingredients. I’ve got enough stuff to last “the duration,” but I’m always looking for peculiar finds. In the interest of domestic tranquility, quantity is no longer desired nor sought.

Although the process of collage creation involves many essential things, the practice of collage is all about the stash. One must periodically reorganize and refine it. New ideas inevitably result.

 

 

Good Ol’ Boy Dada

Monday, January 27th, 2020

“When Schwitters made the first collage by literally picking up a piece of rubbish, a sweet wrapper, a bus ticket and a piece of wood, that was pure invention.”
— Sir Peter Blake
 

For the many who revere his art, there’s a distinct Kurt Schwitters for each of us — rebellious creator, fearless performer, relentless out-of-the-boxer, proto-beatnik, or visionary theorist. In combination with his towering individualism, he was, by reports from those who knew him, affable, witty, optimistic, entertaining, and a practical joker. This is the Kurt who would be a pleasure to “hang” with, who others in the internment camp on the Isle of Man would hear each morning, barking like a dog. In our local Bluegrass culture, there is a phrase for such a character. Around these parts, he likely would’ve been known as a “good ol’ boy.”

In response to the international call by Ric Kasini Kadour to build a Schwitters’ Army collection at MERZ Gallery, the two pieces I created pay tribute to this particular K.S. Both were fashioned from street debris and highway litter accumulated from my immediate vicinity. One of them was mailed to Sanquhar, Scotland. I haven’t decided what to do with “part 2.” Perhaps the series will continue.

In 2016, I wrote the following in my published essay on a hundred years of Dada: “Those of us who create collage art may not always describe our works as a tribute to the enduring, inclusive concepts of Merz, but that is precisely what they are, and we are indebted to that legacy.” As one who has never wearied of the endless astonishments in the far-reaching innovations of K.S., I am content to describe myself unabashedly as a working “Merzologist.”

Schwitters may or may not have been the original artist to embed found detritus in collage, but certainly he was the first to fully master a modern-art version of the medium when it emerged at the close of the Great War. Embracing every conceivable source ingredient, he would codify the new visual vocabulary, give it an umbrella name, and bequeath the methodology to unborn generations. He may have sensed that the window of opportunity for him to preside over such a grand human venture was closing. He never got to take by storm the art world of 1950s New York — something eminently suited to his personality. His work and writings have had to speak for themselves.

For me, the seminal creations that launched what we know as Merz can never be separate from the man himself — the one who directed subtle, irreverent jabs toward a gang of thugs who hijacked his culture, until it was impossible to stay put, and then, after facing further persecution in Norway with his son, reckoned that an icebreaker just might evade Nazi torpedoes long enough for them to reach the coast of Scotland. Probably that dauntless, wry, “Good Ol’ Boy” side of him was satisfied to leave us with this simple thumbnail declaration:

“My name is Kurt Schwitters.
I am an artist and I nail my pictures together.”

 
 

Good Ol’ Boy Dada, part 1
collage artifact by J A Dixon
7 x 9.25 inches

 

Good Ol’ Boy Dada, part 2
collage artifact by J A Dixon
7 x 9.25 inches

Sisters of Sustenance

Friday, December 13th, 2019

“If a work of art does not live in the present, it does not live.”
— Pablo Picasso
 

I am not unlike most collage artists who find strong visual appeal in my stash of vintage scrap, but I cannot bring myself to limit the process to old ingredients. I have no intention of knocking the current practitioners who’ve mastered the use of antique material as a self-imposed constraint, but, for me, an artwork lacks contemporary vitality unless up-to-date components from our own time find a place to “belong” in a new piece.

Featured below is my response to a project by artist, designer, and educator Clive Knights, who recently introduced his “Corporeal Gestures” investigation to collage artists worldwide. It’s an extension of his long-term effort to re-identify “the nine muses as the cultivation of the orderliness of the human body” through shared necessities. I picked “nourishing” as a catalyst to explore the theme with both old and new paper elements, all of which had retained no intrinsic value and likely would have been recycled or ended up as more rubbish.

Collage will always have the potential to nourish our sensibilities by transforming apparently worthless but renewable paper into enduring artifacts with fresh symbolic power. Thank you, professor, for a most stimulating exercise.
 
 

Sisters of Sustenance
collage on book cover by J A Dixon
6.875 x 10.125 inches
for the Corporeal Gestures project

An all-seeing eye is watching

Saturday, August 3rd, 2019

“Mastering music is more than learning technical skills. Practicing is about quality, not quantity. Some days I practice for hours; other days it will be just a few minutes.”
— Yo-Yo Ma

Mombo gets a lot of junk mail — a ridiculous amount — but, at the age of 94, she is long past having any interest in it. When I care for her, the current stash provides scrap for compositional studies created while she rests.

We all need to practice something, don’t we?
 

Untitled (cyclopea)
collage experiment by J A Dixon
7.5 x 7.5 inches
not for sale

Spontaneity and adaptation

Saturday, July 27th, 2019

“I never plotted anything out. I don’t believe in storyboarding. I think you have a very dull-looking movie. You have to take advantage of the moment. I’m the kind of person that loves what we call the fog of war. That when things are going, and opportunities present themselves, you use them, you know, and there’s a fluidity that occurs that way. Now, I’ll go to all the locations. I know what I’m going to shoot, and where I’m going to shoot it, but I’m always ready to change. I’m always ready to adapt to the situation as it develops, and I think that there’s a certain organic quality that occurs then.”
— John Milius
 

The incomparable Milius was obviously talking about his approach to crafting a film, but I find his description entirely appropriate when discussing the art of collage. There must be a balance of careful research, discernment, and preparation — to set in readiness the potential ingredients — combined with a difficult-to-articulate sense of walking into the studio with absolutely no idea what will happen next, or how one might adjust the wheel to a different point on the compass. He puts it into words as well as anyone. If current movies — or any art form based on visual montage — look more contrived than ever, all the clues we need to know why are in that quotation.
 

Aggravated Dissent
collage on pasteboard by J A Dixon
7.5 x 11.5 inches
 
Purchase this artwork.

Collage Miniature Collaboration Number Seven

Saturday, July 13th, 2019

“Two halves don’t make a whole. Two wholes make a whole.”
— Jason Mras
 

Although I was not able to insert Kolaj Fest into my summer plans, I’m commiserating with the many collage artists who had their expectations disrupted by tropical storm Barry, including “virtual friends,” Allan Bealy, Janice McDonald, and Andrea Burgay.

As I think about them and the truncated event in New Orleans, it occurs to me that I never posted images of my 2018 collaboration with Bealy, when I joyfully participated in his HALVES project.

Leave it to Allan to explore yet another type of creative joint venture with a diverse group of partners. I knew from our previous collaboration that we could use the other’s stimuli to great benefit. After I received Allan’s starts, I waited until I’d sent him mine (this one with an Abyssinian cavy, and this one with roasting pans) before I finished my half of each lively “conversation.”

Like many of you, I’m astute enough to recognize that this guy is not only one of the most prolific and fluent practitioners within our medium, but also that he has continued to help shape the meaning of contemporary collage collaboration for our generation. I hope you’ll find these particular juxtapositions intriguing, and I look ahead with anticipation to seeing what he might do with the numerous artifacts that were generated by his stimulating concept.
 

Untitled (body language)
a collage miniature collaboration by J A Dixon and A Bealy
(start by Bealy, finish by Dixon)
part of the HALVES series

Untitled (a proper apricot)
a collage miniature collaboration by J A Dixon and A Bealy
(start by Bealy, finish by Dixon)
part of the HALVES series

MELD
a collage miniature collaboration by J A Dixon and A Bealy
(start by Dixon, finish by Bealy)
part of the HALVES series

MELD2
a collage miniature collaboration by J A Dixon and A Bealy
(start by Dixon, finish by Bealy)
part of the HALVES series

the uncanny path . . .

Monday, January 14th, 2019

“What more can we ask than to never know what to expect?”
— Paul Violi
 

The opening reception for the annual New Year New Art exhibition at our Community Arts Center was a massive success. Collage artist Connie Beale had a superb artwork on display, but she managed to slip out before we could include her in a group picture. So, we asked the ever-helpful Kate Snyder to grab a shot of “three collage dudes,” back in the corner where Robert Hugh Hunt was showing a new addition to his “20th Century Icons” series — President Jimmy Carter. I was delighted to see included within the mixed-media portrait a collection of Jimmy heads that I’d surrendered to Robert earlier in the year. Strategic Quake ~ collage on stretched fabric by J A DixonStrangely enough, the envelope had been lurking in my stash for decades, after the faces were clipped from newspapers during the Carter presidency. It can take a while for certain elements to find their destination, on the uncanny path toward a collage outcome.

My Harmonic Squall was hanging nearby. As these things often play out, I was a bit more pleased with the piece each time I saw it. The residual sense of heightened criticism was continuing to wear off. One certainly doesn’t want the effect to move in an opposite progression. It makes me think of the companion artwork that just as easily could have been part of the exhibition — an extreme vertical that I called Strategic Quake. Both were the result of an evolved process that I touched on in last week’s entry. I’ve been meaning to post the one that wasn’t selected, too (above), along with an image detail (below, for a zoomed-in look). “Spatial manipulation, a unified color scheme, and compositional balance” might be a good way to describe the goals I’ve set for a collage abstraction. It needs to look strong from a distance, with the ingredients becoming the “brushstrokes” that provide visual interest at a closer viewing distance.
 


 

Strategic Quake (detail) ~ collage on stretched fabric by J A Dixon

Strategic Quake (detail)
collage on fabric by J A Dixon
12.5 x 28.25 inches
available for purchase
 
Purchase this artwork.

new year, new art, new approach

Monday, January 7th, 2019

“The most interesting paradox of creativity: in order to be habitually creative, you have to know how to prepare to be creative, but good planning alone won’t make your efforts successful; it’s only after you let go of your plans that you can breathe life into your efforts.”
— Twyla Tharp

“You take what you know, you take things you are comfortable with, and you throw them into a situation of new things, of things you are uncomfortable with, and, all of a sudden, new connections happen. And then your goal as a creative must be: of having the skill to carry it home without breaking it.”
— Christoph Niemann
 

Brandon Long is making a name for himself as an assemblage artist in Kentucky. He manages to juggle this with being a blogger, an active volunteer, and his full-time role as an outstanding family man. On top of that, he holds down a challenging, “multi-hat” position at our local Community Arts Center. This past autumn, his request to exhibit at their annual winter invitational arrived like clockwork: show the public an entirely new work, no jury evaluation, just put something at the leading edge of your creativity on display. There can’t be a single regional artist receiving that call who doesn’t value it as a rare opportunity.

I’d been thinking for much of last year about another immersion into larger works — not always a comfort zone for a self-described “miniaturist.” Add to that several months of recovery from a knee injury which limited my standing time. I reckoned I was overdue for a boost in the scale of my studio work. When it came time to plunge in, I realized it also was the perfect chance to reassess my current methodology. I wanted to explore a way of developing an abstract composition that was different for me. Could I combine and balance both a rational and non-rational process? By now, I had more than a decent foundation in each, but had never fused them in as mindful a manner as I considered possible. It didn’t turn out to be complicated at all, and yet it was a new approach for me, after more than twelve years as a dedicated collage practitioner.

Deciding to make three works at horizontal, vertical, and square proportions, I began with thumbnail concepts in my journal, moving from tiny doodles, to color sketches, and from there to rough collage miniatures. The activity was deliberate, but I tried to hold it at an intuitive level. After that, I moved to the typical task of preparing the “stretchers,” although nothing would be fabricated from scratch. I found a nearly fifty-year-old, unpainted canvas in remarkable shape. I stretched Pellon® fabric over a discarded picture frame. I paid almost nothing at a flea market for a castoff “student-esque” painting that needed some reinforcement, its canvas re-stretched, plus lots of primer. After sorting categories of available paper scrap into flat boxes, I was ready to explode into routine sessions of Merz assembly, with an occasional reference back to my preliminary ideas. When probing to the heart of intuition like this, a collage artist stumbles upon strange dynamics. For instance, there are times when you’ll ignore an emotion that says “this doesn’t belong,” only to press on and discover that it totally “works” with the next layering of ingredients. Perhaps this is more characteristic of collage maximalism than collage minimalism. I would accept that fully, but it’s fascinating to remain aware of the “joust” between whether to trust feelings or trust pure impulse, and to discern the difference. Finally, there came a point when I introduced the hard evaluation of a visual critique, before finishing with intentional refinements — and even that final stage allows for spontaneity.

It’s not always easy to know when a piece is done, and maybe it never really is. Eventually, an artist has to claim victory and sign the damn thing. I ended up delivering two works to the Center for the “New Year New Art” show, and let Brandon pick one that fit best. It was the square, the one I called Harmonic Squall.

Please give these four details your scrutiny. Let me know what you think, and, if you find yourself in the area, attend our opening reception this Friday evening. It’s always the first good party after New Year’s Eve!
 

Harmonic Squall (detail) ~ collage on canvas by J A Dixon     Harmonic Squall (detail) ~ collage on canvas by J A Dixon

Harmonic Squall (detail) ~ collage on canvas by J A Dixon     Harmonic Squall (detail) ~ collage on canvas by J A Dixon

four
details
from
Harmonic
Squall

Harmonic Squall ~ collage on recycled canvas by J A Dixon

Harmonic Squall
collage on recycled canvas by J A Dixon
26 x 26 inches
available for purchase
 
Purchase this artwork.

Make it count

Saturday, June 23rd, 2018

“True desire in the heart, that itch that you have, whatever it is you want to do, that thing that you want to do to help others, and to grow, and to make money, that desire, that itch, that’s God’s proof to you, sent beforehand, to indicate that it’s yours already. And anything you want good you can have, so claim it, work hard to get it. When you get it, reach back, pull someone else up…”
— Denzel Washington
 

Denzel is the quintessence of the successful artist, and, by all appearances, he has defied the stereotype by cultivating humility and magnanimity. He also says, “Each one, teach one.” There are many ways to teach, and the opportunity presents itself differently at various points in our creative life.

I have always tried to compare and contrast the human qualities of those who have reached the pinnacle of an art form, and to remember that it cannot be about the creative result alone. When someone like Denzel advises, “Don’t just aspire to make a living. Aspire to make a difference.”, there is a desire for us to examine our definition of success, and it undoubtedly comes from his own life experience, one that’s had its ups and downs, its in-focus and out-of-focus moments.

For me, a passion for traditional teaching was more of a young person’s enterprise. I taught art to youngsters back in the “halcyon days” before background-check requirements, and spent seven years in my 30s as an adjunct professor in a university environment, taking what I was learning in the studio and sharing it with those just starting out. Other artists arrive at giving back much later in life, and bring to teaching their mature insights and proven practices. But, for me, the making of gift art has been the most fulfilling way to teach others in an unconventional way. Beyond a demonstration of willingness to give the gift of time and artistic effort instead of monetary value, one can also stimulate curiosity about the creative process that is personally powerful to young people.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
My Cosmosaic Series is only one of the ways that I have tried to meet this obligation. It is almost impossible to describe the reaction of young people when they realize that you’ve made them the object of an exercise in pure creativity, as well as the recipient of the finished work. Many profound conversations have been the result — discussions about life aspirations and individual destiny that would have been awkward or futile to jump-start in another context. It should go without saying that this is merely one way to teach another about one’s most significant values, but it happens to be one that is readily available to any imaginative individual.

As always, keep creating lots of stuff, but let’s not forget to make some of it count in an exceptional way. Pulling someone up a bit may be the most selfishly meaningful thing of all.
 

Thirteenth Cosmosaic ~ J A Dixon

Thirteenth Cosmosaic
mixed media collage by J A Dixon
16 x 20 inches
private collection

Fourteenth Cosmosaic ~ J A Dixon

Fourteenth Cosmosaic
mixed media collage by J A Dixon
16 x 20 inches
private collection

Sixteenth Cosmosaic ~ J A Dixon

Sixteenth Cosmosaic
mixed media collage by J A Dixon
16 x 20 inches
private collection

Twenty-third Cosmosaic ~ J A Dixon

Twenty-third Cosmosaic
mixed media collage by J A Dixon
16 x 20 inches
private collection