Archive for the 'Ingredients' Category

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

Touché
collage miniature on book cover by J A Dixon
7 x 10 inches
 
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Mussel Power ~ J A Dixon

Mussel Power
collage miniature on book cover by J A Dixon
7 x 10 inches
 
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Evolucent ~ J A Dixon

Evolucent
collage miniature on book cover by J A Dixon
7 x 10 inches
 
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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
 
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Clarissa’s Beetle ~ J A Dixon

Clarissa’s Beetle
combined collage miniature segments
J A Dixon, 11 x 14 inches
 
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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
 
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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
 
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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
 
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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
 
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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
 
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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
 
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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
 
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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
 
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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
 
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This Side of Recklessness ~ J A Dixon

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

Collage En Plein Air

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

“When painting and sketching plein air I sink into the landscape, an attuned witness to its mood and beauty.”
—Dianne Bersea
 

After the experience I had last September in Sault Ste Marie, I stayed attached to the particular idea that I could perfect a method of doing collage en plein air. I had no illusions about becoming a Tom Thomson or Rockwell Kent. I was just waiting for an opportunity to put my notion to the test, and I found it when the Plein Air Artists of Central Kentucky invited me to one of their summer outings.

I assumed going into the experiment that, aside from the creative challenge that faces any person working out of doors, a collage artist would need to be prepared to accommodate even the slightest of breezes. I had no coherent system for doing that and placed more of my focus on how to transport what I thought I would need on location. Fortunately, the scheduled gathering was on a day of gentle weather, so I was able to measure the potential hazard under ideal conditions. Truth be told, I still spent some time on hands and knees, searching for wayward scraps in the surrounding grass. Ideas for a more systematic approach took shape as I worked, and I also learned what would not be needed the next time out (perhaps equally important as identifying what was essential). Forgetting common white glue was a blunder, so I fell back on a desirable combination of wheat paste and gel medium. I rarely use a single adhesive anyway.

The process was more like painting with paper than what I have been used to — studio collage is more concerned with the ingredients themselves, but this was about interpreting what was visually in front of me. I was reminded of the small, square studies that an accomplished plein air painter showed me when I visited her studio in Berkeley, California. To develop the capacity to genuinely SEE what is before me is an exciting prospect (admittedly long overdue). As I move from everything being new and unfamiliar to a clearer sense of the potential for this activity, I can eventually pursue the inherent spontaneity and unexpected juxtapositions of true collage, rather than the effect of a simple, torn-paper rendering. Nevertheless, my initial emphasis must be on devising a more workable, mobile kit that guards against the qualities of wind, of which there is no degree so minimal as to not be undesirable when handling small paper ingredients. It is no surprise to me that relatively few collage artists are creating works entirely outside.
 

JWDB’s Domain ~ plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon

JWDB’s Domain
first plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
4.625 x 4.625 inches
available for purchase

First cause: the intuitive response

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

“Every athlete, every musician practices every day. Why should it be different for artists?”
— Christoph Niemann
 

Creating a collage within constraints is one of the most enjoyable activities within the medium, because it is necessary to throw oneself upon the mercy of pure intuition. Last week I was in the middle of caring for my mother at our family farm, and I assigned myself this exercise:

Mombo (V E Dixon) with her son (J A Dixon) ~ Easter at the Blue Bank Farm, 2017Complete one full-page collage in my journal within the time of Mombo’s two-hour afternoon nap, using only ingredients found in the recycling bin.

Naturally, my journal is the perfect place to conduct such exercises. I take what I learn from the small format and bring it to larger artworks. What is it that I learn? That, too, is primarily a matter of fortifying one’s intuition. I hope to internalize the creative response that each experiment reveals and keep my collage process as subjective as possible. For me, nothing bogs down the making of a collage more than too much rational thinking, which is best reserved for aesthetic refinements, finishing touches, and creating titles.
 
Untitled (first cause) ~ a collage miniature by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

Untitled (first cause)
constrained collage exercise by J A Dixon
page from 11×14 Strathmore journal
not for sale

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!

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, Hausmann, Schwitters, and their fellow collage “inventors” included found material contemporary with their times. There are many current practitioners who restrict themselves to “vintage” resources, and some of them avoid using anything younger than 50 years old. Whatever they choose to do is fine, but, in my opinion, 21st-century collage artists are challenged 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 confine themselves to curating 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 clearly using something that he just acquired on the street. Let’s think about that when as ask ourselves, “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
 
Purchase this artwork.