Archive for the 'Larger Works' Category

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 a life experience that has 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 come to 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

Governor’s Derby Exhibit, 2018

Thursday, May 17th, 2018

My 3D collage from last summer, Star of Commonwealth, is currently on display as part of the Governor’s Derby Exhibit titled Reflections of the Commonwealth. It is an honor to have my artwork chosen and, reportedly, positioned near the door to the Governor’s offices. Yes, it’s a cool thing, if I do say so myself. The Kentucky-themed piece was created as part of the 225th birthday celebration for our Bluegrass State. I have yet to replenish my stash (hint, hint, wink, wink) that would enable me to do another similar artwork. The annual initiative coordinated by the Kentucky Arts Council is on view in Frankfort at the Capitol Rotunda through June 4th.
 
detail from ‘Star of Commonwealth’ ~ collage construction by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

Star of Commonwealth (detail)
mixed-media collage construction by J A Dixon
22 x 21 x 6 inches
available for purchase

The “Collagesmith” as Artisan

Saturday, March 24th, 2018

“Even in the absence of inspiration and talent, I think that through sheer craft you can actually create extremely good work, all the time, reliably. Great work is something else. I think for great work you also need a lot of luck. You can only aspire to really good work. The great work either happens or it doesn’t.”
— Christoph Niemann
 

Sloppy collage artwork has never held much appeal for me. Individuals might define “sloppy” differently, so I’ll rephrase that. I have always found well-crafted collage artwork to be the most appealing. In practice, I have aspired to the highest level of artisanship to which I am capable. According to my peculiar notions, the very nature of collage as a “mash-up” of visual ingredients suggests that one resist all the inherent temptations to condone careless techniques. To do anything less is a disservice to the medium, and strikes me as being a bit lazy.

I have been at this long enough to contrast current activity with a study of my “early” work. I perceive it now as more crisp and aligned with my long stint as a designer and illustrator. I remain proud of craftsmanship that continues to challenge my present hand skills. Like everyone who sticks around, I have moved relentlessly toward a period of life when manual dexterity and vision are unlikely to improve. At any rate, clean, precise work is more about attitude and personal commitment than it is about facility. Lately, on the other hand, I have sought a more organic, less contrived look — the impression that a piece is naturally the way it should be, rather than appear too obviously composed and belabored. As I work, I try not to permit the goal of a somewhat softer and cohesive whole to suggest a relaxation of craft. In fact, I have gradually introduced steps in the process that demand extra time and attention: sanding the reverse side of ingredients for adhesive-saturated compression and eliminating white edges on printed scrap to enhance a seamless effect. I combine that with ample burnishing and some hair-dryer prep before curing time under weight, followed by multiple light-touch coats of matte sealant. I would rather be thinking about practical methodology or a musical playlist than what is literally evolving on the surface before me, allowing that to be as intuitive as possible.

And perhaps (just maybe), Lady Luck will smile.
 
Cosmic Crucifixion ~ J A Dixon

Cosmic Crucifixion
mixed-media collage by J A Dixon
2006, 16 x 16 inches
available for purchase

Wetland

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

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

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!

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.

Star of Commonwealth

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

“I have to trust for that crazy moment.”
— Christoph Niemann
 

It is no secret that creative work has not been flying off the walls in the current art market, but there is something about the theme of 225: Artists Celebrate Kentucky’s History, hanging this summer in the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea, that has provoked an unusual number of sales, including the mixed media construction that I titled I Must Have Kentucky and featured here in March. The kind folks at the Center asked me to deliver a replacement piece sight unseen. Sounded good — but the first work had made a serious dent in my stash of Kentucky-related scrap. I’ll admit that I scratched my head about what I could come up with. Fortunately, I had a second salvaged metal star that enabled me to utterly obliterate what was left of my repository of images with any connection to the Bluegrass State, including material from discarded books, hymnals, maps, magazines, product labels, and postage stamps.

I began with a goal of contrasting a simple dimensional configuration with a density of images and symbolic messages, but I was a bit dubious about where it would lead me. I recall the distinct turning point when I took comfort in the thought, “This is starting to look good. This just might work out.” How can one go wrong with images of Kentucky’s towering native sons? Her historical presence will always be linked to Abraham Lincoln (perhaps America’s greatest president, and who has come to represent much more to the world), as well as Louisville’s Muhammad Ali (perhaps America’s greatest athlete, and who also has come to represent much more to the world). Either, or both, can be called “The Greatest.” Can any other state match that? Other individuals featured in the work are Lincoln’s first lady, Mary Todd — plus Daniel Boone, Simon Kenton, Loretta Lynn, Robert Penn Warren, Ephraim McDowell, Ned Beatty, Frederick Douglass, George Rogers Clark, and Jefferson Davis. The viewer will also find visual references to faith, sport, thoroughbreds, whiskey, coal, tobacco, the U.S. Constitution, and the Civil War, with an institution central to the bitter national conflict: slavery. I am pleased with how the companion to its larger half-brother turned out. Perhaps it also will find a home, and then I can assign myself to replenishing my Kentucky file. The show lasts until September 23rd.

As I’ve probably told you before, I enjoy creating works that have visual appeal from across a room, but also provide a depth of interest on close observation, with stimulating details at an intimate viewing distance. A future entry will zoom in for another one of our nosey examinations.
 

Star of Commonwealth ~ John Andrew Dixon ~ collage construction ~ wood, metal, found printed material

Star of Commonwealth
mixed-media collage construction by J A Dixon
22 x 21 x 6 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!

I Must Have Kentucky

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

There is a new exhibition by the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea — 225: Artists Celebrate Kentucky’s History — and I am proud to have my work as part of the display.paintings by Mark Selter and others at ‘225: Artists Celebrate Kentucky’s History’

My friend and fellow exhibitor Kathleen O’Brien wrote a fine account of the opening reception at her studio blog. She was kind enough to include some information about me.

From the KACB notice: “Kentucky has always cherished its history. The preservation of Kentucky stories, places and traditions has shaped its culture today. This exhibit includes over 60 works by 51 Kentucky artists who have recorded and celebrated numerous facets of Kentucky’s rich 225-year history. These works capture the essence of Kentucky — including its historical places, people, events, state commerce, agriculture and the state’s unique flora and fauna. Accompanied by written stories and histories in each artist’s words, this exhibit entices the viewer visually and verbally.” The show lasts until September 23, 2017.

My next entry will look a bit more closely at the work and its creation.

John Andrew Dixon with ‘I Must Have Kentucky’ ~ Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea

I Must Have Kentucky ~ John Andrew Dixon ~ collage construction ~ wood, metal, found printed material

I Must Have Kentucky
mixed-media collage construction by J A Dixon
42.75 x 20.5 inches

•  S O L D

ART | GREEN | DESIGN

Sunday, March 19th, 2017

“Sustainability can’t be like some sort of a moral sacrifice or political dilemma or a philanthropical cause. It has to be a design challenge.”
— Bjarke Ingels


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
From the time I first paid a visit to its astonishing Jewel Room, after we moved our studio to Kentucky, I continued to sustain a high regard for Lexington’s Headley-Whitney Museum. I have written before John Andrew Dixon at the Headley-Whitney Museum of Art, in the heart of thoroughbred country near Lexington, Kentuckyabout the lost treasures of George Headley, and how they inspired my Bibelot Series of collage miniatures, but I only recently acknowledged an undisclosed desire to have my work displayed at the institution. It pleases me to say that the daydreaming phase is over, because three of my larger works are part of their 2017 kick-off exhibition: ART | GREEN | DESIGN.

The show features examples of art and design that are inspired by and exemplify eco-friendly ideals. I am gratified to be represented among a group of exceptionally creative individuals. It causes me to realize just how much my activity in this chosen medium is driven by a practice of sorting through the cast-off material of our wasteful society and upcyling it as a worthwhile artifact. Cherry Balm, Pearallelograms, and Matthew’s Touchonic Lodge are fitting examples of that orientation.

An unidentified assemblage that I liked (left), and Kentuckian Brandon Long, my friend who creates handsome abstract squares from recycled roofing metal.
 
 

a detail from ‘Cherry Balm’ ~ John Andrew Dixona detail from ‘Pearallelograms’ ~ John Andrew Dixona detail from ‘Matthew’s Touchonic Lodge’ ~ John Andrew Dixon

Details from three of my collage artworks, selected by the museum to include in
the show: Cherry Balm, Pearallelograms, and Matthew’s Touchonic Lodge.