Archive for the 'Merz' Category

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

Schwitters’ Army Mobilized in Rural Scotland

Monday, January 20th, 2020

“. . .this is what we do in the collage community: we engage, we exchange, we manifest with one another. We emerge into a new state of being together. That is what makes art powerful. It connects us and takes us into the future.”
— Ric Kasini Kadour
 

Any collage artist who maintains even a casual curiosity about the legacy of Kurt Schwitters has to be enthusiastic about developments in Sanquhar. As someone who employs this space to exalt the “Master of Merz” without apology, I now feel compelled to praise Ric Kasini Kadour and his worldwide call to built a Schwitters’ Army collection of collage artwork at the center for learning established by David Rushton in the Scots town. Needless to say to an audience that visits this site with an interest in all things collage, Ric has made an impressive effort over the past few years to raise the level of discourse about a medium to which so many of us have dedicated ourselves. From Kolaj Magazine to Kolaj Institute to Kolaj Fest, he’s been making his mark for some time and clearly doesn’t intend to rest on his laurels.

As part of his curatorial efforts at MERZ Gallery, he has asked contributing collage artists to answer a few questions. As I prepare to ship my donation to the cause, I’ll publish my supporting remarks here for your potential interest.

Next time: a look at the artwork and my thoughts about the context of its creation.

What is your origin story? When did you first start making collage seriously?

The first collage art that I remember creating was in the 4th or 5th grade, probably in 1961 or 1962, when I used sample chips of color from a paint store to cut and paste a mosaic-like image that won the “Poppy Day” poster contest. It’s always stood out in my memory. I thought of myself as an artist from that point forward. Nevertheless, up into high school, I would feel the lack of any competent art instruction as a keen deprivation. I convinced my parents in 1967 to enroll me as a charter student in the home-study course co-founded by Norman Rockwell called “The Famous Artists Course for Talented Young People.” Unlike the successful version for adults on which it was patterned, the package of guided assignments for teens would fail in the marketplace, but not before exposing me to a diversity of fine and applied art mediums, including collage.

Who was the first collage artist you connected with?

The Famous Artists Course would bring to my awareness many influences in the area of collage and assemblage, including Fred Otnes, Robert Rauschenberg, Louise Nevelson, Joseph Cornell, and Kurt Schwitters. Although I didn’t understand his technical methods, I initially attached my affection to the visually comprehensible Otnes, and I’d emulate his montage approach throughout my years as a professional illustrator and designer. In contrast, a series of breakthroughs in my journey to unravel the Merz of Schwitters would take another forty years, culminating in my first solo exhibition as a collage artist in 2007.

How do you connect with the collage community?

I began writing about collage and showcasing my practice at “The Collage Miniaturist” in 2012. Since then, beginning with fellow artists in Kentucky who work in the medium, I’ve collaborated with a body of dedicated collage artists. I’ve also regularly entered pieces in national and international calls for collage and submitted my work to landmark exhibitions and permanent collections. Believing that cross-pollination in collage through worldwide virtual communities is a vital force in the so-called “Post-Centennial” collage movement, I follow hundreds of active collage artists through social networks. As much as possible for someone who continues to sustain an ongoing studio and exhibition schedule, I regularly comment on trending topics and answer questions in the digital realm.

 

The spirit of my time . . .

Thursday, January 2nd, 2020

“Real trust does not need verification;
if you have to verify, it is not trust.”
– Charles H Green
 

Being part of a regional group invited to unveil a “fourth-quarter” creation in January is something that I’ve come to deeply appreciate. It’s getting difficult to remember any other way to conclude a year of creative activity. Because I’ve routinely written here about our New Year New Art tradition, I don’t want to overdo the point. To bypass the typical curatorial scrutiny and be entrusted with hanging something sight unseen is a gratification that every working artist should know.

Zeitgeist originated as part of a process that I began over a year ago, but it had taken a back seat to a couple of other ideas that got more attention at the time. All three had been sparked by the NYNA catalyst. The only restriction that comes with the invitation is that the artwork be completed after August. This time, I didn’t get rolling until after the Thanksgiving holiday.

I’d just returned from a trip to Pennsylvania. Long-postponed pilgrimages to Chadds Ford and Fallingwater finally had been realized. Visions from the Barnes Collection and the Philadelphia Museum of Art were spilling over within my inner sight. I decided to bring the third of the thumbnail concepts to fruition in a manner that would not have occurred to me in 2018. I wanted to create a highly energetic, maximalist piece without losing control of its compositional stability. A loose structure offered a starting point, but I had to alternate intuitive bursts of “Merz assembly” with rational decisions that would visually anchor the dynamism. In addition, coordinated “B-Roll” embellishments were prepared nearby in the studio and inserted at the final stage. The process would bring into greater focus a refined method of harnessing small-format spontaneity when working big.
 

 
 
look back
at early- and
late-stage views
of my newest
big-scale work

 
 

 
 
 
(click each
to enlarge)

 
 
 

 
 
My personal orientation to collage remains with smaller dimensions, although some may question the continued self-description as a “miniaturist.” The practice seems to be evolving toward more frequent oversized works, in which I usually embed at least one miniature element that could stand on its own. The annual New Year New Art showcase has provided beneficial opportunities for me to shift from a comfortable frame of reference and build a body of larger collage paintings.
 

Zeitgeist ~ John Andrew Dixon

Zeitgeist
collage painting on canvas by J A Dixon
36 x 20.25 inches
available for purchase

To 2020 and beyond!

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019

 

detail from Autumn Ode (to Merz)
collage artwork by J A Dixon

The Apprentice Merzologist

Sunday, November 17th, 2019

“For some time, we have been inspired by the work of mr.babies. He frequently uses large eyes and sweeping vistas. His work, while expressive and multicolored, also hints at the human longing for place. mr.babies is known for posting a series of images that integrate one shared element placed on a variety of backgrounds At the end of the series, the viewer often finds the completed piece. To us, this visually represents the (often lifelong) journey to find belonging.”
— Doug + Laurie Kanyer
 

Kindly take a look at my submission to the OPEN CALL opportunity by the Doug + Laurie Kanyer Art Collection on the theme of “finding a place of my own.” The Yakima-based couple are building a repository of contemporary collage and using Instagram, Facebook, and other devices to elevate their agenda in the art world.

My take on this idea is to turn inward on the medium of collage itself, with a veteran “Merzologist” mentoring his young protégé on the intricacies of the Kurt Schwitters legacy. I’ve explored placing the central element against different backgrounds from my previous compositions, according to the constraints of the project. A final pasted version integrates the same subject within an entirely new “terrain” of ingredients created specifically for the entry. It’s my first official salute to a hundred years of Merz — in all likelihood, the most pioneering concept in the history of collage.
 

   
 
   
 
As an artist, Merz means more to me than finding a place of my own. In the words of the great innovator, it is about “creating relationships, preferably between all things in the world.” I know that I’ve used the quotation a number of times at this site, but is it not as true today as it ever has been? Upwards of 500 works have been submitted to the Kanyer exercise from artists worldwide, another indication of how collage has exploded in the emerging era of social networks.
 

The Apprentice Merzologist
collage on book cover by J A Dixon
8.5 x 11 inches
part of the #findingaplaceofmyown project

Ding-ding-ding. The market is open!

Thursday, November 14th, 2019

The Holiday Market sponsored by the Art Center of the Bluegrass is open — a great way for everyone in our community to support ART LOCAL with their gift giving. I have collage miniatures, wood engravings, and note cards available (They can also be purchased online by those who aren’t anywhere near Central Kentucky!). I also made a couple of new Merz Pictures just for the season, continuing my “Market Shard” series. The opening reception is tomorrow, from 5:30 to 7:30pm. I suspect there will be a crowd, so perhaps you might bump an elbow with me.
 
 

Something Given
collage artwork by J A Dixon
9 x 11.625 inches
 
Purchase this artwork!

 

With Mind Serene
collage artwork by J A Dixon
8.375 x 11.375 inches
 
Purchase this artwork!

Therapeutic factionalism or personal catharsis?

Tuesday, August 6th, 2019

“Anger is a very limiting emotion. There’s not much you can do with it. There’s no hope in it.”
— Wendell Berry
 

There was a time when the arts may have held the capacity to alter the world around us. From time to time, music probably has. Perhaps the dramatic arts, too. The oral and written arts of language certainly have, and they remain highly consequential, but the notion that those engaged in artistic “visual statements” can affect society is an illusion. The early 20th-century avant-garde believed they could, and maybe they did, to some extent, while the attention of a less distracted elite was seized. At any rate, this innovative class took what they had absorbed, rejected much of it, and cultivated the vocabulary of the modern art forms which influence the bulk of what artists do today. And almost all of what we do now has very little if any catalytic effect on evolving civilization — especially if it was overtly intended to do just that. But make no mistake about it, “message art” has been, is, and can be a significant catharsis for creative individuals. Rest assured that it will reinforce solidarity among people of like mind. It can also be relied upon to irritate many of the others.
 

Taboo Faction
collage catharsis by J A Dixon
8.125 x 11.5 inches
 
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.

Worthy of note . . .

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018

Sharing a major announcement in the world of collage and assemblage: The Ontological Museum has undertaken an entire makeover of its online archives. Let all doff their hats to Cecil Touchon!

Beware — connoisseurs of the collage medium can be swept into this magnificent black hole of imagery. Just a few outstanding examples are featured below.

Fellow collage artists, it is up to us to grow and preserve this extraordinary collection. Become a subscribing member!
 

The Sun Always Shines on TV
collage artwork by Cory Peeke, 2010

7 am
collage artwork by Joan Schulze, 2010

Ritual 2
mixed-media collage by Svetlana Pesetskaya, 2011

Case #10
small things by Hope Kroll for Fluxcase Micro Museum, 2011

(title unknown)
mixed-media collage on paper by Denise Pitchon, 2012

Queen Rose Score
collage on paper by Matthew Rose, 2012

(title unknown)
collage for Dada Centennial by Bob Rizzo, 2016

Homage to Merzbau
collage artwork by Sabine Remy, 2016

(title unknown)
asemic collage on paper by Jim White, 2018 
 
 
 
(images courtesy of The Ontological Museum)

Precursors have precursors

Tuesday, August 21st, 2018

“We do not analyze works of art because we want to imitate them or because we distrust them.”
— Paul Klee
 

The other day the world learned about an unpublished Ernest Hemingway short story. If there had not been a Mark Twain first, would literature know Hemingway’s writings at all? Could there have been an Isaac Asimov, Stan Lee, or Gene Wolfe without a Verne or Burroughs? The J.K. Rowling body of work without an Austen or Tolkien? Similarly, all of today’s rock music can be linked to direct influences — to bands such as Ramones, Led Zeppelin or the Beatles, which, of course, had their own precursors. Would jazz exist in its current form without the innovations of Armstrong and all those who inspired him? Imagine a contemporary musician saying, “I really haven’t paid attention to any music that was recorded before I started to play.” And yet, not infrequently, collage artists will boast that they have little use for art history (all the breakthroughs of bygone creators who dug the swimming pools in which they now frolic).

It is argued that modern artists were the first to decide that visual art would be about art, rather than subject matter. Nonsense. Art has always been about art, because it always has been structured on prior foundations. The idea that any artist can burst on the scene as an original is absurd. Nobody who comes out of early childhood with any level of awareness has not built an inventory of perceptions — countless images from the culture around them. Each of these individual influences involved creative activity based on another bank of stimuli, and so forth, back to the first proto-human who picked up a piece of charcoal to make interesting marks on a stone (and was probably knocked on the head by another who judged the action as irrelevant to group survival).

Perhaps I have belabored my point. Perhaps it is a point that anyone who reads this would not need emphasized in the first place. Isn’t it obvious to us that no art form is more about all these churning influences from untold visual decision makers — painters, printers, illustrators, photographers, designers — than the medium of collage itself? So, let us all continue to study the collage artworks of the explorers who came before us, to trace the direct lineage of their concepts and techniques, to recognize that valuable inheritance in the work of our peers, as well as in the composition taking shape on the surface before us, and then, fully informed, to push confidently into the second century of collage.
 

Tranquil Ode (to Merz) ~ collage homage by John Andrew Dixon ~ Danville, Kentucky ~ Kentucky Crafted Mixed Media Artist

Tranquil Ode (to Merz)
collage homage by J A Dixon
9.5 x 11.875 inches
 
Purchase this artwork.

Various and Sundry Scraps ~ No.1

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

Don’t we all want to be Cecil when we grow up?
There was a time when Merz was deemed degenerate.
Destruction of the Merzbau and the human toll in Hannover.
Kurt Schwitters and his fellow artists in captivity.
How synthetic cubism led to collage as a modern art.

Thanks to The Kurt Schwitters Society for sharing several of these links.