Archive for the 'Methodology' Category

Circadian Tortuga

Saturday, June 29th, 2019

“The sage
     dwells in affairs of nonaction,
     carries out a doctrine without words.
He lets the myriad of creatures rise up
     but does not instigate them;
He acts
     but does not presume;
He completes his work
     but does not dwell on it.
Now,
     Simply because he does not dwell on them,
          his accomplishments never leave him.”
— Lao Tzu
 

There are many outstanding collage artists who have a trademark “style,” and I can immediately identify a piece as theirs prior to confirmation. I have no idea if people familiar with contemporary collage recognize a work as mine before they see a signature or attribution. To have cultivated a personal “voice” as an artist, no matter what the genre, and to have dug deeply into a single plot rich with ore is a good thing, and I admire those who have done it. I suspect that the description doesn’t apply to me — although I honestly don’t know — and I’d leave a more objective evaluation to others. I could accept that I’m wandering a hundred-year-old frontier, sometimes venturing into lawless terrain, and, as often as not, frequenting the established settlements, helping myself to the comforts of civilization. Or perhaps I just took a job in the collage mine.

Do I ruminate on such things only because I’m blogging instead of working in the studio? It brings to mind Robert Hughes, who described the history of art as being “like the scramble for Africa.” He wrote that “a few pioneers stumble on unexploited territory and stake it out, often forgetting to register their claims. Then the dealers arrive, and the collectors, carving up the area, reducing it to mining ground, a tangle of jumped claims and abandoned shafts, patrolled by trigger-happy art historians.”

I get more new ideas than I can possibly explore. Sometimes, when I fill a page with them, it occurs to me that the time would be better spent actually working instead of creating thumbnail notes for addition to my “to-do” list. The daily habit of confronting a challenging workload is probably a better source of what to do next than an isolated mental concept. To work and not dwell on it, to rest and then resume work, is undoubtedly the more rewarding road to deeper accomplishment. One can tell the difference between an artistic “look” that was intellectually contrived and one that grew organically from a work ethic. It is much like the process of collage itself. Spontaneous visual juxtapositions that could not possibly have been preconceived are generally more interesting and memorable than those that were “thought up” and then executed.
 

Circadian Tortuga
collage on canvas by J A Dixon
22 x 16 inches
 
Purchase this artwork.

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
 
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
 
Purchase this artwork.

Modern Use

Monday, December 17th, 2018

“As long as movements require our attention they are kata (form), when the kata become spontaneous they become waza (technique). As long as we persist in viewing kata superficially, we will begin to think that they are of special importance.”
— Yushio Kuroiwa
 

When explaining aikido, the late martial artist Yushio Kuroiwa taught the practice of rational movement, so that one could spontaneously execute a natural movement as a result. For me, this idea has a distinct parallel to the art of collage, which is based on repetitive experimentation. With study and discernment, the collage artist can discriminate the difference between a superficial composition that was contrived with too much self attention, and an intuitive composition that developed more naturally — an expression of synchronicity — that grew from understanding the essence of creativity.

Kuroiwa encouraged his students to not blindly follow masterful forerunners, but to observe and discover their “causes, effects, and processes of things, and their similarities and differences through experience.” He pointed out that “someone with poor handwriting cannot write beautifully, even when using a good pen. A skilled calligrapher, however, can write beautifully even when using an inexpensive pen. It is not that the pen is good, but rather that the writer’s ability, as a result of long experience, is excellent.”

It is beneficial to keep in mind that even though we are “working artists,” much of our “work” is not significant in and of itself as an artistic product, especially if it is merely a conscious application of formulae largely exhausted decades ago during the formative years of our medium as a modern art. Instead, maintain your drill, your ritual of formation, not to yield marketable artifacts, but to internalize an “organic” process that leads to a rewarding sense — that we have freely expressed the natural ability to create something with real spontaneity.

Thanks for visiting. Now, let’s go make more art . . .
 
Modern Use ~ collage miniature by John Andrew Dixon ~ Danville, Kentucky ~ Kentucky Crafted Mixed Media Artist

Modern Use
collage experiment in monochrome by J A Dixon
8.375 x 11 inches
 
Purchase this artwork.

Happy Birthday, Clara!

Monday, December 10th, 2018

There are times when one is reminded of the profound privilege of sharing artistic abilities. Recently I was humbled when friends asked me to create collage artwork for a fine lady on her 90th birthday. Clara was a teen when American soldiers and Allied forces liberated her homeland of Italy during the Second World War. The medium of collage offers the most creatively efficient capacity to embed a dozen or more images and symbolic elements that have personal meaning for an individual recipient. We honored Clara’s love of America and her lifelong gratitude to those who heroically sacrificed on her behalf — men such as Garlin Conner and John Squires, and so many others, including former U.S. Senators Daniel Inouye and Bob Dole. And, without a time-consuming process, I could at the same time recognize her particular appreciation of opera, the visual and literary arts, education, flowers, movies, wine, dogs, and a fondness for Mickey Mouse (who also turned 90 this year).

As an artist, I always find what I do rewarding, but it just doesn’t get any better than “the art of the gift.”
 

   

My friend Bill presents a birthday gift to Clara —
a collage miniature that I created with her in mind.

 

“I will not by evil be ever dismay’d.”

Friday, November 23rd, 2018

“I’ve been protected, I’ve been directed, I’ve been corrected, I’ve kept God in my life and it’s kept me humble, I didn’t always stick with Him but He always stuck with me.”
— Denzel Washington

Fortune’s Conspiracy went home with a buyer. I really wasn’t intending it as the first in a series, but I was moved to continue the theme and make another piece available for our Holiday Market at the Arts Center (here in my town of Danville). A fellow artist was curious about the logic of the title, but she eventually discovered the hymn and its fragment of wording. There are times when a collage title is as intuitive as the composition. I often think of a title as just one more ingredient in the total amalgamation — part of the harmonious balance that can exist beneath a veneer of irrationality.
 


 

J A Dixon enjoys a pleasant moment with fellow collage
artists at the Holiday Market opening.

 

Ever Dismay’d
collage miniature by J A Dixon
6 x 10 inches
 
Purchase this artwork.

Various and Sundry Scraps ~ No.2

Saturday, October 6th, 2018

Collage is painting, so Cinta can inform and inspire collage.
Many of us wanted to stow ourselves in Teri’s art-supply case.
I’ve lost count of all the things I admire about Sheldon’s artistry.
Cecil: The “spectacularness” of the harmony of all things.
The opposite of collage — two solid hours of Wesley at work.

My thanks to everyone who created these featured videos.

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

20th-Century Man, 21st-Century Artist

Wednesday, February 21st, 2018

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

 
Mama’s Story ~ R H Hunt

Mama’s Story
monochromatic collage by R H Hunt

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

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

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

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

Haus of Categories

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long live John’s Haus of Cards!

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

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

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

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

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

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

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

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

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

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

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

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

collage greeting card by John’s Haus of Cards!

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

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