Archive for the 'Methodology' Category

Synthesis — six details for study

Sunday, January 31st, 2021

“Great performers focus on what they are doing, and nothing else…They let it happen, let it go. They couldn’t care less about the results.”
— John Eliot

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
– Viktor E Frankl
 

Completion brings varied doses of relief, disappointment, astonishment, regret, and pride. To sort them out, it is beneficial to self-assign the task of tight scrutiny while a measure of internal evaluation is front of mind. It is sometimes interesting to experience a perceptible transition from “hate it” to “that ain’t bad” — or from “wow, cool” to “perhaps if I had instead.”

With Synthesis, I found that I didn’t need for a state of high criticism to slowly diminish. This time around, a sense of broad satisfaction could not be denied. Even so, I undertook my customary ritual of zoomed-in photo crops, looking for strengths and weaknesses before the full aura of the creative process had faded. The handy smartphone camera makes for an uncomplicated post-mortem examination. Self-directed questions don’t always have answers, but it is important to ask them anyway. Have you made effective use of your ingredients? Did you achieve your hoped for balance of design logic and intuitive spontaneity? Is there a coherence when you compare the overall impression from a distance and the up-close, microcosmic structure? Were your original aesthetic goals for a well-composed yet “maximalist” effect fulfilled?
 

   

   

   

Synthesis (six details for study)
collage on canvas by J A Dixon
48 x 36 inches
available for purchase

A Creative Synthesis Revealed

Friday, January 29th, 2021

“Improvising is the closest thing I do to meditation. I have to respond honestly to what’s happening in the music.”
— Michelle Dorrance

“Order is not enough. You can’t just be stable, and secure, and unchanging, because there are still vital and important new things to be learned. Nonetheless, chaos can be too much. You can’t long tolerate being swamped and overwhelmed beyond your capacity to cope while you are learning what you still need to know. Thus, you need to place one foot in what you have mastered and understood and the other in what you are currently exploring and mastering.”
— Jordan B Peterson
 

The year culminated in my largest collage artwork so far. I’m pleased to announce its acceptance as part of REVEAL, a new display of large-scale, two-dimensional pieces in the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea. All of us might point to a milestone achievement. It can be the most effortless and the most challenging thing we’ve ever done, both at the same time.

Buried in a twelve-month cycle of worldwide catastrophe are countless stories to be told by artists who crossed the treacherous, often surreal territory of 2020. Perhaps they are less significant than what so many others endured, often within tragic circumstances, but creative people have had to face unprecedented disruptions like everyone. Restrictions under pandemic transformed many aspects of individual practices. I am very fortunate to have been able to continue working in the same isolated way characteristic of my long tenure from a home-based studio. Our regional plein air group managed to stay active. Artistic cross pollination flourished online. Opportunities for me to show art remained intact — all because many persevered to organize exhibitions that might have been conveniently postponed or canceled. Each person on that list overcame hurdles to make things happen, and to develop virtual adjuncts that held risks to a minimum. Amid the frustrating chaos, there are many things for which to be thankful.

As I’ve described here before, my experimental miniatures have been the basis for larger works on canvas. Decades of design decisions and influences enable my work to be intuitive in process. In late 2020, I challenged myself to take what I’ve discovered with explorations at a smaller scale and to formalize it as a merger of design structure and pure spontaneity. Within a large format, I can focus on a counterbalance of both. Synthesis is an example of this fusion.

For me, collage abstraction is about the creative tension between order and chaos, comparable to how a soloist elaborates extemporaneously on a written melody. The characteristics of the paper ingredients — color, value, shape, line, texture — serve as the notes, rests, and rhythms of the composition. Thumbnail studies represent the evolution of a “manuscript,” analogous to musical notation, which then allows for an improvisational “performance.” But unlike a live concert, the visual artist can choose to return to a spontaneous expression and make deliberate refinements before declaring a piece “finished.” If so, it becomes similar to layering or enhancing tracks in a recording studio as the last step in a process. My bringing a large artwork to completion in this manner stands in contrast to the making of collage miniatures. There is a strong connection between the two rituals that I shall continue to explore.
 

Synthesis
collage on canvas by J A Dixon
48 x 36 inches
available for purchase

Sixth Chapter: A virtual field trip for youngsters . . .

Saturday, August 22nd, 2020

 

 
“You can decide that you want your art to be very close, exacting, and faithful to the scene, or you can just let nature charge your imagination, and you just go from there.”
from our video “ridealong”
 

It turned out to be one of the more memorable days of the summer — not just another opportunity to take my collage making to a natural place, but a collaborative effort with my friend Brandon Long from Art Center of the Bluegrass. Responding to the new demands of the era, he was in the middle of organizing a virtual field trip to dovetail with our annual En Plein Air exhibition. He wants to encourage youngsters to create collage artwork out of doors, so he asked me if I would be the subject of a short video. Our local PAACK had already scheduled an event at Central Kentucky Wildlife Refuge, but, with the likelihood of rain, the gathering had been postponed earlier that morning. Brandon and I felt lucky, and we pushed ahead with the outing anyway. We were successful in avoiding the poison ivy and pulling off our little production at the edge of Island Pond. Not much later, a thunderstorm sent me skedaddling beneath a nearby shelter. Somehow, I came away with a good start on a miniature that I could finish in the studio. My goal has always been to spend less time with the indoor follow-up than I spend on location. Sometimes it happens, but usually I need a 50/50 time ratio between site and studio to bring something to a satisfactory resolution. There are artists who would not consider that a legitimate plein-air solution. It’s a standard limitation that we use for our Central Kentucky group. At any rate, I find the entire process to be personally rewarding. If I keep doing this, I think that basically I’ll get to where I can complete something in the field. Meanwhile, the challenge is to “paint with paper,” capturing the essence of a viewscape on site, and then to avoid messing that up with my finishing touches.

Creating Collage “En Plein Air”

 

Before a Storm
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
7.5 x 7.8125 inches
available for purchase

It’s all about the stash.

Wednesday, April 29th, 2020

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

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

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

 

 

The only thing an artist gets to keep . . .

Saturday, April 25th, 2020

“These days it is so easy to document your artistic trail. It is just a matter of organizing oneself to do it step by step, so it doesn’t get out of hand.”
— Cecil Touchon
 

Nobody needs me to point out that there are a lot of fellow artists exploiting cyberspace to cry, “Pay attention to me! Pay attention to me!” Contrast this with those who are truly making a mark on the history of contemporary collage. Among them are the “thought leaders” in our medium. In my opinion, Cecil Touchon is one of those individuals. (And his highly imitated artwork is extraordinary, too.)

Follow this link to read Cecil’s important recommendations about keeping a chronologic creative trail.
 

Fusion Series #3351
collage on paper by C Touchon
ceciltouchon.com

The Oxidation of Reduced Elasticity

Saturday, April 18th, 2020

“While I use titles that reveal information about the work, I also seek words and phrases that can veil or obscure. I seek titles that support work, but I also seek words and terms that challenge or engage the viewer. I tend to be most satisfied when a title has a bit of mystique or tension. Interestingly, I find that as a work is coming to conclusion, and I know it is almost finished, title ideas tend to flow forth. I write down these ideas and impressions, and then go rather methodically through a decision making process until I am satisfied with a solution.”
— Jane Nodine
 

The miniature featured here was selected for the permanent collection, chosen from the seven pieces that I sent to Santa Fe for exchange. If you’re scratching your head about the titles within my overall series, I don’t blame you. The odd word combinations evolved from baking terminology (the exchange theme), fused with aspects of the prevailing public health crisis, and, to a lesser degree, visual associations with the artwork itself. I rarely find naming to be an effortless process. Every once in a while, it’s just as smoothly intuitive as creating a collage.

Something that comes more easily for me than titling is color harmony, particularly after a scheme has emerged early in the collage process. And then I find myself rejecting certain ingredients for no other reason than a balance of hues. There are always exceptions, of course. Some compositions tend to demand a “maximalist” approach that accommodates a fuller spectral array. The more complicated a composition, the greater challenge it presents in my choosing a satisfactory name for it. If the process becomes a bit too rational, the task is set aside. When I come back to it, the working title is often scrapped and something more spontaneous is the permanent choice.
 

The Oxidation of Reduced Elasticity
collage miniature by J A Dixon
8 x 10 inches
 
part of a series created for the
Baker’s 1/2-Dozen Collage Exchange
— acquired for the IMCAC permanent collection

The Wisdom of Retrograde Shortening

Saturday, April 4th, 2020

“Our intuition is always operating for us. Usually, however, we don’t act on it. When I made the conscious decision to start acting on thoughts that were coming through my head, amazing ‘coincidences’ began to occur.”
— Susan Jeffers
 

Each composition in this series started with a central rectangular zone and some of the elements extend out into the black field when it helped to create a dynamic balance. My tendency is to not overthink an underlying design, and I prefer to keep the process as spontaneous as possible. The same is true of the ingredient subject matter. Any potential symbolic meanings become more apparent after I stop.

Many of you who read this know what it’s like to have something just “belong,” and when it “feels right” to occupy a particular space. All of this happens without having to get too intellectual about it, and then the resulting coincidental associations emerge into perception. Antero Alli thinks that what has been described as “synchronicity” will eventually be called a skill.

 

The Wisdom of Retrograde Shortening
collage miniature by J A Dixon
8 x 10 inches
 
part of a series created for the
Baker’s 1/2-Dozen Collage Exchange
— retained by the artist

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

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

Sisters of Sustenance

Friday, December 13th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Spontaneity and adaptation

Saturday, July 27th, 2019

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

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

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