Archive for the 'Methodology' Category

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.

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
available for purchase
 
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.