Archive for the 'Acrylic' Category

I Must Have Kentucky ~ all the details

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017

“I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game. Kentucky gone, we cannot hold Missouri, nor Maryland. These all against us, and the job on our hands is too large for us. We would as well consent to separation at once, including the surrender of this capitol.”
— Abraham Lincoln, 1861
 

I am constantly experimenting, because I find it difficult to pluck a coherent idea from a “cold start,” and so I cultivate a habit of collage experimentation to preserve a state of receptivity and to invite the uncanny “synchronicities” from which a more rational concept can be refined. More often than not, there are no distinct memories associated with the genesis of an idea. It is unusual, therefore, to have a clear recollection of the creative lineage for I Must Have Kentucky, currently on display as part of 225: Artists Celebrate Kentucky’s History.

I was stumped about how to respond when a call to artists from curator Gwen Heffner announced an exhibition to observe Kentucky’s 225th birthday. I thought about the history of my own town (Danville, the first capital of the state), about the The Kentucky Documentary Photographic Project, about the story of tobacco growing families in Kentucky, and about the great Kentucky abolitionists. There were so many fascinating subjects, but none of them sparked a visual flame in my imagination. When I shared my befuddlement with Dana, my “partner in all things,” she suggested I consider doing something with Star of Abraham, an artifact I made in 2009 for the bicentennial of the 16th president’s birth. Star of Abraham ~ John Andrew DixonThe bulk of my collected Lincoln images had been exploited to cover a salvaged metal star. To produce a collage tribute to the martyred leader with a folk-art quality seemed a technique appropriate to the occasion, and it was still in my studio, generating little interest from visitors. I liked the notion of using it as a “found object” in a larger assemblage, but there needed to be more to it than that. The solution finally hit me on a drive to our family farm, when I turned off the radio and focused on the rolling “knobs” that surrounded me: Lincoln’s famous declaration about his home state during the Civil War!

I got down a flurry of thumbnail concepts in my journal when I arrived at my destination. It was barely necessary to ever look at them again, because the development toward a final idea took on a momentum of its own. I realized I could enlarge my Lincoln theme with additional artisanship to include the importance of Kentucky in his strategic thinking. A design took shape in my sketches, and I searched my stash for images that would do justice to the “brother against brother, family against family” character of the conflict in a state that gave birth to the presidents of each warring side.

The expanded mixed-media construction is created from recycled materials — found ingredients include salvaged wood and metal, plus discarded books, magazines, maps, and mailed promotions. My lettering is hand painted with acrylics. John Andrew Dixon at the Kentucky Artisan Center, Berea, KentuckyObviously, the dimensional star represents Abraham Lincoln. The five horizontal bands signify the final years of his life and the impact his decisions had on Kentucky and the United States during that time. Among the individuals featured are Kentucky native Jefferson Davis, Lincoln’s rival in war, and Senator Stephen A. Douglas, his rival in peace, plus Lexington native Mary Todd, her sons Willie and Robert, Munfordville native Simon B. Buckner, Frederick Douglass, U.S. Grant, Clara Barton, John Hunt Morgan, and others. Also represented: soldiers, their ladies, Kentucky coal miners, and the decisive Battle of Perryville.

The artwork commemorates our Commonwealth during 1860 to 1864, the most tumultuous period in its history. At the center of those pivotal years is the towering figure of its most illustrious native son, who encapsulated the significance of the border state to the cause of national unity when he reputedly declared:

“I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky”.
 

detail from ‘I Must Have Kentucky’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

I secured the existing ‘Star of Abraham’ to a construction of five salvaged
wood planks, which alternates hand-painted lettering with my typical collage
treatment. My Lincoln artifact had finally found a fitting context.

detail from ‘I Must Have Kentucky’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

I long have found interesting that Kentucky had given birth to both
presidential leaders in the national conflict, and I devoted a section of my
composition to that inexplicable fact.

detail from ‘I Must Have Kentucky’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

Border-state Kentuckians were divided when war broke out. Munfordville
native Simon B. Buckner attempted to enforce its neutrality before accepting
a Confederate commission. He led troops at the strategic Battle of Perryville
in 1862, and later became a scandal-plagued governor of the Commonwealth.

detail from ‘I Must Have Kentucky’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

One of my favorite spots in the piece: Lincoln’s boy Willie, U.S. Grant, a young
Frederick Douglass as a free man next to a slaveholder’s advertisement,
a superb wood engraving of combat, Clara Barton, Samuel Colt, and an image
of the Commander in Chief that indicates his unusual height.

Thanks for reading such a long entry. I invite you to register and comment here. Let me know what you think. If anything bugs you, constructive criticism is encouraged!

I Must Have Kentucky

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a mini-tutorial for gel transfers

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.”
― Isaac Asimov

A growing number of people will now agree that most emerging social networks are not what they’re cracked up to be. For an artist who spends a lot of time in solitary activities, it can be a beneficial connection to a larger body of peers. I concur with Cal Newport that it can also be a habit-forming distraction that pulls one into a more shallow mode than the deep concentration necessary to produce exceptional creative work. There are times, however, when a Facebook interaction is so good that I have to marvel at the way people can quickly exchange valuable information across continents. Case in point: a recent back-and-forth between Peter Dowker (Lac-Brome, Quebec) and Matthew Rose (Paris, France) about image transfers for collage assembly. When Susanna Lakner (Stuttgart, Germany) and Melinda Tidwell (Santa Fe, New Mexico) jumped in, it developed into one of the best step-by-step descriptions of gel-medium transfer that I have seen. Here is my summary of Dowker’s technique—

“First of all, stay away from the hard stuff, like the toxic chemical cleaner trichlorethylene. Instead, use a gel-medium method to achieve an effective transfer. Apply a healthy coat of liquid acrylic medium to the image side of an ingredient and adhere it face down. GLOSS medium sticks better than matte. Rub with a brayer, or burnish gently with a soup spoon, and let it dry. Using a bit of water, gently rub off the paper backing with your finger or a piece of cloth. Don’t use too much water and slowly move over the surface, removing a bit at a time. Use oil varnish or vegetable oil to bring up the image. A minute amount of paper will always remain behind, giving it a cloudy appearance when dry. The oil varnish or vegetable oil will make that disappear and enhance the transparency. I formerly used matte oil-based varnish, which works okay. The vegetable oil idea comes from Allan Beally. There will be hardly any build up at all — probably less than any of the collaged pieces next to it. When making a transfer onto vintage papers, I find it’s better to seal them first before you begin — 1 or 2 coats of matte gel medium — the water involved to rub off the back of the transfer can destroy the substrate. Keep in mind that different papers react in different ways. Sealing is only necessary if the base is fragile. Be patient after gluing down the transfer. Letting it TOTALLY dry before rubbing off the paper is essential. If you’re not patient and start rubbing too soon, the image can start to break down. Wait a minimum of 2 hours (overnight is best) before removing the paper backing. If I know I’m going to be using a transfer from the outset, I start the piece on heavy card, to keep the substrate from becoming wrinkly in one spot from the water. The method works with original elements or copies. When I do use a laser print, it’s on thin, cheap office paper. Removing the paper backing can take ten minutes or more, because I go slow, not wanting to damage the image — not really that long at all. I’ve had the most luck since I began sealing the receiving surface with matte medium and waiting longer for it to dry. And the oil works wonders!”

My thanks to Mr. Dowker for allowing me to share this description here. Some of us have also used a variation that involves removing the paper backing independently, in a basin of water, before adding it to the collage surface. When doing that, one ends up working with a collage element that is essentially a veneer of acrylic medium, which introduces a size limitation and other aspects of craftsmanship. Peter calls this the “gel-skin method.” Although he has used it many times, a drawback for him is the need to build up 4 to 5 layers of medium — so it’s not too fragile for the rubbing stage — which makes for a thicker transfer. According to Peter, “not very appealing to the fussier ones among us.” The gel-skin method does allow for a right-reading image (if that’s important), otherwise the previous method will result in a flopped image (unless it can be photomechanically or digitally reversed prior to transfer). Each collage artist will refine an individual methodology, and, not surprisingly, new discoveries and “fortunate accidents” occasionally can result. As Peter reminds us, “Don’t be shy!”

Take a few minutes to savor a few of his extraordinary artworks below—
 

CUTTERS
collage with image transfer by P Dowker

ACORN
collage with image transfer by P Dowker

VAAVING
collage with image transfer by P Dowker

TOYS
collage with image transfer by P Dowker

A Kentucky Collaboration

Monday, August 24th, 2015

“I’ve collaborated with many artists over the years but never on a project of this size. The two pieces were to be 24″ x 24″ on structured panels. What made this collaboration successful was the interplay between the two artists. We both sent numerous pictures of our starts in progress and were able to play off the ideas and techniques the other was using, in this we created a true pair of collages instead of two separate pieces.”
— Robert Hugh Hunt
 

Collaboration between collage artists is a widespread, dynamic development within a medium that has shown extraordinary vitality after its centennial milestone in 2012. This very well may be part of a broader phenomenon, due in no small way to the explosion of social media and a greater networking among artists of all kinds. I was not surprised when, earlier this year, here in my home state, the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea announced a major exhibition called It Takes Two: Collaborations by Kentucky Artisans.

In response to this opportunity, I decided to contact Robert Hugh Hunt, an artist from Richmond, Kentucky whose work I had come to respect after we made a connection through Facebook. Both of us were aware of our geographic proximity, but had not previously met in person, nor had we collaborated remotely on a casual project. Appreciating each other’s prior work is no guarantee that two artists will enjoy the collaborative process or value the creative end result. Only by risking a joint venture will both artists find out if they actually are “on the same wavelength.” I am pleased to report that the results of my teamwork with Robert exceeded our optimistic expectations, and that one of the two pieces we created was selected for the “Takes Two” show.

As artists, Robert and I both work regularly with combined mediums, but we chose collage as the foundation of our approach because we recognize how ideally suited it is for collaboration. There was no inclination to think small. We each fabricated larger dimensional panels and created a “start” for the other — to establish the background and organize the two-dimensional space with found material and other recycled/repurposed elements. collage collaboration ~ the start by Robert Hugh Hunt for Kentucky Sovereign ~ collage on structured panelAfter meeting for the first time (with spouses, over lunch at a delightful new Cuban eatery halfway between our studios), we exchanged the unfinished works to complete the compositions with additional ingredients and renderings. Robert’s recognized practice of layering his cut-and-paste collage artworks with mixed-media additions had already caught my attention, and his expressed aim to do the same within our collaboration inspired me to include a hand-rendered element as a focal point in my “finish,” which we titled Kentucky Sovereign. Robert’s finish, Kentucky Madonna, features multiple mixed-media treatments on top of my background shapes. The effect helps to integrate our respective techniques and to bond the artworks as a “true pair,” to use Robert’s phrase.

For my start, I began with a section of an Iraqi newspaper brought home by a member of the Kentucky National Guard. Robert made use of clippings from a 1940s-era newspaper that he got from fellow collage artist Ted Tollefson. collage collaboration ~ the start by John Andrew Dixon for Kentucky Madonna ~ collage on structured panelOur range of “merz-strokes” was unfettered, but we shared a desire to “Kentuckify” our choices, although neither of us knew exactly what we meant by that. Other ingredients include magazine scraps, printed papers, antique maps, used packaging, illustrations from discarded books, mesh bag material, tissue, fabric, plastic clasps, wood, gummed labels, metal, emptied tea-bags, produce stickers, foil, wallpaper, digital printouts, a paper doily, and more (with a modest assemblage aspect thrown in for good measure). As with any collaboration, the challenge is to discover a way to enhance the start in a complimentary manner and also to bring one’s personal approach to the finish. Our decision to avoid isolation was a good one. Images exchanged during development kept the creative energy in flux and maintained a visual cord (a common chord?) between the surfaces as they evolved separately. It was a positive experience for both of us and boosted our enthusiasm to continue as active collaborators.

Thanks, Robbo!
 

finish by John Andrew Dixon for Kentucky Sovereign ~ a collaboration with R H Hunt ~ collage on structured panel

Kentucky Sovereign
a collaboration by R H Hunt and J A Dixon
collage on structured panel, 24 x 24 inches
(start by Hunt, finish by Dixon)
selected for It Takes Two: Collaborations by Kentucky Artisans
available for purchase

finish by Robert Hugh Hunt for Kentucky Modonna ~ a collaboration with John Andrew Dixon ~ collage on structured panel

Kentucky Madonna
a collaboration by J A Dixon and R H Hunt
collage on structured panel, 24 x 24 inches
(start by Dixon, finish by Hunt)
available for purchase

“Oh, the Places You’ll Go”

Friday, June 20th, 2014

“Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.”
— Twyla Tharp

Places to go, ways to travel, and flights of fancy . . . A series of local exhibitions at the Boyle County Public Library’s Mahan Gallery has been an effective catalyst for me to create new pieces based on unifying themes. I have recently experienced mixed emotions about the ubiquity of vintage material in contemporary collage, but the topic of this show had me hunting through my morgue of old postcards and other relics to produce a pair of artworks on canvas. Yes, we all dig the instant “gravitas” of using old stuff, but will art historians say we copped out, if we do not accept the challenge of working with ingredients from our own present-day culture? I am just musing about the state of the medium, not any artist in particular. I see a hundred or more collage artworks posted online each week that rely exclusively on 20th-century material, and much of it seems stuck in a bygone avant-garde style. It is important for all of us to keep in mind that the Dada artists so widely emulated worked with material from their own time. Perhaps the opportune approach is to blend it all together, past and present. As post-centennial collage artists, we also owe each other a bit more constructive criticism than I currently observe. As the details below illustrate, I have absolutely nothing against using vintage material. I think that artists such as Hope Kroll or Fred Free or Matthew Rose (to offer only three examples) are creating some of the more exceptional work in the medium. On the other hand, there are many who seem to be using it as a crutch, over-relying on the antique impression of the ingredient material itself, rather than the juxtapositional synergy or overall aesthetic effect.

As the artworks for “Places” also demonstrate, I continue my effort to liberate a collage from the traditional glass barrier. To do so, it is necessary to find a proper level of protective sealant to balance visual appeal and durability. I prefer to avoid an overly polymerized impression with a finished surface. Because I primarily work with found material, I have had to learn which ingredients can handle direct exposure (for an effect similar to the painted surface). Nevertheless, some are simply too fragile and will always require a safe abode under glass.
 

 

left: Here and There (detail)
right: Now and Then (detail)
two collage artworks on canvas by J A Dixon
12 x 12 x 1.5 inches each
(currently on consignment)

Many Waters Under Heaven

Friday, June 13th, 2014

“Put stardom and success aside and just go out and do it. It’s like painting. Don’t talk about it. Or, like writing. Put it down.”
— Jonathan Winters

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”
— Andy Warhol

After learning about a call for entries on the theme of “water,” at the new First Southern Community Arts Center in nearby Stanford, Kentucky, I leaped at the theme with a minimum of thought or calculation. I was overdue for the opportunity to create a larger piece, and it was good for me to push aside all the internal questions and mental gyrations which too often intrude on the genesis of a new work or new point of public contact. I mixed a batch of wheat paste, added a stabilizing measure of white glue plus acrylic medium, and dug into my stash of nature images. Hand manipulation of the surface with wet, rectilinear ingredients became an almost papier-mâché-like process that soon involved shapes of pure color. A sort of “low-tech pixelization” began to suggest the gentle clash of primeval and present — a Garden of Eden sweeping forward to the modern digital world.

When I delivered my artwork to the gallery and was assisted by a local artist and volunteer, Roni Gilpin, I could not have been treated better. Chasing my passion for collage, meeting pleasant people, and breaking into a new venue — I must remind myself from time to time that this is what it’s all about. I am excited about today’s artist reception, 4 to 7 pm (in downtown Stanford, adjacent to the superb Bluebird Cafe). Family is visiting from Davis, California, and everything is shaping up for an exceptional evening!
 

 

Many Waters Under Heaven
mixed-media collage
by J A Dixon
33 x 11.25 x 1.5 inches
(currently on consignment)
 
Purchase this artwork!

Roni “Sister” Gilpin
volunteering at
First Southern
Community Arts
Center

Day Fulfilled

Friday, July 19th, 2013

This is a small mixed-media-plus-collage landscape. I hand-crafted the frame from weathered Japanese redwood — recycled slats from a fatally damaged patio chair I could not bring myself to throw away. The work currently hangs in the Mahan Gallery at Boyle County Public Library, as part of a “SummerScape” exhibition, which lasts until August 29th. One of the most extraordinary things about having my home studio in downtown Danville is having our library right across the street.

I began with scrunched-up paper and scraps of vellum, applying numerous layers of a thin “acrylic milk,” tinting it with various drops of concentrated liquid watercolors, and adding white tissue along the way to evolve the clouds. The process is a slow manifestation and allows for multiple mid-course decisions as the translucency is gradually built. To be honest, I have not created many artworks using this technique, so please let me know what you think.
 

 

Day Fulfilled
mixed media + collage
by J A Dixon
13.5 x 10.5 inches
Available for purchase