Archive for the 'Movements' Category

The Apprentice Merzologist

Sunday, November 17th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Fifth Chapter: Sparring with the breeze…

Saturday, October 5th, 2019

“This idea of having something that isn’t quite in focus, something that isn’t quite understood, is interesting. I think details that are over-plentiful, details that are very dense, are lifelike. They exist in natural environments. Forests have a huge amount of details, because they are not built on a human level, so they are impossible to analyze at first glance, and I think we can only recreate what nature has done already, so I don’t think that the idea of simplifying something is a good thing.”
— Édouard Lock
 

August and September provided a stretch of exceptionally dry weather that was a disappointment for farmers in the Bluegrass, but valued by our intrepid PAACK of regional artists who work out of doors. I was able to create three more satisfying landscape miniatures.

Those who have followed this sequence of descriptions realize it hasn’t been that long since I met the challenge of doing collage en plein air. It has evolved as a gradient progression of discoveries. I’ve learned to think of my application of paper ingredients as a density of “brushstrokes” rather than the placement of simple design elements into a composition. The two-year process has brought my artwork from a crafted illustration with cleanly pasted elements to a more layered, painterly effect. I’m tending to work wet-on-wet, using sandpaper and blades to score and feather edges. The thickness of papers is torn into “veneers” with areas that can achieve a blended translucency, and I’m more routinely taking advantage of recycled tea-bag “skins” to add warmth, texture, or visual softness. I continue to use three different liquid adhesives — wheat paste, white glue, and polymer gel — which offer contrasting levels of stickiness and drying time. I saturate the paper for manipulations not available with dry material and then flatten the surface with a cloth or burnisher, depending on a desired level of dimensionality. Bits of printed text continue to appear as part of my treatment, providing subtle highlights or more overt suggestions of pattern. This growing vocabulary of techniques has given me more confidence to tackle scenes that might have looked too difficult not so long ago. Attempting to “paint” a pond fountain or a rocky outcrop with only paper would have seemed more daunting when I first started to do this.

None of it would be possible without the generosity of those who host our outings. With a spirit of hospitality, the diversity of two farms and a wonderful view of the Dix River were each made available to us for a day. I rely on a square viewing card to select my composition and the all-important place to sit.
 

A point of self-criticism: my plein-air “collage rig” had gradually crept into the forbidden zone of overkill, so I made an effort to lighten my load before our next venture.

My goal has been a self-imposed limitation of studio follow-through, equal to or less than the amount of time I spend at the original site. I was able to meet that comfortably with August Afternoon, for a 50/50 allocation. When completing Fountain and Shadow, I had to suspend my detailed labor on the central tree. I’d prefer to invest less time indoors and was able to do that with Reflection on an Outcrop (a more desirable 60/40 ratio). Having been studio oriented in my art practice, I always need to guard against allowing the concluding phase to upstage a vital plein-air impression. I’ll rely on memory as much as I do an iPhone photo taken on location. It’s also important to remind myself that, as much as I enjoy my “maximalist” propensity, the objective should be a creative interpretation instead of a literal rendering. It is, after all, a collage artwork.

Collage Madness, my joint exhibition with Connie Beale, is currently on display here in Danville, Kentucky at the Mahan Gallery of Boyle County Public Library. It has provided the first ideal opportunity to showcase my approach to plein air collage and I’ll explain my process to visitors at a Gallery Talk on Saturday afternoon, October 19th. I’ve covered a number of bases as an artist and designer, but I have to say that this has been one of the most personally rewarding projects I’ve begun. Perhaps many of you can be there to hear my remarks.
 
 
August Afternoon ~ plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon

August Afternoon
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
7.25 x 7.125 inches
available for purchase

 
Fountain and Shadow ~ plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon

Fountain and Shadow
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
6 x 6.375 inches
available for purchase

 
Reflection on an Outcrop ~ plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon

Reflection on an Outcrop
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
6.375 x 6.625 inches
not currently for sale

Fourth Chapter: Wasn’t this spot in the shade?

Tuesday, August 13th, 2019

“I go to nature every day for inspiration in the day’s work.”
— Frank Lloyd Wright
 

After much too long a hiatus, I finally got back on location with the PAACK to resume my project to create collage en plein air. Setting out in the morning seemed like a “forced march,” including unwarranted worries that I’d forgotten something essential, but as soon as I got to the nearby Scott estate, I was at home scouting for a place to sit. The environment and hospitality were both exceptional. With the grounds in ideal shape, our hosts had offered many inviting points of view. Relying on my card with a square cutout, I fixated on a cluster of three outbuildings that would provide some desired depth (which I then proceeded to compress in space). I also was looking for a good opportunity to continue developing my technique for trees. I made a conscious effort to back off from a previous “fastidious” style and to evolve a looser method of “painting with paper.” I resisted concerns about the end result whenever I discerned a now-familiar tendency to tighten up. It was a solid, productive outing during the hottest chunk of a fine summer day.

An enjoyable discussion with the owner revealed the detail I would need for a fitting title. It was quite possible that the old, white-washed brick structure central to my composition had been the storehouse for a tannery in early Danville, one of the original pioneer settlements in Kentucky. The small piece turned out to be a 50%-50% location-to-studio allocation. This same time formula (which still allows for a legitimate plein-air designation) was applied to another miniature that I finished next, a scene that overlooked a spot on Main Street (here in downtown Danville). The artwork was something I’d commenced before a knee injury sidelined my plein-air activity last year. After a double session in the open, I’d always intended the piece to be a hundred-percent outside solution. I surrendered that idea and decided to pull it out of storage for a studio conclusion, in order to make the deadline for our annual group exhibition. In a future entry, I’ll delve into additional aspects of what I’m discovering about this process and a few of the helpful techniques that I’ve learned.

The 2019 En Plein Air show is currently on display until the end of August. An opening reception this Saturday evening coincides with a festive name-change event for the local arts venue — now to be identified as Art Center of the Bluegrass. The prominent facility in a former federal post office has always felt like a “home stadium” to me, ever since my first solo collage exhibition was held there, not long after the building was acquired and restored as a focal point for the arts. Long-time followers of this humble blogsite will know that it has surfaced regularly in the yearly roster. My best to everyone on deck at this institution, as you chart new waters for a valuable community resource.
 
 

Perhaps a Tannery
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
7 x 7.25 inches

•  S O L D

 

Across Main
plein air collage miniature by J A Dixon
7.875 x 9.125 inches

•  S O L D

Therapeutic factionalism or personal catharsis?

Tuesday, August 6th, 2019

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

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

Taboo Faction
collage catharsis by J A Dixon
8.125 x 11.5 inches
available for purchase

a timely ‘Cup of Kindness’ to all . . .

Monday, December 31st, 2018

 

Keeps On Slippin
collage artwork by J A Dixon
10 x 13.5 inches
available for purchase

Cut & Post

Saturday, December 22nd, 2018

The Edinburgh Collage Collective has made a splash in the international collage scene over the past couple years, and it closed out 2018 with its Cut & Post project. The Collective and collage artist Mark Murphy, along with guest jurists, collaborated to select a group of finalists from postcard-based collage artworks submitted from around the world in order to produce a limited edition set of collector cards. Organizers told Kolaj Magazine that they “featured a wide range of submitted works on social media and showcased as many postcard collages as possible, demonstrating the diverse visual responses and interpretations.” According to the publication, “the project joins a list of strategies collage artists are using to curate and disperse collage outside of the gallery exhibition format.” With over 1400 individual pieces of work electronically submitted, the project sponsors admit to being “completely overwhelmed by the response.” There is talk of exploiting the body of accumulated images beyond the original scope of the open submission.

Below are five experimental pieces that I created for the submission. I also included two previous collage artworks with postcard ingredients among the total seven image files that I sent to Edinburgh for consideration, but none of them made the project’s “first cut.” I shall keep my fingers crossed and look ahead to new initiatives from a city shaping up to be a world center for the medium. (More about that next year!)
 

   
 

   
 


 
 
 

Five experimental post cards that I submitted to the ‘Cut & Post’ project that was based in Edinburgh, Scotland

 

A gallery talk about plein-air collage . . .

Friday, October 5th, 2018

“The most important thing a painter can do is find
a good place to sit.”
— J.E.H. MacDonald
 

As many of you already know, my warm-season activity was sharply curtailed by a mishap that diverted much energy into healing a traumatized left knee. As a result, I was unable to take advantage of the many “art-outs” organized by our Plein Air Artists of Central Kentucky. However, I took part in their annual exhibition and was invited to make remarks at a recent “gallery talk” and describe the plein-air collage kit that I assembled last year. Here is an excerpt from my presentation:

“One of the nicer things about the art-out gatherings is knowing that someone has volunteered to find a great setting, and to arrange all the details with the hosts. So, there you are, arriving at a new location filled with possibilities. Personally, I find that it’s important to not spend too much time selecting a spot to sit, even though, in my mind, the entire enterprise rests upon that decision. I want the act to be part of the overall intuitive process to which my day is pledged. For example, at Cambus-Kenneth Farm, it was tough to avoid squandering valuable minutes, since there were barns, ponds, pastures, an impressive Italianate home, and many remarkably preserved 18th- and 19th-century brick outbuildings, including an icehouse, springhouse, and slave quarters. To keep the inertia, I decided I needed to crop the setting like a photographer, using a viewing card with square window. It was a rare treat for our group to be offered the opportunity to wander among the paddocks and historic structures in such a serene environment, but a plein-air artist is on a mission, the sun does not pause, and there is no room for indecision. If an artist wants to cultivate self-trust and forward momentum in technique, a regular plein-air challenge is the way to do it.”
 

 
 

(above) details from plein-air collage artworks by J A Dixon

(below) the artist describes his plein-art collage kit at a recent gallery talk

 

 

Worthy of note . . .

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018

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

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

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

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

7 am
collage artwork by Joan Schulze, 2010

Ritual 2
mixed-media collage by Svetlana Pesetskaya, 2011

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

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

Queen Rose Score
collage on paper by Matthew Rose, 2012

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

Homage to Merzbau
collage artwork by Sabine Remy, 2016

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

Precursors have precursors

Tuesday, August 21st, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roster of Shows

Tuesday, August 7th, 2018

Adding a couple more items to my Roster of Shows: A collage miniature from 2014, Melting into Air, was displayed as part of “Little Pieces,” the fourth exhibition of the Nashville Collage Collective. It was an honor to be invited to participate with the dynamic group. Two of my plein-air collage pieces currently hang in the large grouping of works by members of PAACK. The Plein Air Artists of Central Kentucky meet regularly for organized “paint-outs” during the summer months, visiting local farms, parks, and historic landmarks. Locally, the exhibit is an annual favorite. The 2017 exhibit holds the distinction of being the show that yielded the most art sales last year in my hometown of Danville. If you haven’t checked out the summary from last year, read about how I solved the challenges of “painting” with small collage ingredients in the open air. I’ve been asked to make remarks during the upcoming “gallery talk” at the Community Arts Center, scheduled for the last Thursday of August. Perhaps I’ll see you there!
 

Melting into Air (detail) ~ J A Dixon Old Quarters (detail) ~ J A Dixon

Two square details of collage miniatures exhibited this summer.

Make it count

Saturday, June 23rd, 2018

“True desire in the heart, that itch that you have, whatever it is you want to do, that thing that you want to do to help others, and to grow, and to make money, that desire, that itch, that’s God’s proof to you, sent beforehand, to indicate that it’s yours already. And anything you want good you can have, so claim it, work hard to get it. When you get it, reach back, pull someone else up…”
— Denzel Washington
 

Denzel is the quintessence of the successful artist, and, by all appearances, he has defied the stereotype by cultivating humility and magnanimity. He also says, “Each one, teach one.” There are many ways to teach, and the opportunity presents itself differently at various points in our creative life.

I have always tried to compare and contrast the human qualities of those who have reached the pinnacle of an art form, and to remember that it cannot be about the creative result alone. When someone like Denzel advises, “Don’t just aspire to make a living. Aspire to make a difference.”, there is a desire for us to examine our definition of success, and it undoubtedly comes from his own life experience, one that’s had its ups and downs, its in-focus and out-of-focus moments.

For me, a passion for traditional teaching was more of a young person’s enterprise. I taught art to youngsters back in the “halcyon days” before background-check requirements, and spent seven years in my 30s as an adjunct professor in a university environment, taking what I was learning in the studio and sharing it with those just starting out. Other artists arrive at giving back much later in life, and bring to teaching their mature insights and proven practices. But, for me, the making of gift art has been the most fulfilling way to teach others in an unconventional way. Beyond a demonstration of willingness to give the gift of time and artistic effort instead of monetary value, one can also stimulate curiosity about the creative process that is personally powerful to young people.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
My Cosmosaic Series is only one of the ways that I have tried to meet this obligation. It is almost impossible to describe the reaction of young people when they realize that you’ve made them the object of an exercise in pure creativity, as well as the recipient of the finished work. Many profound conversations have been the result — discussions about life aspirations and individual destiny that would have been awkward or futile to jump-start in another context. It should go without saying that this is merely one way to teach another about one’s most significant values, but it happens to be one that is readily available to any imaginative individual.

As always, keep creating lots of stuff, but let’s not forget to make some of it count in an exceptional way. Pulling someone up a bit may be the most selfishly meaningful thing of all.
 

Thirteenth Cosmosaic ~ J A Dixon

Thirteenth Cosmosaic
mixed media collage by J A Dixon
16 x 20 inches
private collection

Fourteenth Cosmosaic ~ J A Dixon

Fourteenth Cosmosaic
mixed media collage by J A Dixon
16 x 20 inches
private collection

Sixteenth Cosmosaic ~ J A Dixon

Sixteenth Cosmosaic
mixed media collage by J A Dixon
16 x 20 inches
private collection

Twenty-third Cosmosaic ~ J A Dixon

Twenty-third Cosmosaic
mixed media collage by J A Dixon
16 x 20 inches
private collection