Archive for the 'Dada' Category

Various and Sundry — Four Years and Counting . . .

Friday, July 29th, 2016

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
— Flannery O’Connor

It looks as though I’m stepping into my fifth year writing about collage at this blogsite, and I hope that you’ve been with me for part of that enjoyable ride.

When I look back at my wish list for Year Four, I realize, not with any surprise, that my appetite for creating collage artwork has eclipsed a sometimes equally strong desire to delve verbally into the many interesting aspects of the medium. I would like to think that I met a few of the writing goals I set for myself last summer, and, of course, my ambitions to add to that list here in this post will be dutifully curbed. At any rate, I think that the best thing to do is to break this entry into a few parts that cover various and sundry topics on my mind.

The Social Network of Collage Artists
• For at least a couple of years I have wanted to write more about the influence of social media. Nearly every day I see a collage artist defeat the potential of a sharing platform with overexposure. Some may disagree and say, “the more, the merrier.” That is not a point I care to debate, because there may be something else to highlight more important than whether or not the quality-vs-quantity consideration can fall to the wayside — the vital role of networking among artists. I am more convinced than ever that the cross-pollination and mutual support of online networks has been of significant benefit to those of us working in the medium. Crystal Neubauer has one of the more interesting blogsites by a collage artist. She touched on the topic of creative communities so well that I direct you to her short essay at ClothPaperScissors.com. Another collage artist I admire who has recently made an impression as a strong blogger is Melinda Tidwell. I like her process-oriented posts. Although more of a mixed-media artist rather than a conventional collage practitioner, the versatile Kathleen O‘Brien maintains a steady flow of what I consider “must-read” entries at her studio blogsite. Create your own list of frequent art-blog destinations and branch out to new sharing platforms (I just learned about some new artist blogs from Caterina Giglio and opened a new account at Instagram.). As the entire evolving array of networking sites weeds out the fads, imitators and clunky interfaces (finding it difficult to tolerate LinkedIn as a user), you will settle into a community of online cohorts who reinforce your daily challenges as a creative person. When you come to know that someone else is on “the same wavelength,” reach out and make contact as an authentic being behind the profile. There are rewards to be discovered!

Cheap Collage Tricks
• Collage artist Allan Bealy seems to be everywhere, but, trust me, he is no gadfly. He recently raised a topic that struck a nerve with many. There are a lot of cheap tricks appearing in the medium, and most of them are harmless, if unimaginative, but the temptation to exploit visual ingredients readily available in our culture to “objectify women” is perhaps the most repugnant. Those of us who believe we are above that sort of thing need to think more deeply about how and why we use nudes in a collage. This suggests another potential self-assignment for my coming year — a “DON’T DO THIS” post illustrating the most prevalent cheap tricks in collage. (Not that there’s anything wrong with replacing a man’s head with a vulture to carry the banner of Dada during the art movement’s centennial year.) To be honest, I have nothing against a cliche, if it “works.” Isn’t that the reason something becomes a cliche in the first place? I say go for the cheap trick if you can score in the highest percentile (anyone who thinks it’s an easy thing to do is mistaken). I hope to post a follow-up look at the endurance of the surreal face in collage, so stay tuned. But let’s get back to Allan’s remonstrance. The woman as sex object can be traced back to long before the rise of Madison Avenue and Larry Flynt. Don’t bite the lure, folks. Everything one needs to dabble in this unworthy stunt abounds. Nevertheless, I long have been fascinated with the exemplars of erotic minimalism and their work in contemporary collage — those who transcend the cheap tricks to achieve a fine-art impression. Add another one to my wish list for Year Five of The Collage Miniaturist.

Priorities Get the Last Word
• My wife, Dana, and I managed to get two tickets to The Seer (a new documentary portrait of Kentuckian Wendell Berry, re-titled “Look & See” for Sundance Institute) before the Lexington screening sold out last night. It is a significant film that will become more widely available into next year, and it has my highest recommendation. Does it have anything to do with collage? Nothing at all, except for everything under the sun. If you haven’t discovered the poet, novelist, essayist, and farmer-philosopher, I have accomplished one meaningful thing with this site by inviting your interest. It was fitting that I got out of the studio and spent time at our farm. It was very hot work up on the shed roof, but pleasant to be away from all the noise (traffic, sirens, and incessant political jousting). Connecting with our rural place offered an opportunity, as it always does, to put priorities back into alignment. There is a place in the documentary when Laura Dunn (the filmmaker in voice-over) explains to Berry her motivation and how she looks “to places where there is still a remnant of togetherness, or unity, or community, of connection to the land, and I study those, because I don’t come from a place — I come from divorce …”
      “We all come from divorce!” her subject interrupts. “This is an age of divorce. Things that belong together have been taken apart. And you can’t put it all back together again. What you can do, is the only thing that you can do. You take two things that ought to be together and you put them together. Two things! Not all things.” It is his metaphor for the creative life, and a tremendously healing admonition to those of us with a tendency to become overwhelmed by the enormity of the world’s chaotic disintegration. Collage artists put things together to make something new, and often we are the ones who have taken apart discarded things to do it, but there is always a much larger phenomenon at work — one of discord vs harmony, wastefulness vs thrift, cynicism vs affection. When I return to the studio from a natural place that has responded to my care, I am in a better condition to ask myself, “To which side of the big equation are you making your contribution as an artist?”
 

Crystal Neubauer
Her blogging often touches on the complexity of a creative life.

Melinda Tidwell
Perhaps you will admire her solid abstractions as much as I do.

Kathleen O’Brien
Her art always nudges one toward a deeper sense of balance and wholeness.

Robert Hugh Hunt
Stay tuned for a continuation of my review of “the surreal face.”

Bene Rohlmann
Look ahead to my first discussion of erotic minimalism in collage.

Dada and the Surreal Face in Contemporary Collage

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

“Nobody knows, and it is now too late to discover, who invented that most succinct of all art movement names.”
— Robert Hughes

“Style is not to be trusted.”
— Milton Glaser
 

As most of you know, 2016 marks the centennial of the art movement known as Dada. Although credit for originating collage is customarily granted to the Cubists, nobody shaped the emerging medium as powerfully as early 20th-Century Dadaists and their successors, the Surrealists. Very few traditions or conceptual approaches in contemporary collage have not navigated the tributaries they established, in spite of the fact that each of these artistic “schools of thought” had a relatively short apex. Much continues to be said and written about the catalytic Hugo Ball and the seismic effect after he opened Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire with Emmy Hennings in February, 1916. Most of the work still being created under the banner of collage has not escaped the hundred-year shadow of inherent sensibilities unleashed on modern art by those who first uttered “Dada!” — spontaneity, chance, irreverence, consternation, and, perhaps foremost, a rejectionist posture. Without a doubt, most collage artists of our time would disagree with Ball’s exhortation to “burn all libraries and allow to remain only that which everyone knows by heart.” Nevertheless, they might indeed relate to his conclusion that “this humiliating age has not succeeded in winning our respect.”

Warsaw-based designer/educator and blogger Annę Kłos describes Dada as a world view, that by its very nature could not be homogeneous, and that the seminal Merz of Kurt Schwitters was manifest within the context of internal incompatibilities. For the most part, however, many artists now tend to lump together the Dadaists, and emulate their visual and intellectual departures as an encompassing genre at best and a mere “style” at worst. — Time out. — This is when I grab myself by the scruff of the neck to keep from going off on an unnecessary tangent. My purpose is to share an ongoing fascination with how Dada continues to influence those of us working in the medium today. Permit me to highlight one particular “subject” that shows no sign of diminishing — the enduring exploration of the Surreal Face. René Magritte’s Le fils de l’homme immediately comes to mind (or his much earlier cover image for André Breton’s Qu’est-ce que le surréalisme?). One must follow their roots to Dada, and to the photomontages of Raoul Hausmann and Hannah Höch, (or her The Strong Guys, or his Tatlin at Home). For me, nothing exemplifies the unsettling, elusive qualities of the Dada phenomenon better than when a contemporary collage virtuoso captures that inexpressible twist of incongruity and aesthetic finesse with a surreal take on the human head. Just when I think there is nothing more to be tapped, I appreciate anew how inexhaustible this “renewable resource” can be.
 

Flore Kunst
From her extraordinary “sketchbook” (Page 1).

Katrien De Blauwer
From her Loin Series. Does anyone else do more with less?

Charles Wilkin
“For me clarity and relief is found solely through the process itself.”

Peggy Despres
The prolific Peggy Pop will find the sweet spot.

Pascal Verzijl
Never Saw It Coming (Did Dadaists see digital collage coming?)

Matthew Rose
My Advice (What would I actually give to get his advice?)

a surreal face by J Stezaker

John Stezaker
“It sometimes feels like I am cutting though flesh.”

Much more about JUXTAPOSE . . .

Monday, February 29th, 2016

Friend and fellow collage artist Kathleen O’Brien is in the midst of her countdown to a big solo show in April. She asked me to do a favor and share a guest review as part of her final promotions for JUXTAPOSE before Drawn to the Earth requires her full concentration. As excited as I am about the group exhibition in Danville, it was a tougher post to write than I first anticipated. Collage is not the easiest art form on which to expound, perhaps because it relies on the “logic” of irrational choices.

At any rate, my dedicating a blogsite to that very topic was nobody else’s idea, so I best not complain to those of you kind enough to visit here. Would I rather be making art? Of course. Even so, I cannot constrain my enthusiasm for all things collage. Here’s my take on a great show. Be forewarned: If you’re looking for some criticism, you won’t find it!

 

I’ll admit it. I can’t get enough of JUXTAPOSE. The current exhibition of collage and assemblage is at the Community Arts Center until April 2nd. That’s not exactly the most humble thing to say, considering it features a dozen works by yours truly, so I won’t pretend that I can offer an unbiased review. Program director Brandon Long has organized a finely curated, must-see destination that brings together over a thousand examples of the two associated mediums (literally, but I’ll explain that in a moment). This is an unprecedented group show for the Bluegrass-based artists involved, and I am thrilled to be exhibiting side-by-side with Kathleen O’Brien, Teri Dryden, Robert Hugh Hunt, Meg Higgins, Connie Beale, Cynthia Carr, and many others. No doubt my enthusiasm has something to do with its location less than a city block from my studio, which bestows the luxury of repeated immersions, and there is over a month left in the duration!

There are more participants than I can profile individually, and far too many artworks to highlight. The best example of this is a room devoted to three complete year-long series of collage-a-day works by O’Brien, Long, and Nan Martindale. Combined with almost one hundred seventy of Robert Hugh Hunt’s provocative collage collaborations, the magnitude of miniature artworks presented in a single space could be overwhelming. As an exhibition designer, Long uses geometric grids, browsing boxes, and two flat-screen displays to make the huge collection comprehensible for viewers. O’Brien’s sensitive, meticulously layered collection of daily two-sided postcards is a journey to which I surrender with pleasure each time I visit, but only after a jolting romp through Hunt’s rarely exhibited Hillbilly Voodoo series with T R Flowers.

An opportunity to view works by six outstanding Louisville-based artists is worth the trip to Danville. Several major works by Meg Higgins captured my first impression. Two enormous pieces composed with transparent elements sandwiched between Plexiglas are suspended between the vestibule and grand gallery. I was equally impressed by a smaller collage on wood panel, Japanese Peony Goes to Italy, with its exquisite East-West flavor. Brad Devlin’s solid but clever exploitation of found objects yields bold abstractions that simultaneously maintain a strong environmental essence. His Open Sunday is also physically more complex than it first appears, and this allows the artisanship of his assemblage to become a secondary experience deserving of scrutiny. Masters of juxtaposition who reinforce the theme of the exhibition as well as anyone taking part, Patrick Donley, Lisa Austin and Brandon Bass each define a distinctive individual style. Approach to composition, color considerations, and a playful choice of ingredients form undercurrents that tie their pieces together, and Long knows how to modulate the walls in a way that makes groupings of their work satisfying to study. Although she has recently gained attention for her paintings, there are at least seven panels by Teri Dryden from a handsome body of work created from discarded books. Her Monteith’s Marrakesh exemplifies how her investigation successfully transcended the source material. Personally, I hope she rotates to collage again for another dynamic round of re-purposing cast-off items.

detail from Reliquia ~ collage on framed panel by John A. DixonIn addition to displaying a pair of shadow boxes, my only surrealist assemblage, and six favorite collage miniatures, JUXTAPOSE provides an opportunity to exhibit Bull’s-eye Nosegay for the first time, which I created for the Target Practice Project initiated by L T Holmes. Also, I did two larger collage artworks especially for this show. Each makes more than a fleeting nod to artists who I admire. What is it about Cherry Balm that causes me to think I just might be “tipping my beret” to the inimitable Matthew Rose? Reliquia is my tribute to the late Fred Otnes, a giant within the medium who has been a force in my consciousness since adolescence. Pearallelograms was held over from the previous exhibition at the institution, but the crowning delight for me may well be the presence of Kentucky Madonna, last year’s “finish” by Robert Hugh Hunt to my “start.” The collaborative piece is a companion to one currently hanging with the IT TAKES TWO exhibition of collaborations at the Kentucky Artisan Center in Berea. Robert and I can’t ask for more than to know that both are now available for public observation (unless someone wants to give them a good home).

I am no art historian, but I can’t help but be mindful of the pioneering artists who laid a hundred-year foundation for the sweeping diversity of this exhibition. The creative innovations of Picasso, Braque, Duchamp, Schwitters, Höch, Cornell, Johnson, and Kolář reverberate throughout the building. In many respects, all contemporary collage/assemblage is a tacit homage to these seminal influences, but that is never the only thing at work nor the only phenomena to be perceived when one indulges an exhibition of this scope. Most artists are striving for a personal means of expression informed by those who have made their enduring mark on a medium. I am convinced, more than ever, that what distinguishes contemporary collage/assemblage artists is their keen connection to the mundane “stuff” of culture and the inner need to bring a measure of order and harmony from the sheer volume of material produced by our throw-away society, with its chaotic effect on our sensibilities — to create value where none exists, or to find wonder, meaning, significance, and beauty where none can be expected.
 

Japanese Peony Goes to Italy ~ Meg Higgins, Louisville, Kentucky

Japanese Peony Goes to Italy
Meg Higgins
collage on wood panel

Open Sunday ~ B Devlin

Open Sunday
Brad Devlin
assemblage, found objects

Strength ~ P Donley

Strength
Patrick Donley
mixed-media on wood

Bird’s Eye View ~ L Austin

Bird’s Eye View
Lisa Austin
collage

Monteith’s Marrakesh ~ T Dryden

Monteith’s Marrakesh
Teri Dryden
collage from discarded books on panel

Cherry Balm ~ John Andrew Dixon, collage artist, Danville, Kentucky

Cherry Balm
John Andrew Dixon
collage on canvas
available for purchase

Reliquia ~ John Andrew Dixon, collage artist, Danville, Kentucky

Reliquia
John Andrew Dixon
collage on framed panel

•  S O L D

Spot Checker

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

“I force myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste.”
— Marcel Duchamp

The generous invitation to create new works for JUXTAPOSE had me thinking about constructing my first surrealist assemblage, but I had no specific concept in mind. I had some ruined wood frames, ornate in style, and started cutting them with a mitre saw to form a Swiss cross. To be honest, I didn’t want to use that symbol, so it was easy to “cancel” the idea by rotating it 45 degrees, and now I had an X to “mark the spot.” Dead end? There had to be more to it than that. I shifted my attention to completing a collage, and I must have unwittingly assigned the problem to my subconscious, because I awoke after a night’s sleep with the total solution in my head. How can one explain something like that (or Dada, for that matter)?

A few words of caution, however: Don’t actually plug it in.
 
Dixon_SpotChecker

Spot Checker
assemblage by J A Dixon
30 x 30 inches (+ “tail”)
available for purchase

Collage and the Meaning of Existence

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

Sorry about that title. I am having a bit of fun with the search engines.

On a serious note, today’s entry is about how collage can be put to the service of more than irony, shock, whimsy, irreverence, or cynicism. Let me say first, if you please, that all those things can be valid, even pleasurable, effects. They are rooted deeply in the history of the medium. One could make the case that a collage artwork is never more than a step or two removed from the essence of dada, surrealism, or popism. On the other hand, for me, there are times when that creative genealogy is best put aside, in favor of a different tone.

Developing works with special meaning to those for which they were intended has always been some of the most fulfilling time I have spent as an artist. Collage has the potential to capture profound significance for a recipient, especially when it is personalized with meaningful artifacts and memorabilia. Also, there is an opportunity for the artist to thoughtfully select and integrate additional ingredient elements for greater depth and layered associations.

The project featured below began with a discussion about how all of us accumulate “stuff” that will never rise to the level of a family heirloom, but cannot be comfortably discarded because it has true meaning in the context of one’s journey in life. The patron took to heart my offer to embed many of these things in an artistic expression that would likely become a treasure for descendants instead of a burden of disposition. With the capacity to transcend the “scrapbook,” fine art collage is ideally suited for such an endeavor.

It was the client’s idea to approach the commission as a triptych, or three separate panels, that would convey the themes of body, mind, and spirit. I wanted the components to work as a total piece, but also for each to have a stand-alone quality. Whether they stay together or part company will be left to future circumstances and decisions. The resulting “legacy collage” is a distinctive creation that preserves images representing the life and guiding principles of a unique individual. It has been my honor to provide that creative service to her.
 

Body (for MJCB) ~ J A Dixon Mind (for MJCB) ~ J A Dixon Spirit (for MJCB) ~ J A Dixon

Body  ~  Mind  ~  Spirit
John Andrew Dixon
three legacy collage artworks on structured panels
16 x 24 inches each
private collection

Selective Fusion

Monday, July 13th, 2015

“Schwitters subjected his bits of flotsam to an organizing principle resembling the vertical scaffolding of Analytic Cubism, thus transforming the diverse components into formal elements.”
— Nancy Spector

Color and composition may be the most common denominators of all visual art. Collage, by its nature, relies on a combination of separate, often disparate elements, and those two fundamentals generally play a more prominent role in the finished effect, but that does not make collage essentially a category of abstraction. A minimalist concept built on a provocative juxtaposition or image insertion can be a predominantly figurative or representational approach, even if symbolic or surreal ideas are introduced. On the other hand, collage artworks rooted in the seminal innovations of Kurt Schwitters pay primary tribute to a tradition of abstraction now more than a century old. Of course, the medium had other early pioneers, but it is difficult to imagine the trajectory that collage might have taken without his towering influence. Personally, I have no qualms about continuing to respectfully mine the rich vein of creative ore he helped to expose. Whether it proves to be a nonrenewable resource has yet to be shown.
 

Selective Fusion ~ John Andrew Dixon, collage artist

Selective Fusion
collage on structured panel by J A Dixon
13.375 x 11.75 inches
not for sale

A Book About Death ~ Wales

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

“The project has become The Book About Living.
—Sonja Benskin Mesher

Ray Johnson, the original “most famous unknown artist in the world,” produced his A Book About Death during the years 1963 to 1965. The pages were randomly mailed and offered for sale. Complete copies were compiled by a rare few. Johnson was a significant bridge between the groundbreaking work of Schwitters, the sensibilities of Cornell, and the emergence of what would become the most widely recognizable features of Pop Art. He was highly influential in the Mail Art, Installation Art, and Performance Art movements, as well as late 20th-century neo-Dadaist trends.

Since 2008, Paris-based Matthew Rose has actively aroused a worldwide interest and vitality that perpetuates the legacy of A Book About Death. A new call to artists from the Royal Cambrian Academy in Wales and the full history of ABAD can be studied at this site. An exhibition at MoMA Machynlleth planned for later this year will include a collage from me (featured below, produced on a 50-year-old postcard). An online archive will share details of the exhibition and record artworks as they come in. Participate! You have until September 30th to mail your contribution.
 

ABAD 2014
collage on 1964 postcard by J A Dixon
6 x 4 inches, not for sale

“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
available for purchase

All Things Collage: Year One

Friday, July 12th, 2013

“Any fool can carry on, but only the wise man knows how to shorten sail.”
— Joseph Conrad

Looking back on a full year as a blogger, many of my initial objectives have been met, but there are even more subjects to tackle in the coming months. Can I find the right balance between words and images, welcoming others to act as better scribes for what is happening in collage and remembering that I would rather be holding a pair of scissors than typing at a keyboard? The exceptional print quarterly out of Canada, Kolaj, has also celebrated its first birthday. 2012 was the perfect year to salute a century of collage as a modern art and also to look around, assessing the current maturity of the practice. I still have much to say about the pioneers and exemplars — Gris, Schwitters, Hausmann, Höch, Cornell, Hamilton, Johnson — for there is much to observe and absorb about their seminal talismans and bodies of work.

It is equally important to evaluate more of the leading and emerging artists now actively producing what may be known as “post-centennial collage,” perhaps the most vital period of cross-pollinated output in the medium’s history. Where to focus next? Those who magnify the traditions of Dada, Surrealism, Fluxus, or Layerism? Dedicated collage abstractionists such as Touchon, Dryden, Romoff, or Gordon? Masters of the outer reaches of a Maximalist/Minimalist spectrum such as Kroll, Reitemeyer, or De Blauwer? I have for some time lamented the lack of a visual-arts phenomenon equivalent to how musicians have traditionally improvised together, but my recent awareness of dynamic collaborations between collage artists is forcing me to change my mind. Is it time for me to take a closer look at the creative fusions instigated by Collins, Holmes, Daughters, or Wilkin?

My, my . . . have we just laid out another year or more of entries? And I have not yet “scraped the working surface” of all the collage artists who make the contemporary scene so exciting. Do I possess the necessary wisdom to tame my ambitions and “shorten sail?” My mind rebels at the idea that I cannot be an artist and a writer, too. I am no scholar, and some art historians would scoff at my correlations, but I cling to the notion that there is a place for insights about our medium that can come only from a person who faces the same challenges as my working peers when confronting a pile of scrap.

One more thought: As the digital age sweeps over the planet, is there also taking place a not-so-quiet backlash against the erosion of manual dexterity? If so, is there a more compelling counter-trend example than the current explosion of tearing, cutting, assembling, transferring, and pasting? And beyond the familiar “analog” technique, what can be said about the deep influence of visual collage on the preponderance of montage in all things sensory — music, performance, film, and media design? This site can become a place where all of this is explored, discussed, shared, and challenged. Much of that is up to you, valued reader. Meanwhile, I shall continue to see, write, and make more art. Stop by again, soon!
 

Every Instinct of My Being Rebels
collage miniature by J A Dixon
7 x 5 inches
 
Purchase this artwork!

Maximalism and Minimalism in Collage, part 2

Sunday, June 30th, 2013

“Transforming nothing into something is something of course, but because it’s a metaphor (let’s say it’s a reflection of life and death), doesn’t mean it’s especially important.”
— Matthew Rose

Is a pizza fundamentally more satisfying than a beer?

Perhaps this question is a peculiar way of following up on my previous post. The subject of maximalism and minimalism in collage is worth continuing, and I readily admit that our topic would benefit more from an interactive discourse than a single voice, but such is the nature of a blog that has yet to gain a participatory following. Nevertheless, I cannot drop the discussion without further remarks and, in particular, some worthy examples of each methodology.

Getting back to the opening query . . . There is nothing more inviting on a hot summer evening than a cold beer after a day of effort. It can immediately lose its appeal if flat or flavorless. A slice of pizza will look much better — steaming, fragrant, and loaded with toppings — but not if it is dry, overdone, or charred underneath. What I am trying to suggest with this oddball reference is the idea that a simple thing or a complex thing is not necessarily better than the other. It is all about how each is presented. And the most meaningful conclusion may be that both are enhanced when the two exist together. Whether you investigate Picasso, Braque, or Schwitters, it is clear that they thought of collage as an extension of painting, and how can one say that maximalism or minimalism in painting takes supremacy over the other? One cannot, of course, and either method is more interesting when the entire scale of approaches to the medium are continually explored (in some cases by the same artist). So, returning to my feeble analogy, we recognize that the combination of “good stuff” determines a synergistic effect. Collage as an art form is more vital today as a result of this diversity of orientation.

Our medium does not exist in a vacuum. Maximalism, minimalism, and everything in between is rooted in the movements of Dada, Surrealism, Constructivism, Expressionism, and Popism. One contemporary collage artist with a keen awareness of these influences is the “American in Paris,” Matthew Rose. He has created masterful works at multiple points in the spectrum of complexity, and a few examples appear below. In future entries, we shall feature other artists who probe minimalism and maximalism in collage.
 

The End Of The World
Matthew Rose, 2008

Immaculate Perception
Matthew Rose, 2010

Breathless
Matthew Rose, 2010

China Star
Matthew Rose, 2010

Experience
Matthew Rose, (date unknown)

Lucky Strike
Matthew Rose, 2010

Self Portrait
Matthew Rose, 2011

Shadows of Joseph

Monday, February 11th, 2013

“From the beginning he had responded to the avant-garde developments of his time with admirable swiftness and sureness. It is hard to think of another American artist who was receptive to so many different art movements or who managed to win the admiration of everyone from the Surrealists in the 1940s to the Abstract Expressionists in the 1950s to the Pop Artists in the 1960s. Artists who agreed on little else agreed on Cornell.”
—Deborah Solomon

“The central themes of Pop Art were sub-culture, folk cultures, media imagery, new technologies, design, the consumer goods and engineering industries, the inter-relationships between these phenomena and their effect on human beings.”
—Tilman Osterwold

Osterwold’s analysis suggests that traditions, fashions, and even avant-gardist achievements could no longer be the norm after Pop Art, which swept away the boundaries of artistic development with its focus on a “consciously perceived and reflected present-day existence.” Having just finished Deborah Solomon’s biography of Joseph Cornell (Utopia Park: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell), I am struck by how Cornell anticipated Pop Art with his focus on the appropriated elements of mass culture and his various obsessions with celebrities, while at the same time demonstrating an abiding indifference to the cult of personal fame so typically associated with the movement. Walter Hopps stated that Cornell was “Schwitters’ greatest successor.” Cornell was certainly aware of Schwitters, for he was highly cognizant of nearly everything about the onrushing stream of modern art (in contrast to the misconception that he was some sort of urban hermit), but the precise lineage of artistic influence may never be fully known. Perhaps it was Cornell’s connection with Max Ernst that is a key factor. In my opinion, Ernst was not a giant of 20th-century collage, but did have a vital influence on the genesis of Cornell’s art. It is well recognized that Joseph began and ended his unique body of work with the medium of collage. One of the things that astonishes me is how he could be so attuned to the advancing frontier of present-day art (often staying a step or two ahead of it) and, at the same time, carry such a personal dysfunction that derived from the driving intensity of his inner world. Was that the nature of his genius? At any rate, his strange but amazing ability to synthesize powerful emotional and cultural content by inventing (virtually from scratch) a distilled form of assemblage continues to set the standard for almost everything in the mix of media that has followed in its wake. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t observe an artwork that can be traced directly to his seminal vision. But rarely do I see another artist infuse their juxtapositions with a rich symbolism to compare favorably with his complex associations. Most of the art I see with an obvious Cornellian tone owes more to surrealist automatism or atmospheric illustration than to the intricate blend of embedded meaning and refined intuition that characterized his enduring originality.
 

Knave Child
Kurt Schwitters, 1921
Collage on paper
Sprengel Museum, Hannover.

plate from La Femme 100 Têtes
Max Ernst, 1929
Collage novel
Published Éditions du Carrefour, Paris

Untitled (Schooner)
Joseph Cornell, 1931
Collage on paperboard

Untitled (Girl and Two Columns)
Joseph Cornell, c. 1950
Glass, wood, tempera and printed paper collage

Circe III — Surface and Volume in Nature
Joseph Cornell, c. 1961-66
Collage on masonite