Archive for the 'Surrealism' Category

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

Not So Big

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

“Shadow boxes become poetic theater or settings wherein are metamorphosed the elements of a childhood pastime.”
— Joseph Cornell
 

The creations of Joseph Cornell are small, and remained so throughout his unusual life as an artist, even as many of his contemporaries responded to the fashion of producing ever larger works. For me, a salute to this influential American seemed like the fitting approach when I decided to enter notBIG(3), an annual juried exhibition devoted to small art. I am pleased to have had a piece accepted to this show, which hangs from 8/11 to 9/11 at Lexington’s M S Rezny Studio/Gallery.

The “poetic theater” of little shadow boxes is not an isolated medium in collage/assemblage. To consider one’s activity in this comprehensive oeuvre as anything but an homage to Cornell would be an act of mild self-delusion. His singular, enduring presence overarching the genre must be acknowledged. There was a concern that my taking this approach with the notBIG(3) entry might appear to the juror as too derivative, but I pushed ahead with the “sincere flattery” of my plan. I had failed to crack this competition in its previous calls to artists, and I had hopes that the third time would be a charm for me. In addition, I wanted to assemble a range of ingredients outside my norm, including metal, wood, organic material, glass vials, and vinyl dimestore figures.

I created and entered two works as a pair — Histopia and Hertopia — a dual allusion to Utopia Parkway and its significance to the art history of the 20th century. It was not possible to enter both as a combined entry because the dimensions would have exceeded the size limitation of 12 x 12 inches. Only the first shadow box was selected. I was delighted to learn of my getting in the show, but it came with a small serving of disappointment, knowing that the gender balance of my overall idea would be lost with the “boy scene” presented to viewers by itself. It is something I can accept. Out of 380 works submitted, the 45 artists who make up the exhibition have a single artwork included. At any rate, this is what blogsites are for. Both pieces can be viewed together, and I have the opportunity to explain the whole thing to anyone kind enough to read this far. I also anticipate that many of you will be able to visit what appears to be shaping up as a strong exhibition. The opening reception is Friday evening, August 14th, 5 to 8 pm.
 

Histopia ~ collage/assemblage in shadow box frame by John Andrew Dixon

Histopia
collage/assemblage in shadow-box frame by J A Dixon
10 x 10 x 1.75 inches, available for purchase

Hertopia ~ collage/assemblage in shadow box frame by John Andrew Dixon

Hertopia
collage/assemblage in shadow-box frame by J A Dixon
10 x 10 x 1.75 inches, available for purchase

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

The Other Doorway

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

“Art comes out of art, and you are just another stone in the wall.”
— Richard Serra

My “Partner In All Things” has outdone herself again. She prepared an outstanding dinner last night in celebration of our grandson’s 23rd birthday, including “game stew” with rabbit and venison, plus the tastiest cherry-raspberry pie ever.cherry-raspberry pie As for my part, I completed a collage miniature for him that took off on a phrase he said to me over a year ago while unraveling some difficult life choices. I am very proud of the young man, for many reasons having nothing to do with his being a great source of encouragement as I continue to create work that puzzles a majority of art buyers. Some time ago, L T Holmes introduced her online followers to the idea of producing a collage “under the influence” of a fellow artist. I admire her for elevating it to an exercise in perceptual focus. It is good to be mindful of influences, because they are not necessarily at a level of awareness. Today’s featured image is an example of how I have come to recognize the unconscious influence of peers after a work is finished. I am not sheepish about admitting it. Inviting the artistic strengths of others to rub off a bit is why we regularly partake of the excellence in our medium. The collage artworks of my friend Connie Beale, a retailer and accomplished interior designer, touch on the irrational aspects of environments and room-like enclosures with effects that are unsettling yet also whimsical. The prolific Eugenia Loli consistently captures the surreal potential of spatial contrasts and arresting juxtapositions. Perhaps a shade of both can be found in my grandson’s gift.
 

The Other Doorway ~ J A Dixon

The Other Doorway
collage miniature by J A Dixon
6.25 x 7.75 inches
collection of J M Strock, Jr

March Exercise  |  year nine, day seven

Friday, March 7th, 2014

 

journal experiment:
surreal impression


 

 

Prisoner of Conscience
collage miniature by J A Dixon
7.75 x 9.75 inches
 
Purchase this artwork!

A Very Happy Happy!

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

 

Askance
collage artifact by J A Dixon
6.5 x 9 inches

Maximalism and Minimalism in Collage, part 5

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

“I have devoted myself to the technique of cut-paper collage.”
— Hope Kroll

Mysterious and spooky? Could it be possible that I am examining an art collection in the Addams mansion? No. The essence is far too rarefied for that. Do I instead find myself at a museum of lost Victorian curiosities? No. The effect is much too audacious for that. Perhaps you already have guessed my desirable plight. Yes, dear reader, I am slowly steeping in the sublime virtuosity of a Hope Kroll collage.

Known to many as the “paper surgeon,” the artwork of Hope Kroll would be astonishing enough for her extraordinarily meticulous “scissorship,” but she has clearly decided to put her demanding technique into service for eloquent visual statements that intrigue both the mind and eye. As Cecil Touchon points out, this would be outstanding enough, but she does not stop there. In most of her collage assemblies, she also introduces a signature three-dimensionality to heighten the surreal impression. A maximalist at heart, the prolific artist would certainly agree with Milton Glaser that “Less in not necessarily more.” Somehow she manages, time after time, to achieve unified outcomes from highly complex compositions, while at the same time evoking a powerful atmosphere that first entices, then engrosses, and finally beguiles the observer. I occasionally find her work a bit unsettling, but never unsavory, and always aesthetically exquisite. Like a fine bouillabaisse, her creations delight multiple senses.

Sample a few of her delicious recipes below and “hope,” as I do, that she continues to make many more.
 

Reconfiguration
Hope Kroll, 2003

Grooming
Hope Kroll, 2006

The Way Children Learn
Hope Kroll, 2010

Science And Faith
Hope Kroll, 2008

Thought Process
Hope Kroll, 2009

Ghost in the Machine
Hope Kroll, 2012

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

Unconditional Surrender

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

“To say that Kurt Schwitters was an amazingly versatile artist and anticipated much is such an absurd understatement that the remark is almost Dada.”
—Walter Hopps

“And so you will understand why we have had enough of Dada. The mirror that indignantly rejects your worthy countenance, that in mirroring it banishes it, such a mirror does not love you, it is in love with the very opposite.”
—Kurt Schwitters

To perpetually imitate KS is to be as unlike him as one could conceive. He was always pushing forward into the untried. But it is not for every artist to cross a boundary into the unknown. Some of us might be better suited to settling the frontier. There may be some among us more appropriately equipped to continue investigating the discoveries of a pioneering original— by sharing these visual concepts with a broader audience, by weaving them into a greater tapestry of the visual landscape, and, with a bit of luck, by finding a way to fuse our unique perspective with what has been handed off to us, in order to express new ideas that further cultivate a valuation of the past.Collage and Dada

I am not an expert on Dada or the relationship of Schwitters with the phenomenon. I am always learning more. I just know that he was never fully accepted by the movement at its peak, and that he was compelled to articulate his own vision of Merz. Perhaps much of it relates to Fascist oppression and the resulting geographic disruption, but I’ve always believed there was more to it than that. More important to me is an ongoing effort to unravel the underlying differences. A certain veneration for painting, design, and the aesthetics of beauty probably set KS apart from some of his rejectionist or surrealist contemporaries, but that is what gives his creations a unique, seminal power for me and for others. His perseverance in the face of daunting circumstances and a professed goal of “creating relationships, preferably between all things in the world” fly in the face of a nihilist orientation. Although I remain awed by surrealism in collage, and I am as tickled by irreverent juxtapositions as the next guy, there is an inherent pessimism or metaphysical anarchy in the “art of weirdness” that never seems to resonate with my deepest creative urge. I cannot say that I fully understand that, or that I am not occasionally moved to place a fish head on a reclining nude or mask a face with a front-loading washer. Is it even productive for me to engage in such self-analysis? Or, is it important only to submit to the most undeniable inner motivations when in the studio, sorting through another pile of visual fragments that await an intuitive response?
 

Unconditional Surrender
collage artifact by J A Dixon
collection of Nancy and Charles Martindale