Archive for the 'Nostalgia' Category

With a whole bunch o’ help from my friends . . .

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019

“While many modern-day album artworks tend to favor strict minimalism, The Beatles make a serious case for going bold and wacky without any type of restraint.”
— Nicole Singh
 

As promised, I’m devoting an entry to the project that kept me out of the collage studio for at least a dozen weeks. I shall beg your forgiveness at the outset for delving into the details of a digital process. Not only has this site kept a seven-year focus on traditional cut-and-glue techniques, but I haven’t indulged the applied-arts side of my multiple personality as a graphic artist. I’m going to depart from that now — perhaps just this once — because it’s been an extraordinary circumstance for me, and a few of you may find the description worthwhile. At any rate, I encourage everyone to read Patrick Roefflaer’s article for a story that is genuinely more interesting than mine!

Not so long ago, a prominent local musician and former brass band director took me aside at an exhibition opening. Based on her recognition of my fondness for collage, she asked me if I would take on a visual homage to the Sgt. Pepper’s album cover design. The purpose would be to mark the 30th production of the Great American Brass Band Festival, held each June in our hometown of Danville, Kentucky. It had always been her dream to link the announcement of her retirement at the annual weekend of concerts to the classic album, with a medley of tunes arranged for brass instruments. Sadly, a severe health crisis had forced her early retirement before that could happen, but she preserved hope that a multi-discipline Beatles tribute for the festival’s upcoming milestone might happen in 2019.

I’d already designed nine posters during the festival’s lifespan. To create a tenth was tempting, and this idea had a barbed hook. It really snagged me. My previous experience offered no sense of proportion about the magnitude of time to which I was committing myself when I said, “Sure.” The first obstacle was whether we were allowed to do it at all. we soon discovered that an enormous number of entities had made a visual salute to the famous image over the past fifty years, and that it had already become a ritual of pop culture, in spite of the complexities involved. There’s even a website that shows over a hundred previous parodies. Before long, we had mutually decided that it might as well be our local festival’s turn to pay homage.

The assignment was now in my lap, and I was overwhelmed with a desire to do it justice and exceed expectations. I found inspiration in filmmakers who I admired (like John Frankenheimer or Robert Altman), because their time-consuming approach would be required for what I’d bitten off. I wanted to bring the same passion, attention to detail, and collaborative leadership to my effort. I ended up shelving all other priorities and putting a ludicrous amount of time into the project, but not without the help of many partners. First and foremost was my wife, Dana, who jumped in head first to play a key part in nearly every aspect of the creative enterprise. After getting advice from an experienced model railroader, she began crafting a miniature flower garden to display the festival acronym for a mandatory foreground allusion. More than once, she would come back to the unfinished artifact to find that its spongy base had “spit out” some of the “flowers.”

The rest of it hinged on two important elements — whether we could pull together our own “Fab Four,” and then surround them with a crowd of numerous figures. It was determined that the Beatles would be “represented” by the previous directors of the Advocate Brass Band, a Golden-Age-style band associated with every festival. Their initial formation to color a political rally in 1989 was a direct influence on the organizing of the annual event itself. This made perfect sense because the foursome would include the festival’s pair of co-founders and their band uniform jackets, although not psychedelic, would be an effective visual reference point. We immediately knew that some digital sleight of hand would be called for, since only two of the four were locally present. One was near a university town many counties away, and the fourth had moved to a distant state. It took lots of coordination to solve that equation, and we pulled it off with the crucial participation of my friend, photography pro Bill Griffin, who took time away from his day job of wealth management. In keeping with the guiding theme of “a little help from our friends,” getting all the ingredients for the poster art to coalesce would demand the magnanimous assistance of others — furnishing space, props, and standing in at our photo shoot, plus image research and acquisition.

At a certain point, I began to focus on researching the background “crowd of fans,” to honor the countless performers, organizers, sponsors, staff, and volunteers who made three decades of festivals possible. It became a daunting, complicated task of culling and selection. I realized that the poster would be the size of a picnic table if everyone who deserved to be on it were included. The original setup by Jann Haworth and Peter Blake was peopled with life-size, hand-tinted cut-outs that imposed a certain physical limitation, and it was fabricated within two weeks. A virtual approach was too open-ended for comfort. There was a limit to how methodical I could become in choosing ingredients for the montage of faces. The solution was to approach it more intuitively, as I would any of my “maximalist” works.

All collage art worthy of the name is irrational at some level, and one of the reasons the original Beatles art is so iconic is the sheer illogic of it. And so, for us, that idea led to a few incongruous personalities, such as Carrie Nation and Howdy Doody. The final assembly was challenging, painstaking, rewarding, and fun, all at the same time. After refining the list of candidates and compiling the source files, each master image had to be sillouetted, retouched, color balanced, and optimized for inclusion. It seemed like the rearranging would never end before every element of the composition appeared to “belong.” I shall confess that I do not possess a powerhouse workstation. The increasing quantity of digital layers in Photoshop had to be continuously merged to prevent the composite file from paralyzing my Macintosh. Even so, it would often exceed 500 MB in size. I tried to save and back up as often as feasible without breaking stride, but there were periodic freezes that would result in “three steps forward and two steps back.”

There should be no misunderstanding, however. The marathon endeavor was punctuated by many fortunate, often astonishing developments. One of our “Fab Four” individuals made a vital connection with an outstanding photographer in Athens, Georgia, who went the extra yard in matching my parameters for an important superimposition of the black-suited Dr Foreman. He also shot an antique bass drum to add another convincing Sgt Pepper’s touch — the same one that appeared on the festival’s first poster in 1990, and it still had the original, hand-painted emblem! Dana took the lead in preparing the poster “mechanical” for offset production, as she always has done for Dixon Design. She also knocked one out of the park during the solicitation of bids. As a contribution to the landmark production, Mike Abbott of Thoroughbred Printing agreed to produce the job at cost, and spent an hour with the press operator, Dana, and me, making sure we were satisfied with the quality.

Our closing duty was to devise a printable key for identifying all the individuals and design elements. My original idea of including a longer “blurb” for each line item quickly became far-fetched when producing the abbreviated version dragged on. By the time we declared it done, the “labor of love” vibe had been exhausted. There wasn’t much love left in the air, and I just wanted all of it to hit the street, which it has, of course, and the positive response has been even more than I anticipated.

This post is already far too long, so I won’t get started on my Eva Marie Saint story, but I need to explain why we included a picture of the creators, and then I’ll finish up on an appropriate collage note. I was adamant that I would not fall prey to the Hitchcock Urge. I had no interest in, nor justification for, inserting myself, since I was making so many brutal choices to leave others on the cutting room floor. Dana was in total agreement, but the team of people who helped with the proofing process took an opposing viewpoint. Their collective drum beat was that the final rendition must include us! You can see that we eventually waved the white flag and stuck a small portrait on top of the Bourbon barrel.

A tiny figure seated at a kitchen table was provided by the Great American Dollhouse Museum as a nod to the Shirley Temple doll in the original composition, which also featured a Madame Tussauds wax figure of Sonny Liston on the opposite side. I knew there had to be a way to include Kentucky’s own Muhammed Ali in our version. Rather than take unavailable time to solicit permission to use a photograph that might get buried in the sea of faces, I turned to my friend Robert Hugh Hunt, who kindly let us insert the extraordinary collage portrait from his 20th Century Icons series!

Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends!
 

30th GABBF Poster
digital homage by Dana and John A Dixon
24 x 36 inches
Purchase one now! 
 
Online order page includes a printable key to identification, 
plus a ‘special thank you’ to all our essential collaborators!

Governor’s Derby Exhibit, 2018

Thursday, May 17th, 2018

My 3D collage from last summer, Star of Commonwealth, is currently on display as part of the Governor’s Derby Exhibit titled Reflections of the Commonwealth. It is an honor to have my artwork chosen and, reportedly, positioned near the door to the Governor’s offices. Yes, it’s a cool thing, if I do say so myself. The Kentucky-themed piece was created as part of the 225th birthday celebration for our Bluegrass State. I have yet to replenish my stash (hint, hint, wink, wink) that would enable me to do another similar artwork. The annual initiative coordinated by the Kentucky Arts Council is on view in Frankfort at the Capitol Rotunda through June 4th.
 
detail from ‘Star of Commonwealth’ ~ collage construction by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

Star of Commonwealth (detail)
mixed-media collage construction by J A Dixon
22 x 21 x 6 inches
available for purchase

Year Five: a new “Janus Project” in the works?

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017

“There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say ‘It is yet more difficult than you thought.’ This is the muse of form. It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction, to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
― Wendell Berry
 

Someone once opined that “since most people feel that the world gets worse, not better, the only basis of genuinely popular art is nostalgia.” There may be some truth in that. However, one could recall examples of entirely new things gaining wide popularity, too, especially in music. The visual artist must accept that most people will never grant them the position that they ascribe to musical and culinary artists, because nothing in life will supplant music and food in their daily routine of emotional attachments (although, with the current explosion of binge-on-demand streaming entertainment, other creatives may be poised to achieve a similar status).

When I reflect on my fifth year of musing about collage at this blogsite and look ahead to the next, I realize just how much work there is in front of me to puzzle through some of these ideas. Like many artists, I hope to juggle goals that may at first seem in contradiction: to attract patrons, to inspire colleagues, and to please myself. I don’t see any way to approach it other than to balance elements of our past (the appeal of the nostalgic), our present (the lure of the trend), and our future (the surprise of the new). How convenient that balancing elements in Janus-like fashion just happens to be my craft!

In all seriousness, collage (and the related montage-inherent media) are almost uniquely suited to the challenge at hand, and perhaps that is why post-centennial collage is becoming a worldwide phenomenon in the 21st. Diving more deeply into this quandary will provide ample food for thought in the coming year. Meanwhile, I shall make more!
 

an untitled ‘ultra miniature’ by the prolific N Soppelsa

Nikki Soppelsa
Look ahead to a discussion of “ultra miniaturism” in collage.

The Skin Trade ~ R H Hunt

Robert Hugh Hunt
Stay tuned for a review of contemporary collage abstraction.

another example of humor in collage by T R Flowers

Terry R Flowers
Is it time to peruse the long history of humor in collage?

Construction of Space ~ K Schwitters, 1921

Kurt Schwitters
And I shall never tire of studying and sharing the work of KS.

Spool’s Errand

Monday, November 6th, 2017

 
Spool’s Errand ~ an experimental collage miniature by J A Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

Spool’s Errand
collage miniature by J A Dixon
8.5 x 9.75 inches
 
Purchase this artwork!

A closer look . . .

Friday, September 9th, 2016

Here are a few detailed images of my repurposed chair, Good Morning, Mrs. Bradshaw. I knew from the outset that I would not be satisfied to achieve a “merely aesthetic” result, even though I am usually pleased if my collage artwork successfully does no more than that. I sought to visually communicate a symbolic tension that evoked my feelings as youngster, caught between the clarity of adult expectations and the fuzzy pleasure of indulging a literary genre that was generally frowned upon in the 1950s. I include the name of my first-grade teacher in the title. She was probably the first person outside my family who recognized and encouraged my creative interests.
 

The project took on a life of its own when I became convinced that it was
finally time to exploit some of my vintage typesetting specimens.

My concept rests on the visual contrast between “scholastic” and “vernacular”
imagery — what a ’50s schoolboy was supposed to read and what he was not.

My desire to preserve the circular “rivets” that held the wooden seat and back
slats to a metal structure presented challenges of collage artisanship.

A fun, rewarding part of the process was to capture the youthful energy of
reading comics and to avoid obvious narrative references at the same time.

Thank you for your interest and attention. Please let me know what you think of my work, this blogsite, or the medium of collage in general. Comment here or through TCM at Facebook. Stop back again!
 

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

On Nostalgia in Collage

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

“ . . . what I am hoping to do is discover if it is possible to separate nostalgia and collage art, or determine whether the two are inextricably entwined.”
— Joel Lambeth

In a blog entry last month, collage artist Joel Lambeth asked the challenging question, “Is collage inherently nostalgic?” It is one of the more provocative pieces about our medium that I have read this year, although a bit wordy in places. Admittedly, most working collage artists like us who maintain blogs that purport to be more than an online portfolio are not the finest writers alive, and I salute him for not choosing to approach the topic in a superficial way. Nevertheless, it is always risky to generalize about anything, but Lambeth cuts deeply into the subject to probe the history and heart of collage as an art form, and he manages to avoid a semantic discourse on the definition of the word “nostalgia.” His thoughtful viewpoints have sparked a desire on my part to weigh in (with what also may prove to be an entry more verbose than usual).

The groundbreaker Max Ernst worked with vintage engravings, perhaps to emphasize his anti-traditionalist intentions.a Joseph Cornell aviary assemblage He influenced Joseph Cornell, who captured feelings of personal nostalgia with innovative effects that were as cutting-edge as they were fixated on musings about the past. When analyzing collage artwork with respect to the idea of nostalgia, we must take into consideration the artist’s motivation in addition to the overall character of the medium. When I look at current examples from the daily waves of creative output, it is clear that nostalgia in collage plays out along a spectrum or continuum like nearly every other feature of the process, whether it be minimalism/maximalism, realism/surrealism, or representation/abstraction.

It is surprising to me how many contemporary collage artists work exclusively with old ingredients, but that does not mean necessarily that their agenda is merely to traffic in sentimentality. Sara Caswell-Pearce and Nancy Gene Armstrong are among those who appear to harness nostalgia as a conscious objective in their work while achieving a broad balance of artistic creativity. Many collage artists, such as Carolina Chocron, Nikki Soppelsa, Ross Carron, Fred Litch, Laura Collins, and Frank Voigt are more apt to generate nostalgic tones as a byproduct of incorporating vintage ingredients into strong compositions. Only these individuals could clarify to what degree they actively try to convey impressions of an era gone by. The versatile Zach Collins and Randel Plowman, although they frequently work with obviously old paper, both seem to be engaged in ongoing visual investigations more primary than any sense of nostalgia embedded in their finished works.

Lambeth compares the nostalgic impulse to the process of collage itself and concludes by suggesting “that at a very base level collage and nostalgia have more in common than they do separating them.” He acknowledges the contemporary effort to transcend the inherent bias that the medium may have toward nostalgia. Perhaps he, Marc Deb, Launa Romoff, Andrew Lundwall, Teri Dryden, and numerous other artists are making the push beyond any fundamental nostalgic essence. If so, collage, after more than a hundred years, is cycling back to its roots, when Kurt Schwitters, who always considered himself a painter, became convinced that the pasted detritus of his environment was equally as legitimate as a brushstroke of oily pigment.
 

Midnight Gambol: Or Why The Bees Slept In Every Morning
mixed-media collage by Sara Caswell-Pearce

A Boy and a Swan
collage by Nancy Gene Armstrong

descosiendo el cuadrilátero
collage by Carolina Chocron

Napoleon shows his hand
collage by Nikki Soppelsa

untitled
collage by Fred Litch

Nubecula Cum Ovi
collage by Ross Carron

Jump
collage by Laura Collins

untitled
collage by Fred Voigt

141zc14
collage on wood panel by Zach Collins

August Night
collage by Randel Plowman

Ripping It Up
collage by Joel Lambeth

Imperfect Parallels
collage by Marc Deb

the parrot (detail)
mixed-media collage by Launa D Romoff

Substance
mixed-media collage by Andrew Lundwall

9 Lives
mixed-media collage by Teri Dryden