Archive for the 'Symbolism' Category

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!
 

Verso la grandezza!

Friday, July 15th, 2016

Color relationships, compositional dynamics, and aesthetic harmonies often bubble effortlessly to the surface as a collage artwork evolves. It remains a spontaneous wonder to me, and I am satisfied to leave any symbolic associations to others.
 
Grandezza (Bibelot 867) ~ a collage miniature by John Andrew Dixon ~ part of his Bibelot Series

Grandezza (Bibelot 867)
collage miniature by J A Dixon
6 x 8 inches
 
Purchase this artwork.

Lucid Nativity

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

“Self-consciousness is the enemy of all art, be it acting, writing, painting, or living itself, which is the greatest art of all.”
– Ray Bradbury

All collage artists appropriate and harness the previous creative expenditures of countless others — photographers, sculptors, paper chemists, illustrators, product designers, typographers. This is true for even the most abstract practitioners, but certainly for those of us who find and work with representational scrap. I cannot help but notice that images born of religious intent have increasingly found a place within my collage artworks, and I have decided that I shall not be self-conscious about it. There is never a goal of irony, sarcasm, or disdain. The imagery just seems to “belong.” Perhaps, for me, it is an attempt to balance the darkness of chaos with an element of the sublime. Within the spatial montage, or within myself? I may have to think about that a bit more.

Lucid Nativity ~ a conventional, hand-made collage miniature by John Andrew Dixon, an artist in Danville, Kentucky

Lucid Nativity
collage miniature by J A Dixon
4.5 x 6.25 inches
 
Purchase this artwork!

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

Fifteenth Cosmosaic

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

“Curiosity about the unknown has no boundaries. Symbols, images, place and cultures merge. Time slips away. The stars, the cards, the mystic vigil may hold the answers. By shifting the point of view an inner spirit is released. Free to create.”
— Betye Saar

Cosmosaic was the word I chose in 1998 for a collage series that marked my first efforts at bringing to larger artworks what I had learned from creating numerous miniatures. They were intended as gifts for loved ones, with each focusing on the unique soul of the intended recipient. After completing fourteen of them over a seven-year span, I produced another in 2006 to exhibit with The Society of Layerists in Multi–Media. It relied on a more time-intensive technique than prior Cosmosaics, was more deliberate in conceptual development, was meant for no specific individual, and was more overtly metaphysical than any collage artwork I had done previously. As far as I was concerned, it was clearly a Cosmosaic, but it also stood apart from the series pattern and subsequently made the rounds of various exhibitions between periods of storage until we expanded our gallery space last year. Just as I had settled into the idea that this piece might always reside at my studio, it found a buyer this past weekend during the Open Studios ARTTOUR.

After looking through some old promotional notes, I was a bit surprised to discover the degree to which I had described the piece in spiritual terms:

“The largest composition in an eight-year series, this most recent ‘Cosmosaic’ represents my intensified concern with symmetry, proportion, and balance, both thematically and aesthetically. A spontaneous blending of found material — symbolic images, familiar icons, and mundane fragments — it shapes an interpretation of ‘the moving stream of life.’ The visual approach reinforces my sense of a profound interconnectedness, with eternal access to atonement, forgiveness, illumination, opportunity for soul attainment, and individual freedom through the Universal Christ.”
 

Fifteenth Cosmosaic ~ a mixed-media collage by J A Dixon

Fifteenth Cosmosaic
mixed-media collage by J A Dixon
17 x 21 inches

•  S O L D

Even more Haus of Cards

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

“Somebody said once or wrote once: ‘We’re all of us children in a vast kindergarten trying to spell God’s name with the wrong alphabet blocks!’”
― Tennessee Williams, Suddenly Last Summer

As is true with many graphic artists, I have been fascinated by letterforms since childhood. The first time I rendered the word “ICE” with frozen encrustations, it felt like a rite of passage for me. One of the reasons I shunned store-bought greeting cards in favor of my hand-crafted versions was to indulge a love affair with custom lettering. As collage miniatures began to dominate the character of my card making, the alphabet remained a key part of the visual vocabulary. As my enthusiasm for the medium of collage continued to expand, symbolic language became a re-occurring, vital ingredient in nearly all my artistic compositions.

 
a collage greeting by J A Dixon

collage miniature by J A Dixon
collection of A D Kenner

a collage greeting by J A Dixon

collage miniature by J A Dixon
collection of C Dixon

a collage greeting by J A Dixon

collage miniature by J A Dixon
collection of D R Dixon

a collage greeting by J A Dixon

collage miniature by J A Dixon
collection of E Debarone

a collage greeting by J A Dixon

collage miniature by J A Dixon
collection of R W Breidenbach

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

Broken Qualifications

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

“Any true artist is putting down the most accurate formula he can for what he perceives … The truth is the truth and you don’t want to change it to make it more palatable to reach more people.”
— Robert Motherwell

I frequently make reference to figures who have made their mark on art history, but I also find the work of my collage contemporaries very stimulating. An astonishing number of artists are exploring this vibrant medium who remain true to a keen perception that is beyond an art-buying public looking for familiar effects. This is nothing new, and presents a problem only for those who attempt to gain wide popularity. Occasionally, I am lured by a collage that has made a clear stab at shock, irony, or absurdity. These evocative goals, or some level of social commentary, are worthy objectives for collage as an art form (for which it can be strongly suited). They are among the different approaches to an orientation that Laura T Holmes refers to as “intentional design.” At any rate, I will usually set aside admiration for a conceptual process and re-focus on the visual aesthetics that continuously capture my interest: color, shape, texture, depth, rhythm, resonance, counterpoint, and compositional harmony. So much the better if layers of symbolic meaning emerge, and an observer brings his or her individual responses to the finished result.
 

Broken Qualifications by J A Dixon

Broken Qualifications
collage miniature by J A Dixon
6 x 8 inches
see the revised version

The power of association

Saturday, October 27th, 2012

“I value sense and nonsense alike. I favor nonsense, but that is a personal matter.”
— Kurt Schwitters

When creating a collage, there is no right or wrong approach, but I can’t help but notice the extent to which some artists go in their obvious effort to be clever. Whether one seeks the visual pun, an intellectual twist, or utter shock value, I think all of us would hope to avoid a result that looks too “gimmicky.” For many of us, the goal is to find a desirable place on a spectrum that extends from the fully honed concept to the purely unconscious response. There are times when the progression from start to finish is a smooth, natural flow. More often than not, the process becomes a balancing act of decisions.Detail: A Pantry Ballet by J Cornell The artist weighs the various relationships between layers of overt connotation and covert significance. Blending levels of stark clarity with obscurity, insinuation, and nuance is what gives the medium of collage its distinctive power.

In The Essential Joseph Cornell, Ingrid Schaffner delineates the various threads of underlying meaning in Cornell’s “A Pantry Ballet (for Jacques Offenbach),” and how the artist weaves together French Romantic poetry, Lewis Carroll, lobsters, metaphysics, and the once-scandalous cancan. She explains how his work “was built on the power of association and was so well constructed that it is less essential for us to understand all the references than it is to let our mind wander and play with the images.” There is perhaps no artist who influenced the middle decades of the hundred-year history of collage more than Cornell. His constructions demonstrate just how seamless the balance of conscious and subliminal meaning can become in a work of art.

I like to produce compositions without the motive force of intention, but I also enjoy working with an organizing idea or theme. During the course of its creation, a collage may rely on either principle. A piece might begin as sheer abstraction and evolve toward symbolic implications. On the other hand, it might begin with a mental construct that invites other types of intuition and gut reactions. The essence of collage is complex, synergistic, alchemical. Let us all make more!
 

Cyclic Attraction by J A Dixon

Cyclic Attraction
collage miniature by J A Dixon
7.75 x 3.375 inches
collection of G Zeitz

Welcome to The Collage Miniaturist.

Saturday, August 4th, 2012

The Collage Miniaturist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is as good a time as any for a public launch of this site. A hearty welcome to all. My sincere thanks to all the great folks at Xorph.com for their kind assistance.

My main purpose here, I have no problem admitting, is to showcase my work as a collage artist. That’s the selfish part. I would hope that it also becomes a point of reference for others who create or appreciate the medium. I make no claim as an authority. My only expertise is doing what I do, based on 40+ years of observation, creative investigation, and hands-on experience. And may the emphasis be on “hands.” I have nothing at all against digital collage —far from it— but this space will be devoted to the art and craftsmanship of 20th-century-mode, tear-and-glue, up-close-and-analogue collage — the 100-year-old approach that results in a singular, physical artifact.

If you happen to like this spot, please pay a return visit frequently, and let me know what you think. Visual art is a collaborative activity, no matter what some may say. I’ll expound more on that at another time. Begin today with a long paragraph that serves as my “statement.”

After a full century, people may continue to debate whether collage as a technique was “invented” by Georges Braque or Pablo Picasso, but in my considered view, the seminal genius of the medium was Kurt Schwitters, perhaps the first modern artist to fully master the process. I hold the opinion that relatively few aesthetic traditions emerged from early-20th-century collage experiments without the inherent sensibilities of Dada or Surrealism, and I find it endlessly fascinating to probe toward the heart of creative spontaneity while unraveling the ever-present contrasts of beauty versus non-beauty, optimism versus pessimism, and art versus anti-art. In addition to being intrigued by such mindful intuition, I remain awestruck by the capacity to create extrinsic value from everyday material that has virtually no intrinsic worth. By aesthetic sensitivity and creative ingenuity, anything that has been discarded can be infused with meaning or be brought into a contributory connection with our daily awareness. Thus, the core relationship between found material and the art of collage transmits a unifying principle. When the remnants of ordinary living are physically re-purposed to inevitably resolve their unique compositional harmony, the underlying link between visual form and symbolic communication is revealed. When the literal characteristics of the ingredient elements are successfully transcended, a culminating artifact offers the potential for a shared experience with each participating observer. I am convinced that the resulting totality of emotional impressions and layered associations derive more from a deeper artistic intent than from conscious decision making. As in most improvisational activity, there is ample opportunity for surprise, amusement, mystery, intrigue, discovery, and joy.

Gardenshapes ~ art by Kathleen O’Brien

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

“Beauty should be shared, for it enhances our joys.
To explore its mystery is to venture towards the sublime.”
―Joseph Cornell


 

I hesitate to use a sports term to begin this review, but, since the Summer Olympics opened last night, I’ll set my disinclination aside to state emphatically that artist Kathleen O’Brien is at the top of her game!

Gardenshapes —an exhibition of her mixed-media collage finishing its run in the main gallery of Danville’s Community Arts Center— has ample proof to support my claim. I made one more return visit yesterday to experience the diverse subtleties of her singular creations.

Inspired by birds and flowers, and exploring the garden as a metaphor, this collection of artworks represents everything that has captivated me for years about Kathleen’s approach. These works have clearly grown out of how she thoughtfully observes and attunes with nature. They also literally contain and preserve natural ingredients. But in contrast to collage that maintains its focus on formal or intellectual juxtapositions, Kathleen’s art always nudges one toward a deeper sense of wholeness and the inner complexity of our balanced existence as both organic and spiritual beings. Without question, she has made a personal commitment to creating art as a mystical practice, and, on a communal level, to providing nature-inspired beauty as a source of healing in a fractured world.

With the strong presence of these intangible dimensions, Kathleen’s art is always esoteric, and yet she manages to make the work accessible to all with her choice of subject matter and allegiance to traditional drawing. At the same time, she can delight the eye of a fellow artist with her methodology, aesthetic choices, and pictorial skill. I’m not ashamed to admit that much of Kathleen’s symbolic virtuosity is beyond my ken, but I appreciate that it’s all in play at the intuitive level. Being near the prolific output of her creative life is simply uplifting, and that’s because all the facets of her art —whether conscious or subliminal— unify as a total perception to nourish the mind, heart, and soul.

Getting back to the show, I was initially struck by the five largest pieces (28 x 36 inches), beautifully presented against white in deep gallery-style frames of natural wood. This “look” is familiar to those who know Kathleen’s art, and enhances the work’s identity as an unique artifact, preserved behind glass, like a rare botanical or zoological specimen. They are titled with reference to the garden theme. In contrast, a separate piece (24 x 30 inches) is presented with its surface exposed in the manner of an easel painting. It looks equally at home, released from behind the glass, expertly varnished in a way that does not distract. Its name is Heaven & Earth, Yin & Yang, Dark & Light, Birds & Trees, Flowers & Bees. My eyebrows lifted as I began to read the lengthy title, but was pleased with the closing rhyme as I finished. This artist always has a quiet surprise in store. Each of the large works is visually distinctive, but very much a cohesive part of a series unified by her long dedication to compositional abstraction, to a consistent theory of color, and to diligent mark making.

The large piece titled Garden for Queen Anne’s Lace is marked by a cellular pattern resembling microscopic tissue, which, while remaining highly abstract, transforms itself into a flower garden, with an interesting emphasis on each “drop of Queen’s blood” that, when closely examined, becomes a dance of circles, squares, and triangles —a dynamic that exemplifies Kathleen’s knack for taking the observer/participant through layers of meaning. The design also incorporates the application of illustrated postage stamps. Kathleen is never far removed from a devotion to cultural references and ephemera, and her Joseph Cornell influences are ever present. A fine example of this are four pieces dedicated to bird-species (16 x 20 inches) that combine found printed patterns with her typical labor of liquid media. Nests are created with random shards and colorful scraps. Dried and painted star-like blossoms effectively merge the organic, symbolic, and celestial. In Kathleen’s collage there are many allusions to language, both literal and archetypal, and here we discover many fragments of the printed word, as well as her “trademark” calligraphy. I was particularly drawn to Garden for Blue Grosbeaks, a strong arrangement of symmetrical and asymmetrical elements that carries out more of her evident investigation into fundamental shapes —circle, square, and triangle. These compositions are anything but static, a characteristic of Kathleen’s art built on a myriad of ways in which she provokes eye movement by simulating the dynamic patterns of nature, often with the application of actual plants and minerals. A perfect case in point is 9 Bird Eggs (30 x 30 inches), with its nimble use of botanicals most artists would overlook as raw material, through which she creates a variety of rhythms within a formal, 3×3 grid structure.

I should mention that Kathleen’s control of what I call “implied viewing distance” is masterful. Enjoying her watercolor effects and hidden treasures up close is inevitably a satisfying experience, as is true with much of current small-scale mixed media collage, but her pieces also can be savored at a distance. I found myself continually studying a work from across the room and then, taking off my eye-wear, sticking my nose near the glass to examine fine detail. Whether from this point of view or from half a block away, Kathleen’s distinctive impression is always recognizable, an enviable accomplishment for any artist. For example, both Royal Lily Garden and Staple Garden contain brushwork that only can be achieved by someone who is continuously handling liquid on a tool and is fully at ease with her surface. On the other hand, she uses this micro-fluency to create the intended multi-layered depth of her macro-composition, and yet I was constantly invited to step back into the intimacy of the picture plane, much as one feels when standing back to admire a flower garden, while being compelled to converge at hand’s length, only to spy a miniature surprise —a dutiful pollinator or tiny feat of nature’s diversity within repetition.

With my fixation on the bigger paintings, it was too easy to neglect the smaller items, so I had to instruct myself to visually isolate and appreciate several other works. Two of these were within squares, and each have treatments not as pronounced elsewhere in the exhibition. Feathers uses paper itself as a dimensional medium, and The Blessing of Rain features a darker atmospheric background —a shimmering chalk texture that makes me wish Kathleen would more intensively explore the potential of pastel effects. In addition, there are three bird portraits (9 x 12 inches), with coatings of what appeared to be beeswax, which recall for me the investigations of 19th-century naturalists. My favorite is Garden for Eastern Bluebirds, with its deft pencil work and luscious color palette. Kathleen pushes her highly capable layering beyond technique to create a sense of time distortion, an interplay of wildlife and cultural antiquity that makes certain the work is much more than a lovely rendering of birds. Throughout this outstanding show are many such allusions to natural and human-made cycles that fuse the worlds of growing things and a striving race that has always responded with symbolic culture to seek a balanced place in the scheme of life.

Indeed, Kathleen O’Brien has found her place. With a home studio close to nature, and a creative passion that distills her observations and meditations through heart, head, and hand, she is a gold-medal artist of the soul.

© 2012, John Andrew Dixon

Garden for Eastern Bluebirds and Garden for Scarlet Tanagers
by Kathleen O’Brien