Archive for the 'Technique' Category

I Must Have Kentucky ~ all the details

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017

“I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game. Kentucky gone, we cannot hold Missouri, nor Maryland. These all against us, and the job on our hands is too large for us. We would as well consent to separation at once, including the surrender of this capitol.”
— Abraham Lincoln, 1861
 

I am constantly experimenting, because I find it difficult to pluck a coherent idea from a “cold start,” and so I cultivate a habit of collage experimentation to preserve a state of receptivity and to invite the uncanny “synchronicities” from which a more rational concept can be refined. More often than not, there are no distinct memories associated with the genesis of an idea. It is unusual, therefore, to have a clear recollection of the creative lineage for I Must Have Kentucky, currently on display as part of 225: Artists Celebrate Kentucky’s History.

I was stumped about how to respond when a call to artists from curator Gwen Heffner announced an exhibition to observe Kentucky’s 225th birthday. I thought about the history of my own town (Danville, the first capital of the state), about the The Kentucky Documentary Photographic Project, about the story of tobacco growing families in Kentucky, and about the great Kentucky abolitionists. There were so many fascinating subjects, but none of them sparked a visual flame in my imagination. When I shared my befuddlement with Dana, my “partner in all things,” she suggested I consider doing something with Star of Abraham, an artifact I made in 2009 for the bicentennial of the 16th president’s birth. Star of Abraham ~ John Andrew DixonThe bulk of my collected Lincoln images had been exploited to cover a salvaged metal star. To produce a collage tribute to the martyred leader with a folk-art quality seemed a technique appropriate to the occasion, and it was still in my studio, generating little interest from visitors. I liked the notion of using it as a “found object” in a larger assemblage, but there needed to be more to it than that. The solution finally hit me on a drive to our family farm, when I turned off the radio and focused on the rolling “knobs” that surrounded me: Lincoln’s famous declaration about his home state during the Civil War!

I got down a flurry of thumbnail concepts in my journal when I arrived at my destination. It was barely necessary to ever look at them again, because the development toward a final idea took on a momentum of its own. I realized I could enlarge my Lincoln theme with additional artisanship to include the importance of Kentucky in his strategic thinking. A design took shape in my sketches, and I searched my stash for images that would do justice to the “brother against brother, family against family” character of the conflict in a state that gave birth to the presidents of each warring side.

The expanded mixed-media construction is created from recycled materials — found ingredients include salvaged wood and metal, plus discarded books, magazines, maps, and mailed promotions. My lettering is hand painted with acrylics. John Andrew Dixon at the Kentucky Artisan Center, Berea, KentuckyObviously, the dimensional star represents Abraham Lincoln. The five horizontal bands signify the final years of his life and the impact his decisions had on Kentucky and the United States during that time. Among the individuals featured are Kentucky native Jefferson Davis, Lincoln’s rival in war, and Senator Stephen A. Douglas, his rival in peace, plus Lexington native Mary Todd, her sons Willie and Robert, Munfordville native Simon B. Buckner, Frederick Douglass, U.S. Grant, Clara Barton, John Hunt Morgan, and others. Also represented: soldiers, their ladies, Kentucky coal miners, and the decisive Battle of Perryville.

The artwork commemorates our Commonwealth during 1860 to 1864, the most tumultuous period in its history. At the center of those pivotal years is the towering figure of its most illustrious native son, who encapsulated the significance of the border state to the cause of national unity when he reputedly declared:

“I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky”.
 

detail from ‘I Must Have Kentucky’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

I secured the existing ‘Star of Abraham’ to a construction of five salvaged
wood planks, which alternates hand-painted lettering with my typical collage
treatment. My Lincoln artifact had finally found a fitting context.

detail from ‘I Must Have Kentucky’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

I long have found interesting that Kentucky had given birth to both
presidential leaders in the national conflict, and I devoted a section of my
composition to that inexplicable fact.

detail from ‘I Must Have Kentucky’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

Border-state Kentuckians were divided when war broke out. Munfordville
native Simon B. Buckner attempted to enforce its neutrality before accepting
a Confederate commission. He led troops at the strategic Battle of Perryville
in 1862, and later became a scandal-plagued governor of the Commonwealth.

detail from ‘I Must Have Kentucky’ by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

One of my favorite spots in the piece: Lincoln’s boy Willie, U.S. Grant, a young
Frederick Douglass as a free man next to a slaveholder’s advertisement,
a superb wood engraving of combat, Clara Barton, Samuel Colt, and an image
of the Commander in Chief that indicates his unusual height.

Thanks for reading such a long entry. I invite you to register and comment here. Let me know what you think. If anything bugs you, constructive criticism is encouraged!

Another worthy collaborative alliance

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when
brothers dwell in unity!”
— Psalms 133:1
 

Collage collaboration is thriving in the Bluegrass. Robert Hugh Hunt and I began to think about a new project earlier last year, to follow our double-piece venture of 2015 (unveiled at the Kentucky Artisan Center’s It Takes Two show, featured at JUXTAPOSED, and also recognized in the state capitol rotunda as part of the 2016 Governor’s Derby Exhibit). Based on a thumbnail sketch in my journal that suggested a pair of interlocking shapes, we each took a 16×20 canvas-on-wood construction and worked independently on a solution to our “puzzle.” As we shared images online, a color scheme evolved as visual ideas echoed. Out of the gate, a found drawing of lupine eyes would demand a lower face with grinning mouth. Before long, we had exchanged a digital simulation of how the pieces would configure. Robert responded with a television element after I pasted the face of Fidel into a vintage TV set. (Strangely enough, this was a few weeks before the dictator’s demise.) When my partner, known for his mixed-media roosters, drew a chicken head, I added a corresponding game fowl to further the red-black theme. Did my fragment of a playing card spark his array of floating club symbols? His hand-drawn kissers certainly inspired my pencil and acrylic rendering of the “photo-booth” Kennedys.
   
   

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Finishing touches were made after we had shared our final interim images. When our halves converged for the culminating “intercourse,” we thought it desirable for me to install a clamping device, so that the components might stand alone in the future. I explored possibilities and tried some ideas at my workbench, but, alas, I have never been an engineer. Fortunately, my kind collaborator was comfortable with a decision to join them permanently and declare victory.

‘Dreams Aligned’ (a collaborative collage construction by John Andrew Dixon and Robert Hugh Hunt) at the 2017 NEW YEAR NEW ART exhibition ~ Community Arts Center, Danville, KentuckyAll in all, I found our creative teamwork to be an immensely satisfying collaboration. The result was selected to be part of the local NEW YEAR NEW ART winter exhibition. Even though the interlocking feature of the artwork is probably more discernible when viewing it in person, it makes for a provocative online impression, and we were pleased that it was designated as the promotional poster for the show. the 2017 NEW YEAR NEW ART exhibition ~ Community Arts Center, Danville, KentuckyAfter I had sorted through dozens of potential titles with a lack of conviction, Robert coined the phrase that stuck. He wrote this to me when he summed up our experimental process:

“Well, this collaboration was unlike any I had done. Most art collaborations have multiple artists working one at a time on a single piece until it is finished. As the artist, you are either ‘starting’ the collaborative piece or ‘finishing’ it, and, in cases with more than two collaborators, you could be working the ‘middle’ of the piece. But with Dreams Aligned, we took a different approach — creating two pieces, which I felt should stand on their own, and merging the two into one piece that not only worked as a whole, but made a stronger piece than the two works alone. And the fact that we had worked together successfully before, and understood each other’s artistic language, and that we kept a visual dialogue ongoing, showing each other the progress on their ‘half,’ following each other’s visual cues on medium, color, composition, etc. — in this way we were able to create a collaboration with two distinct artistic halves. It wasn’t a merging as much as an alignment of our artistic styles and languages, hence the title.”
 
Dreams Aligned ~ a collaborative collage construction ~ Kentucky artists John Andrew Dixon and Robert Hugh Hunt

Dreams Aligned
a collage collaboration by J A Dixon and R H Hunt
mixed-media construction, 26.75 x 26.5 inches
(left component by Dixon, right component by Hunt)
available for purchase

a mini-tutorial for gel transfers

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.”
― Isaac Asimov

A growing number of people will now agree that most emerging social networks are not what they’re cracked up to be. For an artist who spends a lot of time in solitary activities, it can be a beneficial connection to a larger body of peers. I concur with Cal Newport that it can also be a habit-forming distraction that pulls one into a more shallow mode than the deep concentration necessary to produce exceptional creative work. There are times, however, when a Facebook interaction is so good that I have to marvel at the way people can quickly exchange valuable information across continents. Case in point: a recent back-and-forth between Peter Dowker (Lac-Brome, Quebec) and Matthew Rose (Paris, France) about image transfers for collage assembly. When Susanna Lakner (Stuttgart, Germany) and Melinda Tidwell (Santa Fe, New Mexico) jumped in, it developed into one of the best step-by-step descriptions of gel-medium transfer that I have seen. Here is my summary of Dowker’s technique—

“First of all, stay away from the hard stuff, like the toxic chemical cleaner trichlorethylene. Instead, use a gel-medium method to achieve an effective transfer. Apply a healthy coat of liquid acrylic medium to the image side of an ingredient and adhere it face down. GLOSS medium sticks better than matte. Rub with a brayer, or burnish gently with a soup spoon, and let it dry. Using a bit of water, gently rub off the paper backing with your finger or a piece of cloth. Don’t use too much water and slowly move over the surface, removing a bit at a time. Use oil varnish or vegetable oil to bring up the image. A minute amount of paper will always remain behind, giving it a cloudy appearance when dry. The oil varnish or vegetable oil will make that disappear and enhance the transparency. I formerly used matte oil-based varnish, which works okay. The vegetable oil idea comes from Allan Beally. There will be hardly any build up at all — probably less than any of the collaged pieces next to it. When making a transfer onto vintage papers, I find it’s better to seal them first before you begin — 1 or 2 coats of matte gel medium — the water involved to rub off the back of the transfer can destroy the substrate. Keep in mind that different papers react in different ways. Sealing is only necessary if the base is fragile. Be patient after gluing down the transfer. Letting it TOTALLY dry before rubbing off the paper is essential. If you’re not patient and start rubbing too soon, the image can start to break down. Wait a minimum of 2 hours (overnight is best) before removing the paper backing. If I know I’m going to be using a transfer from the outset, I start the piece on heavy card, to keep the substrate from becoming wrinkly in one spot from the water. The method works with original elements or copies. When I do use a laser print, it’s on thin, cheap office paper. Removing the paper backing can take ten minutes or more, because I go slow, not wanting to damage the image — not really that long at all. I’ve had the most luck since I began sealing the receiving surface with matte medium and waiting longer for it to dry. And the oil works wonders!”

My thanks to Mr. Dowker for allowing me to share this description here. Some of us have also used a variation that involves removing the paper backing independently, in a basin of water, before adding it to the collage surface. When doing that, one ends up working with a collage element that is essentially a veneer of acrylic medium, which introduces a size limitation and other aspects of craftsmanship. Peter calls this the “gel-skin method.” Although he has used it many times, a drawback for him is the need to build up 4 to 5 layers of medium — so it’s not too fragile for the rubbing stage — which makes for a thicker transfer. According to Peter, “not very appealing to the fussier ones among us.” The gel-skin method does allow for a right-reading image (if that’s important), otherwise the previous method will result in a flopped image (unless it can be photomechanically or digitally reversed prior to transfer). Each collage artist will refine an individual methodology, and, not surprisingly, new discoveries and “fortunate accidents” occasionally can result. As Peter reminds us, “Don’t be shy!”

Take a few minutes to savor a few of his extraordinary artworks below—
 

CUTTERS
collage with image transfer by P Dowker

ACORN
collage with image transfer by P Dowker

VAAVING
collage with image transfer by P Dowker

TOYS
collage with image transfer by P Dowker

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
available for purchase

Tender and Wild

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

“Art, in itself, is an attempt to bring order out of chaos.”
– Stephen Sondhiem

I was in the “Seasonal Zone,” listening to music and making a batch of hand-made greetings and collage miniatures. I began to recycle Christmas cards from previous years, and I had the idea of trying to visually merge two different but similar images. Nothing seemed to go right as my technique played out. One cannot anticipate nor contrive the “fortunate accidents” inherent in the medium. The resulting effect reminds me of an aging fresco, as if an artist had painted a Madonna and Child over another, with the decay of time and weather taking over. I rarely think too much about these things in process, with reflection arriving later. I especially enjoy when others make observations and symbolic associations of their own. Overall, I think my sweet obsession with collage may be about trying to bring some kind of harmony out of the sense of disorder that pervades much of modern perception, although I should hesitate to generalize about my personal state of being and apply it to the world.

a Christmas collage experiment by John Andrew Dixon

Tender and Wild
collage miniature by J A Dixon
7 x 9.5 inches
private collection

A Kentucky Collaboration

Monday, August 24th, 2015

“I’ve collaborated with many artists over the years but never on a project of this size. The two pieces were to be 24″ x 24″ on structured panels. What made this collaboration successful was the interplay between the two artists. We both sent numerous pictures of our starts in progress and were able to play off the ideas and techniques the other was using, in this we created a true pair of collages instead of two separate pieces.”
— Robert Hugh Hunt
 

Collaboration between collage artists is a widespread, dynamic development within a medium that has shown extraordinary vitality after its centennial milestone in 2012. This very well may be part of a broader phenomenon, due in no small way to the explosion of social media and a greater networking among artists of all kinds. I was not surprised when, earlier this year, here in my home state, the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea announced a major exhibition called It Takes Two: Collaborations by Kentucky Artisans.

In response to this opportunity, I decided to contact Robert Hugh Hunt, an artist from Richmond, Kentucky whose work I had come to respect after we made a connection through Facebook. Both of us were aware of our geographic proximity, but had not previously met in person, nor had we collaborated remotely on a casual project. Appreciating each other’s prior work is no guarantee that two artists will enjoy the collaborative process or value the creative end result. Only by risking a joint venture will both artists find out if they actually are “on the same wavelength.” I am pleased to report that the results of my teamwork with Robert exceeded our optimistic expectations, and that one of the two pieces we created was selected for the “Takes Two” show.

As artists, Robert and I both work regularly with combined mediums, but we chose collage as the foundation of our approach because we recognize how ideally suited it is for collaboration. There was no inclination to think small. We each fabricated larger dimensional panels and created a “start” for the other — to establish the background and organize the two-dimensional space with found material and other recycled/repurposed elements. collage collaboration ~ the start by Robert Hugh Hunt for Kentucky Sovereign ~ collage on structured panelAfter meeting for the first time (with spouses, over lunch at a delightful new Cuban eatery halfway between our studios), we exchanged the unfinished works to complete the compositions with additional ingredients and renderings. Robert’s recognized practice of layering his cut-and-paste collage artworks with mixed-media additions had already caught my attention, and his expressed aim to do the same within our collaboration inspired me to include a hand-rendered element as a focal point in my “finish,” which we titled Kentucky Sovereign. Robert’s finish, Kentucky Madonna, features multiple mixed-media treatments on top of my background shapes. The effect helps to integrate our respective techniques and to bond the artworks as a “true pair,” to use Robert’s phrase.

For my start, I began with a section of an Iraqi newspaper brought home by a member of the Kentucky National Guard. Robert made use of clippings from a 1940s-era newspaper that he got from fellow collage artist Ted Tollefson. collage collaboration ~ the start by John Andrew Dixon for Kentucky Madonna ~ collage on structured panelOur range of “merz-strokes” was unfettered, but we shared a desire to “Kentuckify” our choices, although neither of us knew exactly what we meant by that. Other ingredients include magazine scraps, printed papers, antique maps, used packaging, illustrations from discarded books, mesh bag material, tissue, fabric, plastic clasps, wood, gummed labels, metal, emptied tea-bags, produce stickers, foil, wallpaper, digital printouts, a paper doily, and more (with a modest assemblage aspect thrown in for good measure). As with any collaboration, the challenge is to discover a way to enhance the start in a complimentary manner and also to bring one’s personal approach to the finish. Our decision to avoid isolation was a good one. Images exchanged during development kept the creative energy in flux and maintained a visual cord (a common chord?) between the surfaces as they evolved separately. It was a positive experience for both of us and boosted our enthusiasm to continue as active collaborators.

Thanks, Robbo!
 

finish by John Andrew Dixon for Kentucky Sovereign ~ a collaboration with R H Hunt ~ collage on structured panel

Kentucky Sovereign
a collaboration by R H Hunt and J A Dixon
collage on structured panel, 24 x 24 inches
(start by Hunt, finish by Dixon)
selected for It Takes Two: Collaborations by Kentucky Artisans
available for purchase

finish by Robert Hugh Hunt for Kentucky Modonna ~ a collaboration with John Andrew Dixon ~ collage on structured panel

Kentucky Madonna
a collaboration by J A Dixon and R H Hunt
collage on structured panel, 24 x 24 inches
(start by Dixon, finish by Hunt)
available for purchase

Fred Otnes, 1925–2015

Monday, August 17th, 2015

“Otnes abandoned the narrative style… The move set him apart from other commercial artists of his time, and his willingness to embrace the abstract and chaotic nature of collage put him in high demand during one of the most turbulent decades of American history.”
— The Saturday Evening Post, 2015

“Fred Otnes brings to his collage paintings a classical refinement and control that makes poetry out of chance pictorial effects. He dips into early Cubist collage techniques, touches Florentine and Renaissance bases, and reverses Dadaist chaos into gorgeous homages to order.”
— Maureen Mullarkey, 2002
 

I just learned about the death of artist/illustrator Fred Otnes. I tend to focus here and in my own practice on the acknowledged masters of fine-art collage, but Mr. Otnes certainly had a greater influence on me during my formative years and during the period of my life devoted to “making it” as an independent illustrator and designer. He is rarely included among the seminal figures of 20th-century collage, but he should be. Allow me to back up a bit and reveal some of my own story.

In the 1960s I had four different art teachers in four years of high school. I resist being unkind, but each one of them was worthless. I had some talent, so there was no reason to spend time with me. I was left to fend for myself, because, apparently, it was more urgent to actively babysit the class goof-offs. By sixteen I was investigating the available correspondence coursework. No one thought to tell me about the Dayton Art Institute in the closest big city. I don’t think I even realized how desperate I’d become. What others might have viewed as crass merchandising was a Godsend for me. I responded to an advertisement from the Famous Artists School and completed the test. A representative actually paid a visit to discuss the home-study course that would provide the fundamental art instruction I’d been missing, and I begged my parents to let me give it a shot. They said, “Okay,” and I am grateful for this simple consent — access to legitimate art educators would be mine. I acknowledge now that their “Course For Talented Young People” was a marketing experiment, an attempt to leverage the successful adult course with a younger demographic. That meant nothing to me at the time. This was the school endorsed by Norman Rockwell, and I was a charter student! Although my Mom eventually had to cajole me into keeping abreast of the challenging lessons, a sea change had occurred. I was at long last formally introduced to the world of fine and applied artists. Among those that impressed me most was someone named Fred Otnes.

I was a peculiar kid who got more excited about magazine illustrations, corporate trademarks, television animation, and the Sunday comics than I did about “museum art.” The work of Otnes touched me in a way that would take decades for me to unravel. In my youth, not being able to figure out how an artist created something was usually paired with disinterest, but his work affected me in the opposite way. His graphic synthesis of images, engravings, diagrams, and language exposed a realm that I could aspire to enter. Even as an experienced pro, I continued to find his technique mystifying. I was relieved when legendary illustrator Mark English said, “I don’t even know how he did them, the mechanics of printing, photography and all the things he did to put them together.” Suffice it to say that in a profession biased against the creative explorer, Fred Otnes braved a path that few, if any, realized was there, successfully made it his own, and became one of the most distinctively recognizable, highly honored applied artists of his generation.

For many years, through the Illustrator’s Workshop, Otnes was a teacher and mentor, and, like others in the field, spent his later years expanding his personal style as a gallery artist. Whether applied to editorial or commercial use, the creations embody his profound respect for subject matter. If there is something elusive in his work that will continue to inspire me, it is this — I shall always hold in high regard the sense of “reverence” he brought to each layered plane of expression, to every choice of color or texture, to the symbolic meaning of each ingredient, and to the aesthetic harmony of the whole.
 

Otnes_Mussolini_1966

The Day Mussolini Dies . . .
Saturday Evening Post illustration by F Otnes, 1966

Society of Illustrators 16th Annual ~ cover by F Otnes

Illustrators 16
Society of Illustrators Annual cover by F Otnes, 1974

Atlantic cover by Fred Otnes, April, 1989

The Last Wise Man
Atlantic cover by F Otnes, 1989

National Geographic illustration by Fred Otnes

(title unknown)
National Geographic illustration by F Otnes (rights managed)

Piero ~ traditional collage by Fred Otnes

Piero
traditional collage by F Otnes, 1994

A Tragic Princess ~ collage painting by Fred Otnes

A Tragic Princess
collage painting by F Otnes, date unknown

Liagre ~ Fred Otnes ~ 2002

Liagre
collage painting by F Otnes, 2002

Drawing out the unfulfilled possibility

Saturday, May 2nd, 2015

“I am a great believer in the primacy of drawing as a means of engaging the world and understanding what you’re looking at.”
– Milton Glaser

“Why do you make collage artwork when you can draw?” People who broach the subject rarely come at it quite so directly, but even if they did, the question would not be any easier to answer. To begin with, I do indeed draw, and have since the dawn of memory, and I bring that ability to my work as an illustrator, portrait artist, watercolorist, and wood engraver. My enthusiasm for collage is rooted in something else — an impulse not entirely clear to me. I am grateful for all my talents, but I was educated and trained as a designer, and the practice has done more than enable me to create a life as an independent creative professional. It has become embedded in my consciousness. Decades of visual decisions have informed my responsive intuition. Collage is part design experimentation, part painterly expression, part artisanship, and part meditation. It is always a probing beyond expectations, an exploration of potentials, a harnessing of associations in flux. It can be the result of self assignment, but the most exciting effects often grow out of ritual. For me, it is never disconnected from what is taking form in my current journal. Not true artist’s sketchbooks (much as I have always hope they would evolve toward), they inevitably become a record of verbal and visual thoughts or non-thoughts. Some of my journal experiments combine techniques and mediums in ways that have not yet found manifestation outside their covers. Perhaps some day the question will be: “Why do you also draw in your collage artwork?”
 

Untitled (necklace) ~ another journal experiment by J A Dixon

Untitled (necklace)
journal experiment by J A Dixon
9.5 x 6.25 inches

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

“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
(currently on consignment)

Many Waters Under Heaven

Friday, June 13th, 2014

“Put stardom and success aside and just go out and do it. It’s like painting. Don’t talk about it. Or, like writing. Put it down.”
— Jonathan Winters

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”
— Andy Warhol

After learning about a call for entries on the theme of “water,” at the new First Southern Community Arts Center in nearby Stanford, Kentucky, I leaped at the theme with a minimum of thought or calculation. I was overdue for the opportunity to create a larger piece, and it was good for me to push aside all the internal questions and mental gyrations which too often intrude on the genesis of a new work or new point of public contact. I mixed a batch of wheat paste, added a stabilizing measure of white glue plus acrylic medium, and dug into my stash of nature images. Hand manipulation of the surface with wet, rectilinear ingredients became an almost papier-mâché-like process that soon involved shapes of pure color. A sort of “low-tech pixelization” began to suggest the gentle clash of primeval and present — a Garden of Eden sweeping forward to the modern digital world.

When I delivered my artwork to the gallery and was assisted by a local artist and volunteer, Roni Gilpin, I could not have been treated better. Chasing my passion for collage, meeting pleasant people, and breaking into a new venue — I must remind myself from time to time that this is what it’s all about. I am excited about today’s artist reception, 4 to 7 pm (in downtown Stanford, adjacent to the superb Bluebird Cafe). Family is visiting from Davis, California, and everything is shaping up for an exceptional evening!
 

 

Many Waters Under Heaven
mixed-media collage
by J A Dixon
33 x 11.25 x 1.5 inches
(currently on consignment)
 
Purchase this artwork!

Roni “Sister” Gilpin
volunteering at
First Southern
Community Arts
Center