Archive for the 'Thumbnails' Category

A Creative Synthesis Revealed

Friday, January 29th, 2021

“Improvising is the closest thing I do to meditation. I have to respond honestly to what’s happening in the music.”
— Michelle Dorrance

“Order is not enough. You can’t just be stable, and secure, and unchanging, because there are still vital and important new things to be learned. Nonetheless, chaos can be too much. You can’t long tolerate being swamped and overwhelmed beyond your capacity to cope while you are learning what you still need to know. Thus, you need to place one foot in what you have mastered and understood and the other in what you are currently exploring and mastering.”
— Jordan B Peterson
 

The year culminated in my largest collage artwork so far. I’m pleased to announce its acceptance as part of REVEAL, a new display of large-scale, two-dimensional pieces in the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea. All of us might point to a milestone achievement. It can be the most effortless and the most challenging thing we’ve ever done, both at the same time.

Buried in a twelve-month cycle of worldwide catastrophe are countless stories to be told by artists who crossed the treacherous, often surreal territory of 2020. Perhaps they are less significant than what so many others endured, often within tragic circumstances, but creative people have had to face unprecedented disruptions like everyone. Restrictions under pandemic transformed many aspects of individual practices. I am very fortunate to have been able to continue working in the same isolated way characteristic of my long tenure from a home-based studio. Our regional plein air group managed to stay active. Artistic cross pollination flourished online. Opportunities for me to show art remained intact — all because many persevered to organize exhibitions that might have been conveniently postponed or canceled. Each person on that list overcame hurdles to make things happen, and to develop virtual adjuncts that held risks to a minimum. Amid the frustrating chaos, there are many things for which to be thankful.

As I’ve described here before, my experimental miniatures have been the basis for larger works on canvas. Decades of design decisions and influences enable my work to be intuitive in process. In late 2020, I challenged myself to take what I’ve discovered with explorations at a smaller scale and to formalize it as a merger of design structure and pure spontaneity. Within a large format, I can focus on a counterbalance of both. Synthesis is an example of this fusion.

For me, collage abstraction is about the creative tension between order and chaos, comparable to how a soloist elaborates extemporaneously on a written melody. The characteristics of the paper ingredients — color, value, shape, line, texture — serve as the notes, rests, and rhythms of the composition. Thumbnail studies represent the evolution of a “manuscript,” analogous to musical notation, which then allows for an improvisational “performance.” But unlike a live concert, the visual artist can choose to return to a spontaneous expression and make deliberate refinements before declaring a piece “finished.” If so, it becomes similar to layering or enhancing tracks in a recording studio as the last step in a process. My bringing a large artwork to completion in this manner stands in contrast to the making of collage miniatures. There is a strong connection between the two rituals that I shall continue to explore.
 

Synthesis
collage on canvas by J A Dixon
48 x 36 inches
available for purchase

The spirit of my time . . .

Thursday, January 2nd, 2020

“Real trust does not need verification;
if you have to verify, it is not trust.”
– Charles H Green
 

Being part of a regional group invited to unveil a “fourth-quarter” creation in January is something that I’ve come to deeply appreciate. It’s getting difficult to remember any other way to conclude a year of creative activity. Because I’ve routinely written here about our New Year New Art tradition, I don’t want to overdo the point. To bypass the typical curatorial scrutiny and be entrusted with hanging something sight unseen is a gratification that every working artist should know.

Zeitgeist originated as part of a process that I began over a year ago, but it had taken a back seat to a couple of other ideas that got more attention at the time. All three had been sparked by the NYNA catalyst. The only restriction that comes with the invitation is that the artwork be completed after August. This time, I didn’t get rolling until after the Thanksgiving holiday.

I’d just returned from a trip to Pennsylvania. Long-postponed pilgrimages to Chadds Ford and Fallingwater finally had been realized. Visions from the Barnes Collection and the Philadelphia Museum of Art were spilling over within my inner sight. I decided to bring the third of the thumbnail concepts to fruition in a manner that would not have occurred to me in 2018. I wanted to create a highly energetic, maximalist piece without losing control of its compositional stability. A loose structure offered a starting point, but I had to alternate intuitive bursts of “Merz assembly” with rational decisions that would visually anchor the dynamism. In addition, coordinated “B-Roll” embellishments were prepared nearby in the studio and inserted at the final stage. The process would bring into greater focus a refined method of harnessing small-format spontaneity when working big.
 

 
 
look back
at early- and
late-stage views
of my newest
big-scale work

 
 

 
 
 
(click each
to enlarge)

 
 
 

 
 
My personal orientation to collage remains with smaller dimensions, although some may question the continued self-description as a “miniaturist.” The practice seems to be evolving toward more frequent oversized works, in which I usually embed at least one miniature element that could stand on its own. The annual New Year New Art showcase has provided beneficial opportunities for me to shift from a comfortable frame of reference and build a body of larger collage paintings.
 

Zeitgeist ~ John Andrew Dixon

Zeitgeist
collage painting on canvas by J A Dixon
36 x 20.25 inches
available for purchase

Journal Collage  |  First Page

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

“At first I put anything and everything in — phone numbers, appointments, grocery lists, in addition to things related to what I was thinking about for my work. Over the years the contents have become a shade more formal, and much more visual. There’s less of my hand (in the sense of sketches and drawings), more reliance on found material. But I’ve tried to keep the whole thing as loose and freewheeling as possible.”
— John Willenbecher

When I was 21, I had a single conversation with a man named Henry who boarded at the Cincinnati house where I lived. He seemed much older at the time, but I would guess now that he was barely 25. What I took away from that one exchange was Henry’s strong conviction that I should start a journal, as he had done several years before. Heeding his invaluable advice, I kept an active journal close at hand from that point forward. At first, it was just words, because I already had various sketchbooks as a student. Eventually, it became a comprehensive repository for personal notes, musings, doodles, and thumbnail ideas. As time passed, the content took on more of the character of visual exploration, with whole pages devoted to spontaneous collage experiments and studies for what might or might not lead to a finished artwork. I discovered that John Wllenbecher and others were calling their volumes “commonplace books,” a term more strictly applied to a “verbal scrapbook.” For some reason, mine also seemed a bit large for that particular name (sometimes 11 x 14, but most often 8.5 x 11), and so I’ve always continued to think of them as my journals. In combination with the many hundreds of handmade greeting cards I’ve created over the same period of time (nearly 40 years now), these private “chronicles” have served as the primary incubator for my work as a collage artist.
 

Untitled (Library Use Only)
journal collage by J A Dixon
8.5 x 11 inches, not for sale

The ’61 Olds

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”
—John Shedd

For some time now I’ve been observing how Matthew Rose and Randel Plowman make effective use of birds, and I acknowledge that there is something irresistible about including them in a collage. Most likely, it goes back to Joseph Cornell’s aviaries. I also noticed that I placed a bird in my Face with Asparagus as a sort of eyebrow. I intend to use that image as the “face” of The Collage Miniaturist. Below is a study lifted from one of my personal journals, which tend to be caught between a collection of organizational lists, private anecdotes, and diary of thumbnail sketches.

Since I’ve posted my review of Kathleen O’Brien’s recent exhibition, it’s probably time to sail this boat out into open water. Thinking of birds, perhaps I should say instead, fly out of the nest, —or— drive that ’61 Oldsmobile to a destination unknown. Tomorrow sounds good.
 

The ’61 Olds by J A Dixon

The ’61 Olds
collage miniature by J A Dixon
3 x 3 inches, not for sale