Various and Sundry Scraps ~ No.1

April 26th, 2018

Don’t we all want to be Cecil when we grow up?
There was a time when Merz was deemed degenerate.
Destruction of the Merzbau and the human toll in Hannover.
Kurt Schwitters and his fellow artists in captivity.
How synthetic cubism led to collage as a modern art.

Thanks to The Kurt Schwitters Society for sharing several of these links.

Mr. Kraler’s Distress

April 23rd, 2018

“I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”
— Anne Frank
 

It has been a distinct pleasure to perform in the company of some accomplished dramatic artists. I felt like a novice throughout our local production of The Diary of Anne Frank. There were times when the angst of my character, Mr. Kraler, spilled over into my off-stage being. So, naturally, I fell back on my own art and made a collage miniature as a creative catharsis. After a bit of sadness when the Secret Annex set was struck, I found myself eager to spend more time in the studio.
 
Mr. Kraler’s Distress ~ collage miniature by John Andrew Dixon ~ Danville, Kentucky

Mr. Kraler’s Distress
collage miniature by J A Dixon
8.25 x 9.375 inches
collection of the artist

from the diary of a collage artist . . .

April 7th, 2018

Opened by Customs was created in Lysaker, Norway, after Schwitters emigrated from Nazi Germany in 1937. Here he attempted to continue his Merzbau, or Cathedral of Erotic Misery, which he had begun in c.1923 in his apartment in Hanover. While living in Norway his work was exhibited in his homeland in the Nazi Degenerate Art exhibition. He left Norway for Britain in 1940 when Germany invaded the country. … The complex mesh of language and layers that comprise the work suggests a correspondingly complex web of ideas and emotions. The turmoil of the period (experienced by Schwitters as well as other German émigrés) is conveyed through the conflicting languages, both printed and handwritten, and the fierce red marks added using stamps, cut-outs and daubings. The titular German customs label, which takes a prominent position at the top left of the work, points to a lack of personal autonomy and compounds the sense that Schwitters is escaping ideological oppression. The lack of cohesion – the texts run in several different directions – may be indicative of the upheaval that both the artist and the continent were undergoing at this time.”
— Hana Leaper
 

When it was announced that the artwork of my friend and fellow collage artist Robert Hugh Hunt would be featured to promote the planned production of “A Diary of Anne Frank,” the long-dormant Thespian awakened inside of me. In a moment of pure impulse, I showed up at the audition and soon found myself cast in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

I admit to woefully underestimating the commitment of time and inward focus, not having been involved with theater for nearly fifty years. As a result, my studio work surface has lain fallow and my sense of personal priorities has been throttled. Perhaps you’ve experienced something similar to this — an abrupt, self-generated break in routine that causes the discomfort of withdrawal, but at the same time, a positive awareness that the impending return to creative output will bring a new, energized perspective.
An unforeseen synchronicity is the juxtaposition of performing a character in dread of Nazi abuse with my evolving thoughts about what it must have been like for Kurt Schwitters as he fled his homeland, or when he escaped peril a second time as Germany invaded Norway. I had no conscious regard for treading into this emotional process when I walked down the street to my local community theater. Weeks later, I have no illusions about ever being able to simulate the terror that people endured during those years.

I am gratified to be part of a fine ensemble in an exceptional play. If you happen to be in my neck of the woods, get a ticket for our show before the seats are filled.

 

Promotional items for our local production feature
the mixed-media artwork of Robert Hugh Hunt
.

Mouse in the House

March 31st, 2018

“You can’t really make ideas, create ideas. You know, all ideas are the same. They just wander by. If your house has mice, you never know when they’re going to show up, or how, or in which room. and great ideas are the same. They’re like mice. Just a mouse. A mouse in the house. And you step on its tail and you go, ‘Hold it, buddy.’”
— Jerry Seinfeld
 

Ideas will suggest ingredients, but, as often as not, ingredients will spark ideas. Actually, I prefer the latter. In discussing the groundbreaking Merz pictures of Schwitters, curator Isabel Schulz asserts that his materials “surrender their original function … but not all semantic meaning.” Those meanings can generate layers of additional meaning when ingredients combine in synergy. Before long, if the exterminator is not on site, the house is happily full of mice.
 
Mouse in the House ~ collage miniature by John Andrew Dixon ~ Danville, Kentucky ~ Kentucky Crafted Mixed Media Artist

Mouse in the House
collage miniature by J A Dixon
4.75 x 5.5 inches
 
Purchase this artwork.

The “Collagesmith” as Artisan

March 24th, 2018

“Even in the absence of inspiration and talent, I think that through sheer craft you can actually create extremely good work, all the time, reliably. Great work is something else. I think for great work you also need a lot of luck. You can only aspire to really good work. The great work either happens or it doesn’t.”
— Christoph Niemann
 

Sloppy collage artwork has never held much appeal for me. Individuals might define “sloppy” differently, so I’ll rephrase that. I have always found well-crafted collage artwork to be the most appealing. In practice, I have aspired to the highest level of artisanship to which I am capable. According to my peculiar notions, the very nature of collage as a “mash-up” of visual ingredients suggests that one resist all the inherent temptations to condone careless techniques. To do anything less is a disservice to the medium, and strikes me as being a bit lazy.

I have been at this long enough to contrast current activity with a study of my “early” work. I perceive it now as more crisp and aligned with my long stint as a designer and illustrator. I remain proud of craftsmanship that continues to challenge my present hand skills. Like everyone who sticks around, I have moved relentlessly toward a period of life when manual dexterity and vision are unlikely to improve. At any rate, clean, precise work is more about attitude and personal commitment than it is about facility. Lately, on the other hand, I have sought a more organic, less contrived look — the impression that a piece is naturally the way it should be, rather than appear too obviously composed and belabored. As I work, I try not to permit the goal of a somewhat softer and cohesive whole to suggest a relaxation of craft. In fact, I have gradually introduced steps in the process that demand extra time and attention: sanding the reverse side of ingredients for adhesive-saturated compression and eliminating white edges on printed scrap to enhance a seamless effect. I combine that with ample burnishing and some hair-dryer prep before curing time under weight, followed by multiple light-touch coats of matte sealant. I would rather be thinking about practical methodology or a musical playlist than what is literally evolving on the surface before me, allowing that to be as intuitive as possible.

And perhaps (just maybe), Lady Luck will smile.
 
Cosmic Crucifixion ~ J A Dixon

Cosmic Crucifixion
mixed-media collage by J A Dixon
2006, 16 x 16 inches
available for purchase

Master of Merz

March 17th, 2018

“Schwitters began making collages in 1918 and produced them in large numbers for the remainder of his career. In 1919 he began using the term ‘Merz’ (which originated from the German word ‘Kommerz’, meaning ‘commerce’) to describe his principle of assembling found materials.”
— Louise Hughes
 

Das Kirschbild — a fitting followup for the previous entry on abstraction.

And for those of us who never tire of learning new things about the incomparable Master of Merz:

from the Armitt Museum Collection in the Lake District

from the Tate Britain

from the Guggenheim

from the Sprengel Museum Hannover

 
Merzbild 32 A. Das Kirschbild ~ K Schwitters

Merzbild 32 A. Das Kirschbild
Kurt Schwitters, 1921
The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Abstraction in Collage

March 10th, 2018

“In the ’20s, dadaist Kurt Schwitters collected bits of detritus such as cigar bands and bus tickets and used them in collages. They were shocking then but with the passage of time have taken on the aura of classics: vibrantly colored and harmonious arrangements of abstract forms and only incidentally assemblages of junk.”
— John Ashbery
 

About a hundred years ago, a handful of Europeans had set out to invent what we now know as the medium of collage. Nearly all of them were painters. From the beginning, collage was rooted in modern art concepts that were emerging at the same time — the fundamentals of abstraction. Thus, the evolution of abstraction and collage in the 20th century are entwined, and remain so in a burst of contemporary activity in this post-centennial period. Next year will mark a full century of Merz. Artists working in collage abstraction carry the “creative code” of Kurt Schwitters and his seminal innovations. But, allow me to pause here and point out something that has become increasingly obvious: conventional art history was woefully male centered. Intentionally or not, the discipline would downplay or ignore many exceptional women artists, and that includes collage antecedents which were largely the domain of females, especially in the domestic or folk arts. For example, an interesting feature at moowon.com highlights the forgotten art of Chinese textile collage. from his Cockatoo Series ~ an homage to Juan Gris by J CornellPicasso lifted visual ideas from tribal cultures. Cornell borrowed techniques tied directly to Victorian crafts. We understand that now. Modern art did not spring fully formed from the brow of Zeus like the armored goddess Athena. Fast forward to 2018. Many of the most accomplished and widely recognized collage artists of today are women. And the best part is that we know about them.

Melinda Tidwell is one of the dedicated abstractionists in collage that I enjoy following. She has a solid and very articulate designer “upstairs” guiding each decision, but her regard for the unexpected is a strong part of her intuition. Last summer, she published a two-part discussion of “order versus disorder” at her blogsite. It features abstractions by Lance Letscher and is well worth checking out.

Please indulge me as I share examples of collage abstraction from artists who continue to favorably capture my eye. Some of them range into mixed media in a way that remains very much collage. Others are strictly “painting with paper.”

Merz is alive and well in the 21st century, my friends.
 

(title unknown)
abstract collage by L Letscher

(title unknown)
abstract collage by M Tidwell

11zc18
abstract collage by Z Collins

Elysburg IV
abstract collage by C Chapman

Ellington
abstract collage by D McKenna

Osmosis 3
abstract collage by C Emeleus

Antoinette
abstract collage by W Strempler

Music
abstract collage by S Kraft

from her series, BALANCE
abstract collage by S A Herman

Day 18 of 40
abstract collage by C Neubauer

Red Cottage — from her series, SENSE OF PLACE
abstract collage by P A Turner

(title unknown)
abstract collage by J C Martin

Reap ~ G Cooper

Reap
abstract collage by G Cooper

Cognitives and Conclusions
abstract collage by S Ringler

Dynamic Stability ~ J A Dixon

Dynamic Stability
abstract collage by J A Dixon
 
Purchase this artwork.

Scrutiny of the Leper

March 3rd, 2018

 
Scrutiny of the Leper ~ collage miniature by John Andrew Dixon ~ Danville, Kentucky ~ Kentucky Crafted Mixed Media Artist

Scrutiny of the Leper
collage miniature by J A Dixon
5 x 6.875 inches
 
Purchase this artwork.

a light of meaning . . .

February 28th, 2018

“As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.”
— Carl Gustav Jung
 

I come from a family heritage of people who have sought meaning in devotional activity. Whether or not I carry on their particular practice, a subconscious inheritance often bubbles to the surface through my creative rituals. I’ll leave it to others to suggest if any spark of light has been kindled. It would be gratifying to think so.
 
Uncle Art’s Homilies ~ J A Dixon

Uncle Art’s Homilies
collage miniature by J A Dixon
4 x 5 inches
 
Purchase this artwork.

20th-Century Man, 21st-Century Artist

February 21st, 2018

Earlier this month I had the privilege of attending a gallery talk by Kentucky artist Robert Hugh Hunt, as he outlined his ambitious “Twentieth-Century Icons” collage portrait project and described an attitude toward the medium that is profoundly thought provoking.

R H Hunt gallery talk at the Community Arts Center in downtown Danville, Kentucky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You may be aware of Robert from his long-running Hillbilly Voodoo collaboration with T R Flowers or the way he brings an individualistic mixed-media aspect to contemporary collage. Hunt and I have done our own collaborative works together and we share the experience of creating collage artwork in a geographic environment that often responds to the medium with a sense of bewilderment. Clearly, this circumstance is no impediment to the strong personal approach that runs through Robert’s body of work. He describes himself as a twentieth-century man, but his art is always fresh and intuitive. It springs from a deep cultural awareness that is inseparable from his creative identity.

Hunt told me that he thinks there is lot of negativity towards collage. “I hear people say that collage artists are only using something someone else has created,” he said. “The word appropriation is bandied about. This is true to a certain extent. Collage is a medium steeped in appropriation, and as such is delegated to the status of the red-headed stepchild of art. But to me collage or any medium has to transcend the material used to make it, to truly be art. It is the collage artist’s job to use the appropriated imagery, and, by changing and manipulating it, to relay his own message and to find his own voice.”

Katrien De Blauwer recently brought our attention to the same topic with a link to this page at WIDEWALLS, where Elena Martinique suggests that the term adoption is “more appropriate to describe the level of care one should take when using someone else’s creativity” as a point of takeoff. Many of us who pay attention have seen collage after collage that exploits a prominently featured, “load-bearing” image, with trite or superficial treatments that rely almost solely on the power or interest of a photographer’s or illustrator’s invested creativity. Most of us probably started out this way, and it can be initially absolved in student work. Professional or serious amateur collage artists must hold themselves to a much higher standard.

Perhaps that is why I lean toward “maximalism” in my own work. I don’t know what I would say to other creative people if they called me on merely tweaking their intellectual property with a note of irony, humor, or cosmic wonder. Robert Hugh Hunt’s in-process portrait of the 14th Dalai Lama ~ newest addition to his ‘20th-Century Icons’ seriesI have great respect for collage minimalists who bring a consistent level of innovation to work that actually transcends the component parts.

Robert Hugh Hunt moves from minimalism to maximalism with a particular voice that defies imitation. In the tradition of fine art collage, the unique instrumental sound of “Robbo” is heard above whatever compilation of raw ingredients he puts to use. But, for me, there is another dimension that is also present — an authenticity rooted in drawing that cannot be imposed with a contrived “outsider” style. I look forward with high anticipation to how he brings all of this capability to his emerging series of famous faces.
 


 

EinsteinTeddyAliAnne Frank
mixed media collage portraits by R H Hunt
16 x 20 inches each, 2014-2017

(below) R H Hunt at the Community Arts Center with his
in-process portrait of the 14th Dalai Lama

 
R H Hunt with his in-process portrait of the 14th Dalai Lama
 

 
Mama’s Story ~ R H Hunt

Mama’s Story
monochromatic collage by R H Hunt

collaborative collage on playing cards from ‘Hillbilly Voodoo’ series ~ R H Hunt and T R Flowers

collaborative collage
from ‘Hillbilly Voodoo’ series
R H Hunt and T R Flowers

The Story ~ R H Hunt The Five of Arts ~ R H Hunt Let Dad Live ~ R H Hunt
 
Struggling Man Upon the Rock ~ R H Hunt The Number ~ R H Hunt The Death Of Billy ~ R H Hunt
 
His Big Day ~ R H Hunt Thirst ~ R H Hunt

mixed media collage by R H Hunt
(click each to view larger)

Be mine . . .

February 14th, 2018

 
Valentines by John’s Haus of Cards!

Valentines by John’s Haus of Cards!