Archive for the 'J Cornell' Category

Journal Collage  |  Fifth Page

Monday, February 25th, 2013

“Time consecrates and what is gray with age becomes religion.”
— Friedrich Schiller

The collage artworks of Kurt Schwitters possess a “vintage” appearance to our eye, but it is essential to keep in mind that his “Merz” ingredients were predominantly gleaned from a concurrent environment. It was Joseph Cornell, via the influence of Max Ernst and others, who consciously selected antique images to reinforce the romance and melancholy of feelings past. Apparently, a significant number of active collage artists limit their resources to vintage found material. Don’t get me wrong; I love this work. The immediate “retro effect” can be quite compelling. It would take a stronger soul than mine to dismiss the inherent dignity that comes with the marvelous scrap from an outdated encyclopaedia or the now-funky gravitas of post-war, mass-market magazines. However, from my perspective, a vital element of contemporary collage is the incorporation of present-day material and the recycling of twenty-first century detritus. I find it even more interesting to see vintage ingredients effectively juxtaposed with the ephemera of our own time. Nevertheless, every serious artist has a set of aesthetic considerations, genre goals, and process parameters that mold decisions. Due respect should be extended to the overall objectives that each collage artist brings to this exceptionally diverse media.
 

Untitled (Just Another Prophesy)
journal collage by J A Dixon
8.5 x 11 inches, not for sale

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

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

Get the jumper cables

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

I’m keen on art history to quench a dry spell. Here’s my suggestion to a collage artist in a slump.

• Browse modern art movements that have influenced collage: cubism, dada, constructivism, expressionism, surrealism, pop art.

• Relax and study the seminal masters of the medium: Cornell, Paolozzi, Höch, Hausmann, Schwitters.

• Then go to your “morgue” of images, textures, ephemera, and found material: group various ingredients into piles, responding quickly, intuitively, and without conscious thought for composition or symbolic associations.

• Before you know it, you’ll have more ideas and embryonic projects than you can immediately deal with. React first to the ones that won’t be denied. With a bit of luck, a new series will emerge.
 

Tatlin at Home by Raoul Haussmann

Tatlin at Home
by Raoul Hausmann
1920

A Book About Death

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

“Ray didn’t talk about it, he just did it. That’s why you don’t find art magazines lying around quoting the art philosophy of Ray Johnson.”
—Toby Spiselman

Ray Johnson, the original “most famous unknown artist in the world,” produced his A Book About Death during the years 1963 to 1965. The pages were randomly mailed and offered for sale. Complete copies were compiled by a rare few. Johnson was a significant bridge between the groundbreaking work of Schwitters, the sensibilities of Cornell, and the emergence of what would become the most widely recognizable features of Pop Art. He was highly influential in the Mail Art, Installation Art, and Performance Art movements, as well as late 20th-century neo-Dadaist trends. Paris-based Matthew Rose has actively aroused a worldwide interest and vitality that perpetuates the legacy of A Book About Death, including a 2010 incarnation (in which I made a small contribution). The full history can be studied at this site.
 
ABAD 2010 by J A Dixon

ABAD 2010
collage miniature by J A Dixon
6 x 4 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

Seminal influences

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

“Books are to be called for and supplied on the assumption that the process of reading is not a half-sleep; but in the highest sense an exercise, a gymnastic struggle; that the reader is to do something for himself.”
—Walt Whitman

When I hear artists say they try to limit their influences, I think, “Nonsense.” Outside of some strange brand of sensory or cultural deprivation, it is simply not possible to avoid influences. That being said, why not regularly go to the masterworks and primary sources for direct, conscious influence to balance or offset the continuous bombardment of visual input from a culture steeped in nth-generation bastardizations? One cannot drive down a street, walk through a shop, or scan the media without being influenced in some way by a legion of art directors, graphic designers, and photographers—and these individuals may or may not have any direct knowledge of how they are re-cycling the ideas of innovative artists. Great writers understand where the basic narrative modes originated. Serious filmmakers know who first did this or that—a dream montage, in-camera trick, or other cinematic effect. One cannot imagine a Morricone who did not know a Beethoven who had never listened to Bach or Haydn. There is no way to conjure up an Emerson who did not know a Montaigne who had never read Lucretius or Diogenes.

The point of this is not to find fault, but to serve as a lead-in for what I intend to be a series of posts about my take on the primary innovators within the evolving medium of collage. Credit must be given to Braque, Picasso, Gris, Duchamp, and others, but, for me, the study must begin with Kurt Schwitters and Joseph Cornell. Any person dedicated to collage who neglects these masters will fail to understand the foundation of the art form. What student hasn’t thrilled to her first startling, Höch-like montage, cut and assembled from discarded magazines? What young person does not, at some point in his creative formation, place a few found objects in a small box, pause to consider the intriguing effect, and not wonder, “Is it art?” Ultimately, what I end up saying here about the key historical figures is far less important than the overwhelming need for you to put your ideas and feelings into context with each one’s remarkable body of work, according to your own perceptions and priorities. For those who encounter their creations for the first time, the inevitable thought will be, “So, he was the first guy to do that…” (except in the case of Höch, of course). Whether one rejects, reveres, ignores, imitates, or “rips off” the great seminal works of collage, one must do so with full awareness. Walt Whitman’s admonishment to writers can equally apply to visual artists. Except for those who approach the medium of collage as a hobbyist, we owe it to ourselves to partake of the “gymnastic struggle.”

Gris | Schwitters | Höch | Cornell

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

Welcome to The Collage Miniaturist.

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

The Collage Miniaturist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, July 21, 2012

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.