Archive for the ‘T Tharp’ Category

new year, new art, new approach

Monday, January 7th, 2019

“The most interesting paradox of creativity: in order to be habitually creative, you have to know how to prepare to be creative, but good planning alone won’t make your efforts successful; it’s only after you let go of your plans that you can breathe life into your efforts.”
— Twyla Tharp

“You take what you know, you take things you are comfortable with, and you throw them into a situation of new things, of things you are uncomfortable with, and, all of a sudden, new connections happen. And then your goal as a creative must be: of having the skill to carry it home without breaking it.”
— Christoph Niemann

Brandon Long is making a name for himself as an assemblage artist in Kentucky. He manages to juggle this with being a blogger, an active volunteer, and his full-time role as an outstanding family man. On top of that, he holds down a challenging, “multi-hat” position at our local Community Arts Center. This past autumn, his request to exhibit at their annual winter invitational arrived like clockwork: show the public an entirely new work, no jury evaluation, just put something at the leading edge of your creativity on display. There can’t be a single regional artist receiving that call who doesn’t value it as a rare opportunity.

I’d been thinking for much of last year about another immersion into larger works — not always a comfort zone for a self-described “miniaturist.” Add to that several months of recovery from a knee injury which limited my standing time. I reckoned I was overdue for a boost in the scale of my studio work. When it came time to plunge in, I realized it also was the perfect chance to reassess my current methodology. I wanted to explore a way of developing an abstract composition that was different for me. Could I combine and balance both a rational and non-rational process? By now, I had more than a decent foundation in each, but had never fused them in as mindful a manner as I considered possible. It didn’t turn out to be complicated at all, and yet it was a new approach for me, after more than twelve years as a dedicated collage practitioner.

Deciding to make three works at horizontal, vertical, and square proportions, I began with thumbnail concepts in my journal, moving from tiny doodles, to color sketches, and from there to rough collage miniatures. The activity was deliberate, but I tried to hold it at an intuitive level. After that, I moved to the typical task of preparing the “stretchers,” although nothing would be fabricated from scratch. I found a nearly fifty-year-old, unpainted canvas in remarkable shape. I stretched Pellon® fabric over a discarded picture frame. I paid almost nothing at a flea market for a castoff “student-esque” painting that needed some reinforcement, its canvas re-stretched, plus lots of primer. After sorting categories of available paper scrap into flat boxes, I was ready to explode into routine sessions of Merz assembly, with an occasional reference back to my preliminary ideas. When probing to the heart of intuition like this, a collage artist stumbles upon strange dynamics. For instance, there are times when you’ll ignore an emotion that says “this doesn’t belong,” only to press on and discover that it totally “works” with the next layering of ingredients. Perhaps this is more characteristic of collage maximalism than collage minimalism. I would accept that fully, but it’s fascinating to remain aware of the “joust” between whether to trust feelings or trust pure impulse, and to discern the difference. Finally, there came a point when I introduced the hard evaluation of a visual critique, before finishing with intentional refinements — and even that final stage allows for spontaneity.

It’s not always easy to know when a piece is done, and maybe it never really is. Eventually, an artist has to claim victory and sign the damn thing. I ended up delivering two works to the Center for the “New Year New Art” show, and let Brandon pick one that fit best. It was the square, the one I called Harmonic Squall.

Please give these four details your scrutiny. Let me know what you think, and, if you find yourself in the area, attend our opening reception this Friday evening. It’s always the first good party after New Year’s Eve!

Harmonic Squall (detail) ~ collage on canvas by J A Dixon     Harmonic Squall (detail) ~ collage on canvas by J A Dixon

Harmonic Squall (detail) ~ collage on canvas by J A Dixon     Harmonic Squall (detail) ~ collage on canvas by J A Dixon


Harmonic Squall ~ collage on recycled canvas by J A Dixon

Harmonic Squall
collage on recycled canvas by J A Dixon
26 x 26 inches
available for purchase
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Something worth thinking about

Monday, January 8th, 2018

“Whatever comes to mind is a good thing. Don’t think before you work, work before you think.”
— George Condo

As collage artists, we respond to the visual ingredients. Twyla Tharp calls it “scratching.” It has been described by various artists over the decades: Don’t wait for an idea. Don’t spin a mental wheel. If you are a storyteller, write some words. If you are painter, work the brush. If you are a dancer, let movement happen. At any rate, just go to the studio and do what you do. React to what takes place. Before long, there will be something worth thinking about.
That Red Boot ~ J A Dixon

Fairy Ring Flux
collage miniature by J A Dixon
4.6875 x 4.6875 inches
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“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
available for purchase

The March Exercise

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

“The unshakable rule is that you don’t have a really good idea until you combine two little ideas. That is why you scratch for little ideas. Without the little ideas, there are no big ideas.”
— Twyla Tharp

For a number of years, the month of March has held a special distinction for me as an artist. It all began in 2006 as a month-long experiment in focused awareness and evolved into an annual exercise to discover, refine, and internalize creative habits. Tomorrow morning the practice will commence again as I produce and post a collage miniature each day for the duration of the month. Of course, this is not a new idea. When it comes to doing this sort of thing online, most of us who concentrate in the medium will immediately think of Randel Plowman, the artist, author, curator, and blogger, who holds the A Collage A Day web domain. His successful publication, The Collage Workbook, brought heightened attention to the art form during its centennial year. Another individual who has made the online commitment is Portuguese artist Dilar Pereira, who maintains the Daily Collage Project. But when it comes to the ritual itself, who can hold a candle to the late John Evans? The New York artist created a daily collage for 37 years (except for a single day when he was too ill). Now that’s what I call an exercise!

Color Chart
collage on paper by Randel Plowman
8 x 8 inches
A Collage A Day

O Beijo
collage on canvas by Dilar Pereira
13 x 13 centimeters
Daily Collage Project

collage and watercolor on paper by John Evans
12 x 9 inches

Resolved . . .

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

‎”Every man should be born again on the first day of January. Start with a fresh page. Take up one hole more in the buckle if necessary, or let down one, according to circumstances; but on the first day of January let every man gird himself once more, with his face to the front, and take no interest in the things that were and are past.”
— Henry Ward Beecher

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson (thanks to four corners design)

It is interesting to see the contrasts inherent in various discussions about setting New Year’s resolutions. I think that most people who make them keep the practice to themselves, and the ones who do not are prompted to explain why, often coming from a position that seems cynical or overly critical to me. To be fair, some are simply being practical when they question the efficacy. For those who go out of their way to sow seeds of disdain for the customary list: it’s not about now long it stays viable, or about the resulting success rate, or whether it retains meaning in a culture where overt self-improvement carries a tinge of “fuddy-duddy-ness.” For me it’s about one’s mindset at the cyclical cusp. Is it not just “the thought that counts.” The thought becomes a renewal of self-belief, expressed in multiple line-items of striving. It requires introspection, evaluation, discernment, and commitment— hardly fashionable, to be sure. As an artist, I know that resolutions have worked for me at some level, just as they have for other aspects of my personal discipline (the effort to stop smoking, quit refined sweeteners, or get into marathon condition all began with a New Year’s Day pledge). The bad rap on resolutions probably has a lot to do with the familiar failure to abstain, and that’s understandable, given the nature of human behavior. For the most part, the average person underestimates the value of failure as a stepping stone to achievement. Some of the best insight I’ve read on the subject has been written and shared by choreographer Twyla Tharp. For a creative individual, positive resolutions can be an aid to tackling new challenges. Perhaps it is better to attempt a new ritual of focusing on priorities rather than resolving to banish procrastination, for example. Detrimental patterns can more effectively be overcome if one replaces them with beneficial habits. If a promise to oneself on January the First will help, I’m all for it.

Majestic Fetch ~ J A Dixon

Majestic Fetch
collage miniature by J A Dixon
6 x 6 inches

•  S O L D

Non-thought thinking

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

“Artists have a vested interest in our believing in the flash of revelation, the so-called inspiration … shining down from the heavens as a ray of grace. In reality, the imagination of the good artist or thinker produces continuously good, mediocre, or bad things, but his judgment, trained and sharpened to a fine point, rejects, selects, connects … All great artists and thinkers are great workers, indefatigable not only in inventing, but also in rejecting, sifting, transforming, ordering.”
—Friedrich Nietzsche

Chuck Close encapsulated this notion in his famous quote, “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and work.” Although the source of Woody Allen’s similar remark is unclear, he reportedly said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” In The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp spends most of her extraordinary book driving home the same point. To those who were listening in the 1800s, Ralph Waldo Emerson explained the idea almost 20 years before Nietzche in The Conduct of Life. He probably got it from Montaigne, who probably lifted it from some long-dead guy who wrote in Latin.

For me, as a collage artist, the important thing to internalize from this is the necessity of regularly exerting diligent effort at the table cutting and pasting. I’m a big believer in non-thought thinking (or non-thinking thought, if one prefers to think about it that way). It may feel like a flow of intuitive, subconscious responses, but make no mistake about it— the brain is making discreet associations, evaluations, decisions —all in fractions of seconds, as it processes the material one presents to it, by the hand and through the eye. And, if one deems it so, the activity is guided more by the heart’s intent than by outer cognition. Do this often enough and more creative possibilities will emerge than can be successfully fulfilled. That is precisely when the conscious mind must step in and take the helm.

Peppermint Condition by J A Dixon

Peppermint Condition
collage miniature by J A Dixon
6 x 6 inches
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