Archive for the 'Ingredients' Category

“LITTER-ALLY KENTUCKY” takes shape . . .

Wednesday, September 7th, 2022

“The thing is to be attentively present. To sit and wait is as important as to move. Patience is as valuable as industry. What is to be known is always there. When it reveals itself to you, or when you come upon it, it is by chance. The only condition is your being there and being watchful.”
— Wendell Berry
 

At the close of 2021, based on my plein-air practice to date, I applied to the Kentucky Arts Council and received a KAR grant with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. The goal of my project is an exhibition-worthy body of collage landscapes created from salvaged ingredients consisting of litter, trash, and recycled papers. The new works are en plein air interpretations of actual rural spots in Central Kentucky. The collection will be made available to partnering venues as a thematic exhibition that carries a call for greater awareness of how we interact with our environment. The traveling display will invite community engagement in the form of gallery talks, student opportunities, and online references — with a message for greater litter awareness and a cleaner environment in the Commonwealth.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
To fulfill this grant-supported process, I am nearing the end of my creation phase. It’s been a period of acquiring paper litter, arranging visits to rural locations, engaging with property owners who accommodate my on-site sessions, starting the landscapes outside, and making follow-up studio refinements. Collage artworks will have been made at over a dozen locations in six contiguous Central Kentucky counties around Danville. I avoid exceeding my outside time when completing a landscape indoors, to stay within a 50:50 ratio. There are techniques for details that are best left to the end, when the breeze is not a factor, but my goal is to retain the fresh, intuitive quality of the initial impression.

It often seems like I’m behind schedule, until I remind myself that the entire process is not unlike the act of being present in nature. The way forward can be revealed as much by receptivity as by forced progression. I’ll spend the balance of the year with finishing touches, having the artwork professionally framed, preparing support materials and promotions for my sought-after series of shows, plus contacting venues suitable for the traveling display (which will be chosen in part based on the anticipated reach and exposure for optimum audiences, including youngsters).

An important part of this project has been my desire to interact with the public about a relatively recent area of concentration for me as an artist — representational collage. Until they observe more closely, many people think my landscapes are traditional paintings. It’s been rewarding to watch this sense of discovery, so similar to what I experience as I explore the potential of art made from paper. This connection with others fired my enthusiasm and prompted me to propose a way to engage audiences with another layer of meaning. By including a higher percentage of litter and trash, I hope to further a conversation about the ongoing problem of litter in Kentucky and the solid waste crisis in general. As I exhibit “painted” rural scenes that were created with by-products of our wasteful society, I’m optimistic that my art will promote a more conscious regard for stewardship of natural places.

 

Near Catnip Hill
collage en plein air by J A Dixon
50% / 50% — site to studio
8.375 x 8.625 inches, 2022

Training the trainers in Eastern Kentucky!

Tuesday, July 26th, 2022

“We make a living by what we get;
we make a life by what we give.”
— Winston Curchill
 

I’m still feeling a satisfying vibe from one of the most personally rewarding events ever! My hands-on collage workshop was part of the “Train the Trainer“ series in Paintsville, Kentucky for the Johnson County Extension Office. Participating artists intend to share this learning throughout their community in the coming months. My thanks to a fabulous group of creative individuals who were curious about “all things collage” and inspired to “pay it forward” among fellow citizens in their beautiful area of our Commonweath.

After an opening presentation with my whirlwind tour through over 200 years of collage history, a demonstration offered cutting tips, the basics of pasting technique, an overview of translucency and transfers, plus an emphasis on maintaining the flow of improvisational layering. (See my end-result demo piece below.) Throughout the day we stressed the fundamentals of visual aesthetics, while keeping our focus on intuitive spontaneity within an experimental process. Tables cluttered with potential ingredients were the norm, as participants tackled three time-based exercises and produced a collage miniature for each. Their well-crafted, colorful solutions were the take-home product, and we managed to fit in a closing discussion full of important observations. I was impressed with the group’s talent, curiosity, and spirit of creative adventure! It was an astonishing thing for me to observe how fluently they attuned to the vocabulary of collage expression, having no prior awareness of Hannah Höch, Joseph Cornell, or the Merz of Kurt Schwitters.

 
It’s been a while since I accepted the role of teacher. I was surprised and concerned to discover that it was no longer within my “comfort zone.” I faced a gauntlet of self-assurance to run before I felt prepared. The delightful, encouraging Brenda Cockerham, our project leader, provided vital support. As ever, Dana was an indispensable “partner in all things.” Why must I periodically be reminded that giving back is every bit as significant as anything I get from my artistic practice? I’m a fortunate man, because cutting and pasting offers a universal experience that is effortless to share with others — if I just get out of my own way. Collage at all levels presents an ideal opportunity for individual receptivity. It’s rewarding to watch this sense of discovery, similar to what I experience myself as I explore the wide potential of art made from paper that would otherwise be cast away. This connection with others fires my enthusiasm to compile additional collage insights and to continue passing them along. There is much to gain within a shared creative environment when we take discarded stuff and create value where none existed, and find wonder, meaning, and beauty where none had been expected.

 

Don’t Clown Around
collage experiment by J A Dixon
created during my workshop demonstration
6.5 x 8.5 inches

Tenth Chapter: Painting from nature with paper

Saturday, February 19th, 2022

“Follow the ways of natural creation, the becoming, the functioning of forms, then perhaps starting from nature you will achieve formations of your own, and one day you may even become like nature yourself and start creating.”
— Paul Klee
 

As I pushed toward the hanging date for Change of Seen last month, I pulled out an unfinished work. In 2020 it had been my hope to complete it as part of the Paint By Nature entry — an interpretation of an urban oak tree. Everything was done except for the tree itself, which I’d wanted to paste together in a burst of spontaneity. The “start” went into cold storage when I ran out of time for two submissions. Fast forward to January 2022. Now I had the ideal scenario. My tight deadline would not allow me to indulge any slowdown or second guess. Positive, unanticipated things often happen when I occasionally challenge myself to work under a severe constraint. The hesitant, rational mind is sidelined in favor of an intuitive response that is rooted in everything one has ever created. This can be the case with music, writing, or nearly any artistic format, but the phenomenon especially lends itself to painting.

Interestingly, I’ve always preferred watercolors to other paint mediums because of its unpredictability and the “happy accidents” that occur. I admire oils greatly, but they hold no attraction for me as I approach my 70s. I hadn’t expected to discover that “painting in papers” could captivate me so and knit a reverence for nature into my art. One of the primary appeals of collage is total flexibility. It’s almost impossible to make a blunder, if one stays “in the zone” without letting the intellect gain an upper hand. When others use words such as exacting or meticulous to describe what I do, it usually throws me, because I consider my approach as more instinctive. And yet, there is no denying the presence of “artisanship.” With any task at hand, craft is essential. It was drilled into me with rigor after I chose the path of applied design. (That the young are asked to dedicate themselves to a particular discipline and to ignore countless alternatives is a weird fact of life. Many of us spend decades unraveling it.) So, a certain precision is fused into my method, even when I’m racing the clock. One man’s chaos is another man’s perfectionism.

I’ve lived my adult life trying to spin creative gold in a studio of one sort or another. A supremacy of the natural world in my youth had been set aside as part of an itinerary toward the graphic arts profession. Reflecting on a long journey that leads to the ever-rolling “now,” I recognize that nature was always calling. It influenced my leaving big cities for a smaller community. It provided a firm foundation for my diet and a health-oriented lifestyle. It was an unfailing source for well-being when conditions seemed out of balance. Even so, an unsatisfied need remained elusive until I finally took paper and paste outdoors, where the potential for inspiration was out of arm’s reach. That I could respond with collage, and find it so rewarding, is something I hadn’t foreseen.

If you want to start with the first chapter, you can find that story here. It’s been almost five years of direct observation, and I’m itching to begin a new season of working en plein air. The broader point I’d like to make is how the experience also has invigorated the way I approach representational collage in the studio. It feels like it’s all been funneled into an evolving intuition. Working outside has transformed how I make visual decisions even when using photographic reference under pressure, as I did with Grand Chinkapin. After quickly preparing piles of printed scrap that seemed appropriate for tree foliage, I was able to explode those ingredients into place with a minimum of conscious thought — not unlike I try to do every time I take my collage kit on location. “Painting from nature with paper” has become a more integrated practice, inside or outside. Change of Seen shares this adventure with others.

 

Grand Chinkapin
collage with combined mediums by J A Dixon
0% / 100% — site to studio
11 x 7.75 inches + shadow-box frame
available for purchase

Still Life with Peony Tulips

Monday, October 11th, 2021

“We think of the things we own and use as defining us in some way, but that can only be true if we first describe the things. Describing is a remarkable human act. It connects our inner and outer experience: as we observe and record the material world, we respond and reflect. We enter the realm where the material world meets the imagination. That’s the fertile ground of art.”
– Sheldon Tapley
 

I created this artwork for The Object Seen: Contemporary Still Life, current exhibition at Art Center of the Bluegrass in Danville. The juror was Sheldon Tapley, masterful painter, draftsman, and Stodghill Professor of Art at Centre College. I received a 2nd-place ribbon and cash prize. The honor came as a surprise, since I don’t consider myself a practitioner or student of still life as an art form. I have, however, looked deeply at artwork made by Sheldon and those who are. The arms-length quality of modern still life has compelled my close scrutiny for many years. Given that influence, I brought to the genre what I’ve discovered by “painting in papers” from direct observation (the long sweep of art history hovering somewhere outside my conscious awareness, with its rich tradition of artists tackling visual cornacopias of objects and edible fare). I decided to interpret a tabletop group of objects from raw material, rather than assemble a conventional collage composition from found images.

Please view a video clip of the juror’s remarks about my artwork.

The peony tulip blossoms were created en plein air in a local flower garden. The small “still life within a still life” was commenced and partially finished from a setup of actual objects. I relied on photo reference for the rest. Ingredients include colored paper (printed and unprinted), wallpaper, ruined book parts, tissue, reclaimed tea bags, string, and a dried leaf, plus minimal use of walnut juice, burnt coffee, tinted paste, and marker-ink edging. Adhesives include wheat paste, acrylic matte medium, and white glue.

 

Still Life with Peony Tulips
collage on salvaged canvas
18 x 23.75 inches

•  Second Place Prize

Paint the town. (With paper!)

Saturday, July 3rd, 2021

“If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.”
— Mario Andretti
 

One week ago, I spent a windy Saturday in frantic competition with the clock, and managed to get an outdoor collage artwork framed and delivered for Lexington’s annual Paint the Town plein air event. At the opening reception that same evening, I was stunned to get a prompt sale and 2nd-place prize. It was one of the most exhilarating twelve hours I’ve experienced in quite a while.

Oh, the dubious lengths some of us will go to chase artistic intensity — even the temporary madness of extreme deadline pressure — all in the pursuit of rapt spontaneity. Heaven help me!

It doesn’t seem so long ago when I first took my collage obsession out of doors, and this kind of open challenge was a goal too absurd to contemplate. I had scouted the location and spent a couple days in preparation. By the time I’d registered a blank canvas, raced to my site and set up, one of the precious six hours had evaporated. I began to battle the breeze (nothing new there). Nor were the other 40 artists involved my foes. It was clear that the only towering opponent I faced was a daunting imperative to speed up my process. I’ve never pasted paper so fast in my life!

The judge said this about my piece: “I was very interested in the way this artist managed to create such an evocative landscape using collaged paper — and on a windy day! Places and buildings often hold so many memories and meanings, and the use of text on the siding of the buildings — with the words appearing in reverse, so they become texture and tone — adds another level of meaning.”

It’s gratifying, and profoundly reinforcing, to have a knowledgeable evaluator find significance in aspects that have evolved gradually to become a natural part of my plein air method. I appreciate her remarks, the organizing effort of all those with Arts Connect, the camaraderie of the participating artists, the buyers (Scott and Paul), the indispensable support of my dearest partner — and you, reader, for visiting here and for reading all of this!

Onward to the next challenge!

 

Off Upper
plein air collage on canvas by J A Dixon
12 x 12 inches

•  Second Place Prize / S O L D

Renewal

Friday, June 18th, 2021

This artwork was created for and accepted into BEGINNINGS/ENDINGS, a virtual exhibition organized by Kate Savage at Arts Connect in Lexington, Kentucky. It began with musings on the cyclic lives of trees as a resource. Searching my stash for collage ingredients prompted what I consider a spontaneous work of abstraction as much as an interpretation of the exhibition theme.
 
Renewal ~ collage on canvas J A Dixon

Renewal
collage on canvas by J A Dixon
12 x 12 x 1.25 inches
available for purchase

New Birth, New Growth, New Beginnings

Friday, May 28th, 2021

“Younger than we are,
      O children, and frailer,
Soon in the blue air they’ll be,
      Singer and sailor.”
 
  — Nest Eggs | A Child’s Garden of Verses,
      Robert Louis Stevenson, 1900
 

Today is the final day of “New Birth, New Growth, New Beginnings,” a juried exhibition celebrating spring at Art Center of the Bluegrass. My accepted artwork originated from a satisfying blend of subject, medium, and poetic reference.

The green space that surrounds my home studio has been a haven for multiple generations of robins. A surreptitious, close-up glimpse of their familiar nest eggs was the visual idea that dislodged any others I might have used to interpret the theme. Spring is my favorite time of year, as it is for many, and perhaps the finished piece captures how my imagination is charged with anticipation for nature’s annual season of renewal. There is also something about the chaotic order of a bird’s nest that ideally lends itself to collage ingredients. I wanted to include the textural patterns of printed text, along with actual organic substance — in this case, the inner membranes of hard-neck garlic stalks from the previous year’s harvest. The “patina” of salvaged wallpaper from a nearby historical tear-down provided areas of desired subtlety. Relying on reclaimed tea-bag material has gradually become an integral part of my technique, but I hadn’t put it to use before with such a linear quality. For zones that would benefit from deeper shadow, I added walnut juice to my typical polymer sealant and “smoothed” the eggshells ever so slightly with colored pencil and a milky tint (giving rise to the final description of “combined mediums”).

Human civilization has increasingly peeled itself from the balanced interdependence of the natural world. More of us are doing our best as individuals to fix that torn relationship. There are different ways to promote a necessary restoration. It’s important to discover as many as possible. I find myself taking more advantage of bringing art to nature and nature to art. I am thankful that my life conditions grant me creative opportunities to experience this healing process.

 

Soon in the Blue Air They’ll Be
collage with combined mediums on structured panel
J A Dixon, 20 x 25 inches

•  S O L D

March Ex(plosion)  |  Thirty-First and Done

Wednesday, March 31st, 2021

This is the final piece in my month-long collage-per-day ritual. I’ll bet I’m not the only one whose mom used to say, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.” The admonishment stays sharply influential. I feel that way in the studio at times, with a peculiar stash ready for decades of dining. But if one wants to keep on devouring, it might be important to watch “the size of the portions,” too. This plate was a ten-inch square dimensional collage on structured panel. And it would be unforgivable to neglect citing the hilarious scene from Philomena as another distinct motherly reference.

March is over. April is served. Bon appétit.
 

Size of the Portions
collage artwork by J A Dixon
10 x 10 x 1.5 inches
for the 2021 March Ex(plosion)

Synthesis — six details for study

Sunday, January 31st, 2021

“Great performers focus on what they are doing, and nothing else…They let it happen, let it go. They couldn’t care less about the results.”
— John Eliot

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
– Viktor E Frankl
 

Completion brings varied doses of relief, disappointment, astonishment, regret, and pride. To sort them out, it is beneficial to self-assign the task of tight scrutiny while a measure of internal evaluation is front of mind. It is sometimes interesting to experience a perceptible transition from “hate it” to “that ain’t bad” — or from “wow, cool” to “perhaps if I had instead.”

With Synthesis, I found that I didn’t need for a state of high criticism to slowly diminish. This time around, a sense of broad satisfaction could not be denied. Even so, I undertook my customary ritual of zoomed-in photo crops, looking for strengths and weaknesses before the full aura of the creative process had faded. The handy smartphone camera makes for an uncomplicated post-mortem examination. Self-directed questions don’t always have answers, but it is important to ask them anyway. Have you made effective use of your ingredients? Did you achieve your hoped for balance of design logic and intuitive spontaneity? Is there a coherence when you compare the overall impression from a distance and the up-close, microcosmic structure? Were your original aesthetic goals for a well-composed yet “maximalist” effect fulfilled?
 

   

   

   

Synthesis (six details for study)
collage on canvas by J A Dixon
48 x 36 inches
available for purchase

Thursday, December 31st, 2020

2020 JOURNAL:
Looking at my final experiment of the year while developing a large work on canvas.

Did we leave 2020 better than we found it? Each individual will decide.
 

Untitled (dark4x)
collage experiment by J A Dixon
7 x 5 inches

Strike a light!

Sunday, May 31st, 2020

“Edinburgh Collage Collective would like to send a huge thank you to all the participating collage artists from around the world who have joined us for this project. Our matchbox project has attracted over 1000 submissions. It’s been a great pleasure and inspiration to receive and share all the incredible work. We have certainly seen examples of artists thinking both inside and outside the box. The exploration of the medium has resulted in a wide variety of diverse approaches and interpretations. We have seen everything from 2d flattened boxes to full blown dioramas – all taking their inspiration from the humble matchbox.”
— Rhed Fawell, E C C
 

I was inspired to compose something different for the “STRIKE A LIGHT” Matchbox Project, an open call from Edinburgh Collage Collective, which invited international collage artists to make work incorporating the matchbox as a visual starting point. It was a fun submission for me, since I rarely explore 3D collage.

The two shuttle trucks by Tootsie Toy® are from 1967. The original Union Match box (with Vincent peeking out) is one I brought back from Brussels in 1974. The whole thing was sparked by finding a tree frog.

Better not ask me to explain how my mind works. I’m still as baffled by creativity as I was when I decided, as an adolescent, that there was no possible aspiration for me other than to become a visual artist.
 

Strike a Light
photo-collage by J A Dixon
created for the #strikealight2020 project