Archive for the 'Larger Works' Category

Quarry

Monday, May 3rd, 2021

“Perpetual devotion to what a man calls his business is only to be sustained by perpetual neglect of many other things.”
— Robert Louis Stevenson
 

ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS, the virtual exhibition organized by Kate Savage at Arts Connect, had its online event with artist commentary yesterday. As I prepared some remarks about my included artwork, I looked back to see what I’d written about it after its completion in 2019.

Nothing — that’s what I found.

With an emphasis on documenting my journey into making collage en plein air, I’ve apparently neglected to say as much about a corresponding investigation of studio-based landscape. Being a self-taught illustrator and fine artist, working from photographs has been a central part of the creative process — at least since my days as a “gopher” student in the 1970s, when I assisted veteran commercial artists compile reference scrap for tight-deadline assignments. In recent years, my work on location is informing how I do a collage painting indoors from a photo.

Quarry is a fitting example, created from a wonderful image by Jeff Hiles, an Ohio photographer who generously gave a green light to interpret his work in another medium. My piece also dovetails nicely with the theme of the show. More importantly, it demonstrates how I’m gradually learning to bring into the studio the sense of immediacy and intuitive spontaneity that I experience when working directly from a natural scene.

 

Quarry
collage landscape by J A Dixon
25 x 18.5 inches
on panel, framed
available for purchase

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

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

Perspectives deserve to be reexamined

Saturday, February 8th, 2020

“Don’t think of it as failure. Think of it as time-released success.”
— Robert Orben

“If you’re doing it for prizes, you’re in big trouble.”
— Linda Ronstadt
 

Alphanumero is a large composite of 35 miniatures that I created for my first solo collage exhibition in 2007. It was acquired earlier this week by Bluegrass Care Navigators through the coordinating assistance of LexArts, the dynamic arts organization of greater Lexington, Kentucky. My sincere thanks to community arts director Nathan Zamarron for his professionalism and hard work.

Spontaneous expression within structural order had been my goal, as I created each individual “A-to-Z” and “1-to-9” composition from found material and combined mediums. I had no overall value-scale or color scheme in mind, so I didn’t see the effect of the sequential, up-and-down “path” until final assembly. With a bit of hindsight, the influence of my graphic design foundation is quite obvious, and I was only beginning to devote myself to an improvisational approach.

For a long time after that, I would focus on isolated miniatures as finished works. Alphanumero was a large and time-consuming affair, with a relatively expensive price. It’s no surprise that it took awhile to find a buyer. I’m pleased and gratified that it has.

I’ve had many thoughts about the piece over the last dozen years, and I now question the validity of some. I haven’t created anything similar at that size since. Although there might have been a sound motive for that, my likely rationale was that the original version hadn’t sold. That is not a good basis for discontinuing an artistic investigation. Thinking that a piece has a strong chance of being purchased is an equally wrong-headed reason to make a work of fine art. Yes, the creative calling exists in a marketplace, and that consideration is always present, but shouldn’t we try mightily to strip “merchandising” from our incentive to enter the studio each day?

Easier said than done . . .

 

Alphanumero
composite of collage miniatures by J A Dixon
30 x 40 inches, framed

•  S O L D

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

Quantum Entanglement

Thursday, May 16th, 2019

“Einstein had no difficulty accepting that affairs in different places could be correlated. What he could not accept was that an intervention at one place could influence, immediately, affairs at the other.”
— John Bell
 

After a long dry spell, I’m pleased to be back tearing and gluing. The result is my contribution to the Art-full Affair, sponsored by the Arts Commission of Danville/Boyle County, to raise financial support for local arts scholarships. Quantum Entanglement has been selected for the live auction tomorrow evening.

Stay tuned for a look at what has kept me out of the collage studio since the end of February.
 

Quantum Entanglement
collage on canvas by J A Dixon
28 x 22 inches

•  S O L D

the uncanny path . . .

Monday, January 14th, 2019

“What more can we ask than to never know what to expect?”
— Paul Violi
 

The opening reception for the annual New Year New Art exhibition at our Community Arts Center was a massive success. Collage artist Connie Beale had a superb artwork on display, but she managed to slip out before we could include her in a group picture. So, we asked the ever-helpful Kate Snyder to grab a shot of “three collage dudes,” back in the corner where Robert Hugh Hunt was showing a new addition to his “20th Century Icons” series — President Jimmy Carter. I was delighted to see included within the mixed-media portrait a collection of Jimmy heads that I’d surrendered to Robert earlier in the year. Strategic Quake ~ collage on stretched fabric by J A DixonStrangely enough, the envelope had been lurking in my stash for decades, after the faces were clipped from newspapers during the Carter presidency. It can take a while for certain elements to find their destination, on the uncanny path toward a collage outcome.

My Harmonic Squall was hanging nearby. As these things often play out, I was a bit more pleased with the piece each time I saw it. The residual sense of heightened criticism was continuing to wear off. One certainly doesn’t want the effect to move in an opposite progression. It makes me think of the companion artwork that just as easily could have been part of the exhibition — an extreme vertical that I called Strategic Quake. Both were the result of an evolved process that I touched on in last week’s entry. I’ve been meaning to post the one that wasn’t selected, too (above), along with an image detail (below, for a zoomed-in look). “Spatial manipulation, a unified color scheme, and compositional balance” might be a good way to describe the goals I’ve set for a collage abstraction. It needs to look strong from a distance, with the ingredients becoming the “brushstrokes” that provide visual interest at a closer viewing distance.
 


 

Strategic Quake (detail) ~ collage on stretched fabric by J A Dixon

Strategic Quake (detail)
collage on fabric by J A Dixon
12.5 x 28.25 inches
available for purchase
 
Purchase this artwork.

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

four
details
from
Harmonic
Squall

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
 
Purchase this artwork.

Nothing foul in sight . . .

Saturday, September 29th, 2018

Newlyweds + Gift Art  —  If you frequent this site, you know that there are many different categories of collage. If anyone finds a more rewarding one than this, I want to know about it!
 
 

Fowl Language
collage on structured panel by J A Dixon
11.5 x 11.25 inches
private collection

Make it count

Saturday, June 23rd, 2018

“True desire in the heart, that itch that you have, whatever it is you want to do, that thing that you want to do to help others, and to grow, and to make money, that desire, that itch, that’s God’s proof to you, sent beforehand, to indicate that it’s yours already. And anything you want good you can have, so claim it, work hard to get it. When you get it, reach back, pull someone else up…”
— Denzel Washington
 

Denzel is the quintessence of the successful artist, and, by all appearances, he has defied the stereotype by cultivating humility and magnanimity. He also says, “Each one, teach one.” There are many ways to teach, and the opportunity presents itself differently at various points in our creative life.

I have always tried to compare and contrast the human qualities of those who have reached the pinnacle of an art form, and to remember that it cannot be about the creative result alone. When someone like Denzel advises, “Don’t just aspire to make a living. Aspire to make a difference.”, there is a desire for us to examine our definition of success, and it undoubtedly comes from his own life experience, one that’s had its ups and downs, its in-focus and out-of-focus moments.

For me, a passion for traditional teaching was more of a young person’s enterprise. I taught art to youngsters back in the “halcyon days” before background-check requirements, and spent seven years in my 30s as an adjunct professor in a university environment, taking what I was learning in the studio and sharing it with those just starting out. Other artists arrive at giving back much later in life, and bring to teaching their mature insights and proven practices. But, for me, the making of gift art has been the most fulfilling way to teach others in an unconventional way. Beyond a demonstration of willingness to give the gift of time and artistic effort instead of monetary value, one can also stimulate curiosity about the creative process that is personally powerful to young people.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
My Cosmosaic Series is only one of the ways that I have tried to meet this obligation. It is almost impossible to describe the reaction of young people when they realize that you’ve made them the object of an exercise in pure creativity, as well as the recipient of the finished work. Many profound conversations have been the result — discussions about life aspirations and individual destiny that would have been awkward or futile to jump-start in another context. It should go without saying that this is merely one way to teach another about one’s most significant values, but it happens to be one that is readily available to any imaginative individual.

As always, keep creating lots of stuff, but let’s not forget to make some of it count in an exceptional way. Pulling someone up a bit may be the most selfishly meaningful thing of all.
 

Thirteenth Cosmosaic ~ J A Dixon

Thirteenth Cosmosaic
mixed media collage by J A Dixon
16 x 20 inches
private collection

Fourteenth Cosmosaic ~ J A Dixon

Fourteenth Cosmosaic
mixed media collage by J A Dixon
16 x 20 inches
private collection

Sixteenth Cosmosaic ~ J A Dixon

Sixteenth Cosmosaic
mixed media collage by J A Dixon
16 x 20 inches
private collection

Twenty-third Cosmosaic ~ J A Dixon

Twenty-third Cosmosaic
mixed media collage by J A Dixon
16 x 20 inches
private collection

Governor’s Derby Exhibit, 2018

Thursday, May 17th, 2018

My 3D collage from last summer, Star of Commonwealth, is currently on display as part of the Governor’s Derby Exhibit titled Reflections of the Commonwealth. It is an honor to have my artwork chosen and, reportedly, positioned near the door to the Governor’s offices. Yes, it’s a cool thing, if I do say so myself. The Kentucky-themed piece was created as part of the 225th birthday celebration for our Bluegrass State. I have yet to replenish my stash (hint, hint, wink, wink) that would enable me to do another similar artwork. The annual initiative coordinated by the Kentucky Arts Council is on view in Frankfort at the Capitol Rotunda through June 4th.
 
detail from ‘Star of Commonwealth’ ~ collage construction by John Andrew Dixon, Danville, Kentucky

Star of Commonwealth (detail)
mixed-media collage construction by J A Dixon
22 x 21 x 6 inches
available for purchase