Archive for the 'Merz' Category

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

March Ex(plosion)  |  Fourth Collage

Thursday, March 4th, 2021

 

Zot Zowee
collage miniature by J A Dixon
8 x 9.5 inches
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

Forgot to Make Merz (diptych 30)

Saturday, July 18th, 2020

 

Forgot to Make Merz (diptych 30)
collage miniatures by J A Dixon
1.75 x 1.75 inches each
left square | right square
available for purchase
 
< back to the comprehensive page of collage diptychs

Forgot to Add a Bird (diptych 45)

Monday, July 13th, 2020

 

Forgot to Add a Bird (diptych 45)
collage miniatures by J A Dixon
1.875 x 1.875 inches each
left square | right square
available for purchase
 
< back to the comprehensive page of collage diptychs

Forgot to Use a Grid (diptych 35)

Saturday, July 11th, 2020

 

Forgot to Use a Grid (diptych 35)
collage miniatures by J A Dixon
1.9375 x 1.9375 inches each
left square | right square
available for purchase
 
< back to the comprehensive page of collage diptychs

Forgot to Say Hello (diptych 780)

Sunday, July 5th, 2020

 

Forgot to Say Hello (diptych 780)
collage miniatures by J A Dixon
1.9375 x 1.9375 inches each
left square | right square
available for purchase
 
< back to the comprehensive page of collage diptychs

Good Ol’ Boy Dada

Monday, January 27th, 2020

“When Schwitters made the first collage by literally picking up a piece of rubbish, a sweet wrapper, a bus ticket and a piece of wood, that was pure invention.”
— Sir Peter Blake
 

For the many who revere his art, there’s a distinct Kurt Schwitters for each of us — rebellious creator, fearless performer, relentless out-of-the-boxer, proto-beatnik, or visionary theorist. In combination with his towering individualism, he was, by reports from those who knew him, affable, witty, optimistic, entertaining, and a practical joker. This is the Kurt who would be a pleasure to “hang” with, who others in the internment camp on the Isle of Man would hear each morning, barking like a dog. In our local Bluegrass culture, there is a phrase for such a character. Around these parts, he likely would’ve been known as a “good ol’ boy.”

In response to the international call by Ric Kasini Kadour to build a Schwitters’ Army collection at MERZ Gallery, the two pieces I created pay tribute to this particular K.S. Both were fashioned from street debris and highway litter accumulated from my immediate vicinity. One of them was mailed to Sanquhar, Scotland. I haven’t decided what to do with “part 2.” Perhaps the series will continue.

In 2016, I wrote the following in my published essay on a hundred years of Dada: “Those of us who create collage art may not always describe our works as a tribute to the enduring, inclusive concepts of Merz, but that is precisely what they are, and we are indebted to that legacy.” As one who has never wearied of the endless astonishments in the far-reaching innovations of K.S., I am content to describe myself unabashedly as a working “Merzologist.”

Schwitters may or may not have been the original artist to embed found detritus in collage, but certainly he was the first to fully master a modern-art version of the medium when it emerged at the close of the Great War. Embracing every conceivable source ingredient, he would codify the new visual vocabulary, give it an umbrella name, and bequeath the methodology to unborn generations. He may have sensed that the window of opportunity for him to preside over such a grand human venture was closing. He never got to take by storm the art world of 1950s New York — something eminently suited to his personality. His work and writings have had to speak for themselves.

For me, the seminal creations that launched what we know as Merz can never be separate from the man himself — the one who directed subtle, irreverent jabs toward a gang of thugs who hijacked his culture, until it was impossible to stay put, and then, after facing further persecution in Norway with his son, reckoned that an icebreaker just might evade Nazi torpedoes long enough for them to reach the coast of Scotland. Probably that dauntless, wry, “Good Ol’ Boy” side of him was satisfied to leave us with this simple thumbnail declaration:

“My name is Kurt Schwitters.
I am an artist and I nail my pictures together.”

 
 

Good Ol’ Boy Dada, part 1
collage artifact by J A Dixon
7 x 9.25 inches

 

Good Ol’ Boy Dada, part 2
collage artifact by J A Dixon
7 x 9.25 inches

Schwitters’ Army Mobilized in Rural Scotland

Monday, January 20th, 2020

“. . .this is what we do in the collage community: we engage, we exchange, we manifest with one another. We emerge into a new state of being together. That is what makes art powerful. It connects us and takes us into the future.”
— Ric Kasini Kadour
 

Any collage artist who maintains even a casual curiosity about the legacy of Kurt Schwitters has to be enthusiastic about developments in Sanquhar. As someone who employs this space to exalt the “Master of Merz” without apology, I now feel compelled to praise Ric Kasini Kadour and his worldwide call to built a Schwitters’ Army collection of collage artwork at the center for learning established by David Rushton in the Scots town. Needless to say to an audience that visits this site with an interest in all things collage, Ric has made an impressive effort over the past few years to raise the level of discourse about a medium to which so many of us have dedicated ourselves. From Kolaj Magazine to Kolaj Institute to Kolaj Fest, he’s been making his mark for some time and clearly doesn’t intend to rest on his laurels.

As part of his curatorial efforts at MERZ Gallery, he has asked contributing collage artists to answer a few questions. As I prepare to ship my donation to the cause, I’ll publish my supporting remarks here for your potential interest.

Next time: a look at the artwork and my thoughts about the context of its creation.

What is your origin story? When did you first start making collage seriously?

The first collage art that I remember creating was in the 4th or 5th grade, probably in 1961 or 1962, when I used sample chips of color from a paint store to cut and paste a mosaic-like image that won the “Poppy Day” poster contest. It’s always stood out in my memory. I thought of myself as an artist from that point forward. Nevertheless, up into high school, I would feel the lack of any competent art instruction as a keen deprivation. I convinced my parents in 1967 to enroll me as a charter student in the home-study course co-founded by Norman Rockwell called “The Famous Artists Course for Talented Young People.” Unlike the successful version for adults on which it was patterned, the package of guided assignments for teens would fail in the marketplace, but not before exposing me to a diversity of fine and applied art mediums, including collage.

Who was the first collage artist you connected with?

The Famous Artists Course would bring to my awareness many influences in the area of collage and assemblage, including Fred Otnes, Robert Rauschenberg, Louise Nevelson, Joseph Cornell, and Kurt Schwitters. Although I didn’t understand his technical methods, I initially attached my affection to the visually comprehensible Otnes, and I’d emulate his montage approach throughout my years as a professional illustrator and designer. In contrast, a series of breakthroughs in my journey to unravel the Merz of Schwitters would take another forty years, culminating in my first solo exhibition as a collage artist in 2007.

How do you connect with the collage community?

I began writing about collage and showcasing my practice at “The Collage Miniaturist” in 2012. Since then, beginning with fellow artists in Kentucky who work in the medium, I’ve collaborated with a body of dedicated collage artists. I’ve also regularly entered pieces in national and international calls for collage and submitted my work to landmark exhibitions and permanent collections. Believing that cross-pollination in collage through worldwide virtual communities is a vital force in the so-called “Post-Centennial” collage movement, I follow hundreds of active collage artists through social networks. As much as possible for someone who continues to sustain an ongoing studio and exhibition schedule, I regularly comment on trending topics and answer questions in the digital realm.

 

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

To 2020 and beyond!

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019

 

detail from Autumn Ode (to Merz)
collage artwork by J A Dixon