Archive for August, 2012

Moon Blues

Friday, August 31st, 2012

“Structures can be understood and qualities felt in a single, balanced perception of order. Art attempts to discern order relations in nature. Data are set out in terms of recreated sensed forms; and the felt order is expressed in sensible structures exhibiting properties of harmony, rhythm, and proportion.”
—Gyorgy Kepes

What is it about seeing two full moons balanced on the first and last day of the month that compels me to create a collage with subjective connotations? The wonder of the celestial (and the potential for visual juxtapositions of the macro- and micro-cosmic) has long held me in its spell.

It is advantageous for a collage artist to have a well-organized “morgue” of categorized scrap readily available, in order to quickly assemble ingredient elements when a creative concept takes hold. It frees one to follow the germ of an idea with associative intuition. To tell the truth, I would not know any other way to successfully approach this type of collage. Having to hunt for an image is a spontaneity killer. One’s collection of pieces and parts should be based on one’s unique way of making connections. As with most artists, I began to save images in my youth, according to a personal and natural sense of classification. Over the years, the collection has been subjected to periodic refinement and culling, although I cannot bring myself to cut off the acquisitions for good, even though I know I shall never compose all the artworks that lay fallow in those file cabinets. There are, of course, other ways to catalyze and create a collage, and I shall talk about them at a future instance.

R.I.P. ~ Mission Commander Armstrong . . .

Moon Blues by J A Dixon

Moon Blues
collage miniature by J A Dixon
5 x 7 inches

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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
Purchase this artwork!

But is it art?

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

“With the institutionalization of belief, art becomes an instrument of social enhancement instead of what it is— a basic instinct of the human species.”
—Milton Glaser

For more than a century or two, the distinction between the illustrator and the artist has been an ongoing debate. Is there a significant difference, or is it primarily an artificial disparity? Most would agree that there is a contrast of intent— the applied artist subordinates certain aspects of personal expression for a commercial or social objective, and the fine artist is accountable only to the creative self. But what about the illustrator who is handed no constraints by the client, or the fine artist with a market-driven agenda? Like most things, shades of gray preside and one is left to place each instance on a spectrum, or to disregard all attempts to categorize the creative impulse in the first place. I’ll admit that I’ve always been more impressed with the very best of illustration, vintage or current, than with run-of-the-mill fine art, but who am I to judge what is “very best” or “run-of-the-mill?” Regardless of what critics, academics, or connoisseurs may think, the phenomenon of “to each his own” will always play a major role in the world of art. On top of that, public taste, analytical opinion, and the viewpoint of art historians can change radically over time. Thomas Bewick, Alphonse Mucha, Henri Toulouse-Latrec, Jessie Willcox Smith, Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron, Jessie Marion King, N.C. Wyeth, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Elenore Abbott, Charles Marion Russell, and Norman Rockwell are examples to consider (to name only a few from the past). Who knows how those in the future will classify Betye Saar, Al Hirschfeld, Bob Peak, Brad Holland, Gary Larson, Jack Unruh, Jean-Michel Folon, James McMullan, or Milton Glaser?

So, you may now ask, since you’ve been kind enough to read this far, what’s the point of all this name dropping and what does it have to do with collage? I suppose that I’m inviting you also to think about what causes an artwork to have an “illustrative look,” separate from the circumstances of its creation. Perhaps the variance between the fine and applied arts has as much to do with appearance as with motivation. I’m interested in your viewpoint, dear reader, and I hope you share it here with your comment. Are there effects a fine artist must always strive to elicit with a collage, if it is to be perceived as art, or methods that should be guarded against, to avoid the verdict of illustration? If a collage is used for editorial purposes, for promotion, or packaging, does that automatically make it an illustration or a graphic design? If a collage is composed for optimum appeal to the perceptions of a particular type of buyer (or a prospective collector who responds to nostalgia, a period look, or the bizarre), does that disqualify it as fine art?

Festive Tones by J A Dixon

Festive Tones
collage miniature by J A Dixon
6 x 6 inches

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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

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

Where credit is due . . .

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

“I never made ‘Who’s Who,’ but I’m featured in ‘What’s That?’”
—Phyllis Diller

America has lost not only a pioneering comedic performer, but also a multi-talented artist. Nevertheless, the image that is circulating in the wake of her demise is not a Diller self-portrait, but a work by skilled assemblage artist Jason Mecier, who had an exhibition called “Celebrity Junkdrawers.” Notice that his ability to create strong illusions of visual depth does not rest on the inherent dimensionality of ingredient objects, but on an astute interpretation of light and shadow.
Phyllis Diller gold by Jason Mecier

Phyllis Diller gold
mosaic portrait by Jason Mecier
40 x 40 inches

Marty’s Borggrrrl

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

“Art is the greatest risk of all because when you’re making something, you’re constantly asking yourself what the hell you’re doing.”
—James Rosenquist

The century-long history of collage casts a deep shadow into the creative present and beyond. It is startling to realize that even Pop Art has been around over half that time. There aren’t many things that haven’t already been tried, or many effects that stake their ground removed from Dada, Surrealism, Constructivism, or one of the other movements influenced thereby. A collage artist must respect and acknowledge the past with a clear mind, internalize it as a part of the intuitive process, and follow a personal investigation anchored on risk. It’s not easy to successfully defy expectations, whether one’s own or the anticipated response, but everything else is practicing etudes or mere fabrication for the marketplace.

Marty’s Borggrrrl

Marty’s Borggrrrl
collage miniature by J A Dixon
collection of J M Strock, Jr

Fifty Camels

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

“Synchronicity takes the coincidence of events in space and time as meaning something more than mere chance, namely, a peculiar interdependence of objective events among themselves as well as with the subjective states of the observer or observers… a picture of the moment that encompasses everything down to the minutest nonsensical detail.”
—C G Jung

When I read Jung’s description of an idea he called “synchronicity,” it seems to align with everything I consider to be the essence of collage as an artistic phenomenon. It speaks to the inseparability of the creator to the artifact, of the artifact to the viewer, of the creator as viewer, and of the viewer as co-creator. The collage is a picture of many moments— dynamic moments of creation and of observation, with each element an intrinsic part of the character of the whole, and each response to the whole an intrinsic part of the relationships among elements.

Fifty Camels by J A Dixon

Fifty Camels
collage miniature by J A Dixon
collection of J E Dixon

Of Independent Mind

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

“There is no substantial difference by which we can attribute a higher aesthetic value to one choice or the other. Our preference is a question of a personal, irrepressible urge.”
—Leo Lionni

From my first encounter with Lionni’s sweeping assertion, I have been simultaneously haunted and liberated by the full ramifications of his claim. It topples the notion of making art for validation by others. Approval or disapproval is stripped of significance, and a creative person is left with nothing more than a responsibility to one’s own impulse. Personal or institutional systems that score art on some artificial scale ring hollow. The artist is freed to listen and look inside, but must face a daunting accountability that comes from within. Can I say that I have no regard for what others may think of my work? No, I cannot. The observer is a vital part of what, to my way of thinking, remains, at its essence, a collaborative act.

Of Independent Mind by J A Dixon

Of Independent Mind
collage miniature by J A Dixon
6 x 6 inches

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Keeping Score

Sunday, August 5th, 2012

“Woodblock printing has been said to have reached Europe around 1400. Thirty years after that, intaglio printing emerged as an alternative technique, and in the 1450s the first mechanical printing presses were in use. From the outset, playing-cards seem to have been among the stock-in-trade of these processes.”
—Trevor Denning

In addition to matchbooks, ticket stubs, crash numbering, tea-bag tabs, chopstick wrappers, and produce stickers, playing-cards hold a distinct visual fascination for me. I would never think to ruin an intact set of cards, but always jump at the opportunity to secure an “orphan.” Introduced into Europe through Arab sources, the centuries-old history of these gaming aids provide an interesting glimpse into the evolution of printing, design, advertising, gender roles, and our ever-ticklish relationship with power.

Keeping Score by J A Dixon

Keeping Score
collage miniature by J A Dixon
5 x 5 inches

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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