Archive for February, 2013

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

Journal Collage  |  Sixth Page

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

“There are thoughts always abroad in the air which it takes more wit to avoid than to hit upon.”
— Oliver Wendell Holmes

“Practice what you know, and it will help to make clear what now you do not know.”
— Rembrandt van Rijn

To identify and penetrate the emerging idea, the evasive key, the potential solution. To isolate and discard the ordinary notion, the well-worn effect, the visual cliché. Both are the beneficial fruits of keeping a journal of sketches and studies.

Untitled (Sam’s Outlook)
journal collage by J A Dixon
8.5 x 11 inches, not for sale

Journal Collage  |  Fifth Page

Monday, February 25th, 2013

“Time consecrates and what is gray with age becomes religion.”
— Friedrich Schiller

The collage artworks of Kurt Schwitters possess a “vintage” appearance to our eye, but it is essential to keep in mind that his “Merz” ingredients were predominantly gleaned from a concurrent environment. It was Joseph Cornell, via the influence of Max Ernst and others, who consciously selected antique images to reinforce the romance and melancholy of feelings past. Apparently, a significant number of active collage artists limit their resources to vintage found material. Don’t get me wrong; I love this work. The immediate “retro effect” can be quite compelling. It would take a stronger soul than mine to dismiss the inherent dignity that comes with the marvelous scrap from an outdated encyclopaedia or the now-funky gravitas of post-war, mass-market magazines. However, from my perspective, a vital element of contemporary collage is the incorporation of present-day material and the recycling of twenty-first century detritus. I find it even more interesting to see vintage ingredients effectively juxtaposed with the ephemera of our own time. Nevertheless, every serious artist has a set of aesthetic considerations, genre goals, and process parameters that mold decisions. Due respect should be extended to the overall objectives that each collage artist brings to this exceptionally diverse media.

Untitled (Just Another Prophesy)
journal collage by J A Dixon
8.5 x 11 inches, not for sale

Journal Collage  |  Fourth Page

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

“The least of things with a meaning is worth more than the greatest of things without it.”
— Carl Gustav Jung

For me, the purpose of a journal collage is to explore whatever imagery or theme that spontaneously occurs, free from other motivating intentions (including the dubious blog post such as this).

What can one say when something bubbles up from the level of the unconscious? Perhaps it is best to not say anything at all.

Untitled (No More Nightmares)
journal collage by J A Dixon
8.5 x 11 inches, not for sale

Journal Collage  |  Third Page

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

“Who is not attracted by bright and pleasant children?”
— Epictetus

Since that long-ago day when the first artist was unable to resist adding one more cherub to a painting, it has been tough to refrain from including the infant as visual ingredient. This is no less true as collage enters its second century. I hereby salute all those who can restrain themselves from affixing the occasional baby head into a composition.

Untitled (Listen Here, Baby)
journal collage by J A Dixon
8.5 x 11 inches, not for sale

Journal Collage  |  Second Page

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

“No man is matriculated to the art of life till he has been well tempted.”
— George Eliot

There are certain ingredient images that always, when added to a collage, have a significant impact on the overall effect. A perpetual temptation to the artist, they comprise an intriguing class of their own: the eyeball, the doll head, the handgun, the female breast, the dog. Can you think of others that qualify?

Untitled (Canis Luna)
journal collage by J A Dixon
8.5 x 11 inches, not for sale

Journal Collage  |  First Page

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

“At first I put anything and everything in — phone numbers, appointments, grocery lists, in addition to things related to what I was thinking about for my work. Over the years the contents have become a shade more formal, and much more visual. There’s less of my hand (in the sense of sketches and drawings), more reliance on found material. But I’ve tried to keep the whole thing as loose and freewheeling as possible.”
— John Willenbecher

When I was 21, I had a single conversation with a man named Henry who boarded at the Cincinnati house where I lived. He seemed much older at the time, but I would guess now that he was barely 25. What I took away from that one exchange was Henry’s strong conviction that I should start a journal, as he had done several years before. Heeding his invaluable advice, I kept an active journal close at hand from that point forward. At first, it was just words, because I already had various sketchbooks as a student. Eventually, it became a comprehensive repository for personal notes, musings, doodles, and thumbnail ideas. As time passed, the content took on more of the character of visual exploration, with whole pages devoted to spontaneous collage experiments and studies for what might or might not lead to a finished artwork. I discovered that John Wllenbecher and others were calling their volumes “commonplace books,” a term more strictly applied to a “verbal scrapbook.” For some reason, mine also seemed a bit large for that particular name (sometimes 11 x 14, but most often 8.5 x 11), and so I’ve always continued to think of them as my journals. In combination with the many hundreds of handmade greeting cards I’ve created over the same period of time (nearly 40 years now), these private “chronicles” have served as the primary incubator for my work as a collage artist.

Untitled (Library Use Only)
journal collage by J A Dixon
8.5 x 11 inches, not for sale

Star of Abraham

Monday, February 18th, 2013

“However long and varied the background of pasted materials in folk art, none of these developments was considered a major artistic movement. It was the creative artists of the twentieth century, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, who applied materials as a new and valid means of expression. With these artists and their work the word ‘collage’ was first applied and became associated with the movement. Thus was born an art form that has become part of the contemporary milieu and, indelibly, a major historical art movement.”
— Dona Z Meilach and Elvie Ten Hoor

My wife and I recently went to see Lincoln, the Spielberg picture with Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role. It got me thinking again about the work I created for the bicentennial of the 16th president’s birth, the celebration of which was a fairly big deal here in his native state. I had made the decision to exploit the bulk of my collected Lincoln images to totally cover a metal star. To produce a collage tribute to the martyred leader with a folk-art approach seemed to me a technique appropriate to the occasion. The “artifact” is still waiting for a home. Happy Presidents Day to all.

Star of Abraham
collage artifact by J A Dixon
22 x 22 inches

Happy Happy !

Thursday, February 14th, 2013


Be Mine
collage miniature by J A Dixon

Shadows of Joseph

Monday, February 11th, 2013

“From the beginning he had responded to the avant-garde developments of his time with admirable swiftness and sureness. It is hard to think of another American artist who was receptive to so many different art movements or who managed to win the admiration of everyone from the Surrealists in the 1940s to the Abstract Expressionists in the 1950s to the Pop Artists in the 1960s. Artists who agreed on little else agreed on Cornell.”
—Deborah Solomon

“The central themes of Pop Art were sub-culture, folk cultures, media imagery, new technologies, design, the consumer goods and engineering industries, the inter-relationships between these phenomena and their effect on human beings.”
—Tilman Osterwold

Osterwold’s analysis suggests that traditions, fashions, and even avant-gardist achievements could no longer be the norm after Pop Art, which swept away the boundaries of artistic development with its focus on a “consciously perceived and reflected present-day existence.” Having just finished Deborah Solomon’s biography of Joseph Cornell (Utopia Park: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell), I am struck by how Cornell anticipated Pop Art with his focus on the appropriated elements of mass culture and his various obsessions with celebrities, while at the same time demonstrating an abiding indifference to the cult of personal fame so typically associated with the movement. Walter Hopps stated that Cornell was “Schwitters’ greatest successor.” Cornell was certainly aware of Schwitters, for he was highly cognizant of nearly everything about the onrushing stream of modern art (in contrast to the misconception that he was some sort of urban hermit), but the precise lineage of artistic influence may never be fully known. Perhaps it was Cornell’s connection with Max Ernst that is a key factor. In my opinion, Ernst was not a giant of 20th-century collage, but did have a vital influence on the genesis of Cornell’s art. It is well recognized that Joseph began and ended his unique body of work with the medium of collage. One of the things that astonishes me is how he could be so attuned to the advancing frontier of present-day art (often staying a step or two ahead of it) and, at the same time, carry such a personal dysfunction that derived from the driving intensity of his inner world. Was that the nature of his genius? At any rate, his strange but amazing ability to synthesize powerful emotional and cultural content by inventing (virtually from scratch) a distilled form of assemblage continues to set the standard for almost everything in the mix of media that has followed in its wake. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t observe an artwork that can be traced directly to his seminal vision. But rarely do I see another artist infuse their juxtapositions with a rich symbolism to compare favorably with his complex associations. Most of the art I see with an obvious Cornellian tone owes more to surrealist automatism or atmospheric illustration than to the intricate blend of embedded meaning and refined intuition that characterized his enduring originality.

Knave Child
Kurt Schwitters, 1921
Collage on paper
Sprengel Museum, Hannover.

plate from La Femme 100 Têtes
Max Ernst, 1929
Collage novel
Published Éditions du Carrefour, Paris

Untitled (Schooner)
Joseph Cornell, 1931
Collage on paperboard

Untitled (Girl and Two Columns)
Joseph Cornell, c. 1950
Glass, wood, tempera and printed paper collage

Circe III — Surface and Volume in Nature
Joseph Cornell, c. 1961-66
Collage on masonite

More personal miniatures . . .

Thursday, February 7th, 2013


It Could Have Been You
collage miniature by J A Dixon
collection of M Higgins

Elusive Legibility
collage miniature by J A Dixon
collection of K O’Brien

On To 100
collage miniature by J A Dixon
collection of J Fulton

collage miniature by J A Dixon
collection of E H Simpson

Jocular Assimilation
collage miniature by J A Dixon
collection of D Breidenbach

Sign Up For Another
collage miniature by J A Dixon
collection of S J Montgomery