Make Contemporary Collage

June 20, 2011

I am a great fan of Calvin Tomkins who writes brilliantly about contemporary art and artists.

His book LIVES of the ARTISTS includes in-depth profiles of Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Matthew Barney, Cindy Sherman, Richard Serra and others.

The book is exciting to read, filled with personal information and critical insight, and would be appealing to everyone who is interested in art and artists.

Tomkins writes: contemporary art is all about choices.

I’m a collage artist. Collage is the most contemporary art medium, accessible to everyone. Collage is all about choices.

I got a phone call from Stephen McKenzie, the manager of Adult Education in the Visual Arts at the Newark Museum (Newark, NJ). He asked me to lead a mini collage workshop this past Saturday for museum members.

I chose to say yes.

I wanted the opportunity to promote two upcoming workshops, and, as always, to promote creativity through collage.

In May I did a very successful workshop titled Possibilities with Paper at the Museum. I am scheduled to teach Possibilities with Paper 2 and 3 in August and in October.  There are so many possibilities. Collage is the perfect contemporary media.

The Newark Museum Mini Collage Workshop

I gave a lot of thought to what the Newark Museum mini workshop would include, and wanted to offer a project that would encourage looking and promote understanding visually.

Here are some of the possible mini workshop themes I considered:

Possibilities with Paper

Project: Create variations in papers for collage

Embellish surfaces

Create texture with paint and tools

Combine elements and explore design

Repurpose papers for collage

I will teach Possibilities with Paper 2 at the Newark Museum on August 7, 2011,  and will teach possibilities with Paper 3 at the Newark Museum on October 30, 2011. See more information about the 2 workshops.

Colorful Collage

Project: discover a personal color palette

Explore rich saturated colors in watercolor and pastel

Play with variations in hue, value and chroma

Select magazine images in related colors

Explore complementary colors

I will teach a Colorful Collage workshop on July 17 at the Pelham Art Center.

The Art of Romare Bearden

Project: explore collage as layered imagery

Explore variation in scale

Design with geometric and curved shapes

Play with pattern, surface and line

Last year I taught 2 workshops at the Newark Museum inspired by Romare Bearden. One was titled Caribbean Landscape. Another was titled Conjur Woman: Portrait in Collage.  Each full-day workshop is 6 hours – long enough to complete a collage.

A Question of Time

The two mini workshops would each last 90 minutes so the project had to be simple and not take too long to complete. I wanted everyone to be able to start quickly and have enough time to finish.

My top choice was Romare Bearden because this is a special year (the centennial of his birth) and many museums and galleries are honoring him with retrospective exhibitions (including the recent show at the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery on West 57 Street in New York City). The exhibition closed May 21, 2011.

See works by Romare Bearden online at the Michael Rosenfeld gallery website.

I wanted people to see and understand how Bearden constructed his collage images. But I was also concerned that it would require more time than was available.

Serendipity and the art of Jean Dubuffet

The day before the scheduled workshop, I discovered an image by Jean Dubuffet (French, 1901-1985) with a fabulous, provocative quote – it was guaranteed to stimulate and inspire. Here’s the quote:

Dubuffet:

“What I expect from any work of art is that it surprises me, that it violates my customary valuations of things and offers me other, unexpected ones. 



Art doesn’t go to sleep in the bed made for it. It would sooner run away than say its own name: what it likes is to be incognito. Its best moments are when it forgets what its own name is.

Personally, I believe very much in values of savagery. I mean: instinct, passion, mood, violence, madness.”

Jean Dubuffet

The image above is titled Sylvain. It’s 10×6 inches. It’s a collage made with insect wings.

This is how I organized the Museum mini workshop project:

Provide 12×12 inch construction paper in a deep hue

Provide a free-form profile drawing on 9×12 yellow paper

Provide magazine images of faces, eyes and mouths

Supply scissors, markers, glue, seam rollers and squeegee

Supply magazines for additional collage papers

Everyone got a color copy of the Dubuffet image and the quote.

I read the quote aloud.

I discussed how the image was constructed with insect wings – and also pointed out that there was an eye and teeth that could be on top or below the other papers.

Everyone was instructed to cut out the profile drawing and either trace or glue the drawing onto the larger sheet (and they got to choose where to place it). I did a demonstration on how to apply the glue. I suggested that they notice how Dubuffet limited the range of colors and try to select papers in a similar tonal range.

The rest was up to them. They chose how to proceed and what images, patterns and colors to include.

See samples of their work below. Notice how each one is unique.

workshop collage

workshop collage

workshop collage

workshop collage

I was attracted to Dubuffet’s quote and art and connected both back to a comment by Calvin Tomkins in LIVES OF THE ARTISTS. He described Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst – contemporary art stars – as the reigning heirs of deliberately outrageous art that feeds off the corrupting influences of capitalist glut and entertainment.

Dubuffet called his work Art Brut. He created with common media. His art was not high brow and he created deliberately outrageous art.

See Damien Hirst’s butterfly winged art (done in 2003), and read the review.

Thanks for reading. Please add your comments below.

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3 Responses to “Make Contemporary Collage”


  1. Delightful inerpretations within the format presented … Wish you could have seen our Student show up this past Winter sesssion at Silvermine –
    or perhaps you did?

    Barbara

    • nikkal Says:

      Sorry I missed the Student show at Silvermine Guild. In what ways did the student works relate to collage or Jean Dubuffet?


  2. […] Read more about Dubuffet and the mini workshop I led at the Newark Museum in Newark, NJ. […]


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