Collage is not just about Cut and Paste…
I visited the VIP Preview at Art New York in May 2019 with a goal to see works in collage and works that explore a modern collage aesthetic – by important women artists. The fair, located at Pier 94, at 55thStreet & Westside Highway is an international contemporary and modern art event (May 2-5, 2019).
Collage, if narrowly defined, is about cut and paste – typically with papers. Modern artists expanded its boundaries and contemporary painters use it as a visual model. A collage aesthetic can be the way a work of art is assembled or constructed. It can also be about a visual experience. We live in the age of collage.
Very quickly, I found three artists – an American Abstract Expressionist painter (Grace Hartigan) who also made paper collage, a French icon (Sonia Delaunay) who was represented at the fair by modern tapestry, and a contemporary American (Debbie Ma) who constructs large abstract paintings with marble dust. I was intrigued by the formal strategies and presentation of all three, and felt each artist offered a new way to view modern art in the context of the times in which she lives/lived.
The image above is a painting by Grace Hartigan (American, 1922-2008), seen at the C. Grimaldi Art Gallery booth at the fair. It’s titled Dolls (1976), and is oil on canvas and 49 x 82 inches. The collage aesthetic is expressed here in the way the artist juxtaposes figures in the painting composition.
Hartigan’s paintings included dolls, courtesans, film stars and mythical, chimerical creatures drawn from fantasy and, as the artist stated, “understanding the life you are living.” Many of the subjects she painted were poor or derelict people she saw on the streets in her neighborhood. Her life experience was a visual collage. The painting expresses the life she lived.
I learned Hartigan started to create collage in the late 1950s.
The two images, above and below, are collages by Grace Hartigan. From a distance I thought I was looking at collages by Lee Krasner (American, 1908 – 1984), but, walking closer, knew it was not true.
I’m reading Mary Gabriel’s book titled Ninth Street Women, subtitled Five Painters and the Movement that Changed Modern Art – about the rise of Abstract Expressionism in New York in the 1950s. Grace Hartigan was one of the few female artists included in the movement with Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and Arshile Gorky. She was known for combining gestural abstraction with imagery derived from art history and popular culture. She began to receive a high level of exposure, and her paintings were included in the exhibition 12 Americans at the Museum of Modern Art in NY (1956), as well as the exhibition The New American Paintings that traveled throughout Europe from 1958 to 1959. She had her first solo show in 1950, and three years later, her first major sale, when the Museum of Modern Art bought her painting titled The Persian Jacket (see below), oil on canvas, 57.5 x 48 inches.
Mary Gabriel’s book titled Ninth Street recounts the struggles of the early abstract expressionist artist, particularly the struggles of the women.
In 1960, Hartigan moved to Baltimore, and promptly fell off the NY art world map. Pop Art and Minimalism had eclipsed Abstract Expressionism, and male artists dominated the art market. Hartigan had to paint in a loft in a former Baltimore department store and taught at the Maryland Institute College of Art, but the college created a graduate school around her (the Hoffberger School of Painting) and she became director in 1965. Hartigan taught at the school until retiring in 2007, one year before she died.
Hartigan’s work is represented extensively in private and public collections, including the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Hirshhorn Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Geometric Abstraction and a Tapestry
I saw the image above at one of the first booths at Art NY. I walked closer to make sure the work was by Sonia Delaunay. I recognized the image because I am a great fan of the artist’s work. It’s titled Nocturne Matinale, and is a wool tapestry (commissioned ca. 1970), 70.9 x 71.1 inches. The gallerist told me Sonia Delaunay (French, born in Ukraine, 1885- 1970) was the first living female artist to have a retrospective at the Louvre Museum in Paris in 1964. My image shows it’s a wall hanging and there are iron sculptures standing next to and in front. I am familiar with Delaunay’s gouache paintings and prints, but never knew her works as tapestry in the same bold, geometric design.
The image above is another wool tapestry, also titled Nocturne Matinale, also 70.9 x 71,1 inches. With this image, you see the work without the distracting sculpture in front. Sonia Delaunay wrote: For me, the abstract and the sensual should come together…” The tapestry is lush and sensual. I wanted to touch it.
I’ve always loved and been inspired by Delaunay’s colors and geometric designs. The style is called Orphism. With her husband Robert, Sonia Delaunay was part of a group in Paris thatpioneered the style – a fusion of Cubism and Neo-Impressionism that was influenced by the vivid colors of Fauvism. In Orphism, primary and secondary colors (red with green, yellow with purple, and blue with orange) are combined to create a visual vibration.
The image above is a lithograph on wove paper by Sonia Delaunay and is titled Thunderbird, ed/75, image size: 20 x 16.5 inches (52.5cm x 42 cm), sheet: 30 x 22 inches (75.5 cm x 56 cm).
The image above, by Sonia Delaunay, is titled Colour Rhythm No 1921, It’s gouache on paper, 1973 (collection: MoMA), 27 ¼ x 22 in (69.2z55.9 cm)
Sonia Delaunay died on December 5, 1979 in Paris, France at the age of 94. Today, the artist’s works are held in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, and the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, among others.
Paintings and Marble Dust
I selected Debbie Ma as the third artist for this post because I think her geometric paintings are stunning and believe her approach to painting personifies a collage aesthetic. I took the image of the artist with her work (above) at the fair. The work is titled No Way In (2019) and is marble dust on canvas, 64 x 80 x 3 in (162.5 x 203.1 x 7.6 cm).
Ma is represented by DMD Contemporary in NY, and the booth (seen above) at Art NY featured Debbie Ma as a solo artist. The paintings show depth, texture and tonality in the formal mix in every work.
The image above is by Debbie Ma, titled Cross Country (2006) and is a painting with marble dust on canvas, 60 x 36 inches (152 x 137 cm). Cross Country is a wobbly grid in brown black and white. It’s in the permanent collection at the David T. Owsley Museum of Art, Muncie, IN.
Debbie Ma’s works are a tapestry of quiet patterns in bold formation. Her paintings are like visual two-dimensional sculptures. They are amazing to see in person.
I chose 3 artists who lived at different times, in different places and worked in different media.
I created a collage experience for myself at Art New York in the way I viewed and experienced the art.
Please share you comments about the idea of a collage aesthetic.