March 29, 2017
Appropriation is a very useful concept in contemporary art and essential to appreciating contemporary collage art.
I like to make funky figure collages with papers and text cut and pasted from magazines like W, Elle. Vogue, and ArtForum. I thumb through the magazines and tear out pages when the right image strikes. Everything becomes a magazine mash-up.
The image nearby is my collage titled Sex Celebrity. This work is part of a new series with female images done in collage with various cut and pasted papers. Some of the papers are straight out of the magazine. Some are painted with acrylic. Some papers are purchased in an arts and crafts store. I like to mix and match and create works that combine image, color, pattern and texture. Most of all, I am fascinated by celebrity culture and Pop Art. My goal is to create images that are edgy, sexy and provocative.
The image you see is a collage on a 12×16 inch panel showing two x two females. Everything is an image: some more, some less real. The colors in this collage are creamy white, grey-black, green and tiny touches of pale blue and red.
The large female image is a close-up of a face, eyes closed as if in a swoon. She seems ensconced in a reverie in a garden setting, surrounded by green. She’s a beauty. Her eyes are decorated and glittery. There’s a large, expensive diamond jewel floating near her nose. The jewel looks like a delicate flower or a garden bug. I’ve seen expensive jewels in fashion magazines. They’re highly crafted with multiple stones. A beautiful woman deserves a beautiful diamond. I embellished the image, but it’s straight out of the magazine.
The smaller female image in my collage is a figure in a couturier outfit and her breasts are exposed. You see a lot of that in the fashion magazines currently. She’s standing in front of the large face image. There’s a third image in black and white located on the lower left side. It may be a print by Pablo Picasso torn from an art magazine. I took it because it was the right size and in black and white. There’s a fourth image on the right side that’s a face and facing left. If you look carefully, you can see eyes, eyebrows and hair. The face is made with striped green paper. I like stripes. I like to combine abstraction, reality and fantasy.
I cut and pasted all the papers. There is no actual glitter and no jewel – just papers to simulate jewels and glitter.
Appropriation in Art
I recommend the book titled Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. It’s a little book with a lot of big ideas. The author says: remix and reimagine to discover your true path. It sounds like collage.
Appropriation in art is defined as the act of using pre-existing objects or images with little or no transformation applied to them. The artist’s job is to decide how much image transformation is necessary. Some artists feel guilty for stealing an image. I’m not sure that’s true for everyone. There is so much to steal now. Images are everywhere. I think it’s how you use them that makes a difference.
The image nearby is a magazine collage I created on a 14×11 inch paper substrate. I gave it the title FlatChested. I think she is. She’s high fashion and very thin. The image is inspired by the concept Exquisite Corpse where the parts don’t have to match. Each of the 3 parts comes from a different magazine page. I liked the pink background in the middle section and the model’s long, graceful hand. Her eyes were made up with glitter and that was also appealing. I liked the wild, dark hair in the top section that has a mustard yellow background. I liked the pattern where the hair is separated by a part in the middle. The width worked well with the cut-off hat in the pink section. I liked the dot patterns in the black and white bottom section. Everything worked well. I didn’t have to add glitter because the model already had glittery eye makeup. I changed her mouth and shortened her torso. Colors are gold, pink, black and white. Her skin color is caramel brown. The papers come from W magazine. There are only 4 pieces in this collage – three horizontal rows of cut and pasted magazine papers and a mouth from a model image in black and white (from the same magazine).
My students often ask me about copyright infringement and appropriation. One student this winter had to overcome – and actually did overcome – her resistance to appropriating magazine images. I persuaded her. We talked about it all through the winter term at the Pelham Art Center where I teach contemporary collage to adults. Her career is print publishing so I understand her resistance to appropriating images. I really like her 3 portrait images. Each one is very different. See them below.
The image nearby is the 1st portrait collage Ilene created in class. Her papers included stamped drawing paper (dots) for the face, chevron-striped paper for the dress, decorated papers from magazines and painted paper for hair, eyes, nose and mouth. The collage is on 14″x11″ Bristol paper (substrate). Ilene spent a lot of time cutting papers for the hair, eyes and mouth. Notice one eye is light brown and the other eye is a black and white pattern. Ilene added green glitter eye makeup last. Her background is grey magazine paper with a printed gallery name as vertical text. I remember Ilene asked me if she should cut, cover or leave the vertical text. I said yes – leave it in – it’s not too prominent. Ilene’s 1st collage has a lot of directional movement with pattern and cut papers. The grey dots in the face are tilting down right. The vertical text is parallel to the right edge.
The image nearby is the 2nd portrait collage Ilene created in class. It’s much more abstract and the eyes, mouth, chin and hair are made with cut triangle papers. The papers come from magazine pages but do not show a model’s image. There’s a lot of dynamic energy in the way Ilene placed the cut papers. Notice some of the magazine papers are solid black, beige, yellow, blue and magenta red. Notice a few of the cut papers have stripes and crosshatched line drawing that adds texture. I love the spaces around the triangles. Ilene used a minimum number of papers but still gave us a sense of modeling the shape of a face. Notice the shading in the red papers for the lips. The way Ilene cut the papers gives a sense of volume. Notice the nose and tiny hands (each within a contrasting triangle) are actual magazine images – the only ones in this collage. Hooray for appropriation! I believe Ilene made the hands and nose small to make them less obvious as swiped magazine images. Notice the magenta-red lips are larger than either hand.
The image nearby is the 3rd portrait collage Ilene created in class based on the concept Exquisite Corpse. I believe I made my collage FlatChested (above) during the class to demonstrate how to cut magazine papers in angled, horizontal strips, using different models for each piece. Ilene’s portrait includes a woman’s eyes, ears and hairline on top and a man’s mouth, chin and neck below. She included a black round hat for the top strip in the collage, and found decorated papers in swirly patterns and bright colors for the bottom strip. I know she loves this portrait collage. I really like the contrast of one face in color and another face in black & white, and really like that one half of the face is male and the other half is female. Ilene selected images with care so that the expressions in the eyes and mouth co-mingle.
EXQUISITE CORPSE at PINTEREST
See 72 pins (images) for the Exquisite Corpse at my Pinterest site. Some of the images are historic examples. My students love Exquisite corpse as a class project and I set up Pinterest boards so they can check out images online. Read more about the Exquisite corpse here.
Today, appropriating and remixing images and media is common practice for visual, audio, and performing artists. Appropriation is a strategy. Visual artists would not be able to create the mash-up of images we create without all the images online and in magazines. They’re available, plentiful and we find them. Please share your thoughts. Do you swipe images and use them in collage? Do you re-mix other media? Tell me if you love the Exquisite Corpse.
Thanks for sharing – Nancy
March 7, 2017
I posted a recent blog titled Hearts for Valentine’s Day, dated Feb 13, 2017
The first image shows magazine papers in red, painted papers, and papers with text in black, red and white. I cut the papers and created hearts in halves to show that two halves pieced together would make a single heart. I believe relationships are about how we connect. We start apart and we come together. Collage is about putting things together.
I included some of the backstory in the blog about Valentine’s Day, and showed collage versions of Valentine’s Day cards with heart images.
The image nearby is a Valentine card I created with hearts and a figure from a fashion magazine. The model is seated on a plush red sofa and the hearts are floating above her head – larger than life. See more traditional cards with hearts in the Hearts for Valentine’s Day blog post.
The Art of Collage is about Cut and Paste
I always look online for what people say about collage. Frequently it’s described in terms like cut and paste. I believe we live in a cut and paste world. That’s a big reason why collage is so contemporary.
I found an article online from the Financial Times – Visual Arts (March 3, 2017 by Emme Crichton-Miller) titled Cut and paste: the art of collage – works of fragmented reality come together in two concurrent shows in New York and London. The exhibit is in New York to April 15 and in London March 10-May 13. It’s a fascinating article and references historic and contemporary collage. Read about it here.
My studio practice is painting and collage, but I make collage differently than most collage artists. I paint papers for collage and cut and paste them into geometric grid patterns. I put the papers together in ways that emphasize color relationships.
The image nearby is titled Blue & White Diptych and is made with painted papers in shades of blue, cut into triangles and pasted on 2 wood panels. Together, the panels are 24 inches high and 32 inches wide. Notice how the triangles move left to right and go from lighter to darker as they move within the collage.
The image nearby is titled Blue Triangle Diptych, and done as two panels that are 24 inches high and 32 inches wide. The right panel is an acrylic painting, 24×16 inches, that looks like a collage. The left panel is a collage with painted papers, 24×16 inches that has a triangles done with layered paint. Some of the underpainting shows through. The colors in the painting are blue, green, pale sienna, white, black and grey. The left panel has only right angle triangles made with two pieces each. The right panel has triangles with all different angles and shapes. I did the painting and collage separately. By chance, I put them together, and decided they speak to each other and belonged side by side. If I flip the panels left and right, they look different, so it’s important to keep them exactly as they are.
I work with acrylic paints and mix all my colors. Everything I do is about color – even black and white are colors because they are mixed. My current studio focus is about triangles and the colors blue, white and black. My previous focus was grids and the series titled Metro. I wanted to learn to love the color green. That meant a serious focus on one color. When I paint, no color is straight out of the tube pure. Nothing is exactly red or blue, yellow or green. Nothing is exactly white or black. I play with the basic colors and paint colors in layers to show how they interact visually. If you want to learn to paint papers, see my video tutorial Painting Papers with Nancy Nikkal. Please also see my green paintings and collages in the Metro Series.
Are you fascinated with color? I see color, not just as art, but as everything in my everyday life – in the city and in the parks, in plants and trees, the ocean, the sky, in cinema, television and magazines I read, the flowers I arrange, the clothes I wear, the design and furnishings, paint on the walls at home, table settings, even the food on my plate. Color is everywhere.
Here’s an extra – a little information about the science of color: In physics, a color is described as visible light and has a specific wavelength you can measure. Black and white are not considered colors because they do not have a measurable, specific wavelength. Black is described as the absence of light. White light (seen through a prism) contains all wavelengths of visible light and reveals the entire color spectrum. If we discuss paints and dyes, we understand what we see is a reflected wavelength. So there’s a science to paints and dyes also.
Thank you for reading, and for your comments – Nancy
February 13, 2017
Do you celebrate Valentine’s Day? Do you send or receive cards, candy or flowers?
Do you know why we associate the day with love and romance?
I made a collage with paper hearts (ab0ve). It’s a sample and not finished. I would add red glitter and lace. I cut magazine papers and pasted the papers into 7 hearts on a substrate paper with stamped red circles. Each heart is made with 2 parts. Some hearts are painted with red acrylic. Some show white on black magazine text and some show red on black magazine text. Very important: every heart has two halves that touch. Each heart has a right and a left side to show how two become one.
A very brief history of Valentine day cards
Sending notes and letters for Valentine’s Day started in the 1700s in Great Britain.
Esther Rowland (1828–1904) is known as the “Mother of the American Valentine” She was an artist and businesswoman responsible for popularizing Valentine’s Day greeting cards in America.
The History of St. Valentine’s Day
Historians identify Valentine’s Day with the Feast of Saint Valentine, a martyred Christian saint . FYI: There was more than one Valentine martyred. Read more about the saints Valentine.
In the Middle Ages, people believed birds began mating on February 14. February was the month of love.
In the image above, 2 black doves are facing each other with a red heart outlined above them. The heart connects the two birds and symbolizes the love they share.
The connection to birds and mating goes back to pagan Rome and a holiday called Lupercalia – a purification day to avert evil spirits and accomplish health and fertility. Very pagan.
Link here to see a very witty, entertaining video about the original Roman holiday Lupercalia.
Victorians assembled original valentines from lace, bits of mirror, bows and ribbons, seashells and seeds, gold and silver foil appliqués, silk flowers, and clichéd printed mottoes like “Be Mine” and “Constant and True.” Victorian valentines commonly feature churches or church spires, signifying honorable intentions and fidelity.
You can make your own card. All it takes is birds, words, and hearts. The image above is a contemporary card with glittery encrusted hearts in all sizes.
I created the image above to add to this post. It has new cut paper hearts pasted on top of a fashion magazine page image. Some of the hearts are painted papers with oil pastel embellished on top. Some of the hearts are cut magazine papers. I like the scale of the paper hearts contrasted with the scale of the model sitting on a red sofa.
Did you exchange Valentines cards and candy when you attended grade school? Do you remember the tiny candy hearts in pale pink, yellow and green?
Do you give or receive chocolates in heart shaped boxes?
Hearts dominate. That’s why I chose the collage with hearts for the top image. Valentine’s Day is about connections and relationships and red hearts. I cut the hearts so each was in two halves. They touch to show how important it is to connect.
Do you think this is a good way to show connections? Please send me your comments. Please share images if you make your own Valentine cards. Email me your image.
October 21, 2014
PINTEREST is an image bonanza for me. I’m almost always inspired by what I see even though typical Pinterest images are not about art (most images are about fashion, babies, craft and food). I always look for artsy images, and I’ve noticed, the more time I spend at Pinterest, the more art images seem to appear in email links. I have a pin board titled the Art of Food. Everything is presented like a work of art. See images I collect – portrait collage, mixed media, and more. See collage by great artists I admire: Henri Matisse and Romare Bearden. Read an earlier post about Pinterest here.
EVERYONE LOVES FLOWERS
I found this image at Pinterest and designed a collage project for my fall 2014 class at the Pelham Art Center.
I created a sample collage with a similar image to explore how difficult it would be to make. Notice the flowers are decorative, abstract and include patterned papers in lively colors. Notice it’s organized in a vertical format with tall stems and flower tops in circles.
It looks like an easy project that would appeal to everyone, no matter what their skill level. I brought my sample to class – along with a copy of the printed Pinterest image.
Look closely at the Pinterest image. The green papers for the flower stems and leaves are probably thin tissue or wrapping paper. It looks like the papers were not glued down flat. Thin tissue papers are hard to cut, place and glue. Gift wrap papers are easier to cut and paste. I teach how to glue papers down flat. I experimented with both tissue paper, gift wrap, plus medium weight hand-painted papers.
The image here shows the beginning of the sample collage I prepared for the class. What you see is 9″ x 12″ green construction paper painted with black acrylic. If you look closely, you will notice some green shows through the black paint. The green paper flower stems are also done with acrylic paint on construction paper. Notice the flower stem papers are striped. I created stripes in 2 layers of paint and scratched in lines. Each class member got the black paper as their substrate – bottom collage layer. Each class member got painted papers in greens and yellow greens to cut into curvy flower stems and leaves.
I always create a sample for the class so I understand and can discuss the steps necessary to make the collage. My image is similar but different, presented for instructional purposes. I never assume anyone will copy the image. They never do. I discuss how to create personal papers for collage. I almost always have the class work with painted papers. The paint makes the papers strong and easy to cut and glue, plus the surface and colors are hand made and personal.
I added tissue paper flowers to the sample collage (see below), and decided to emphasize how to work with tissue paper in collage.
The image here shows a close up view of the finished sample collage, and how I cut and pasted leaves and flowers onto the stems. Notice the flowers are circles and ovals that overlap leaves and stems. I cut flowers from painted, printed and tissue papers. Notice how the black and yellow dot paper connects visually to the black background paper.
I did an in-class demo to show how I paint construction paper with a small 2” wide sponge paint roller and acrylic paint. The roller applies paint in an even film and you can reuse the paint roller if you immediately wash it with soap and water. I did an in-class demo to show how to use white PVA glue to collage with medium weight papers, and how to use white fluid acrylic medium to create collage with delicate tissue papers.
The image at right shows a tissue paper collage I created during class as a demo. Notice how overlapping tissue papers create subtle color variations – probably because of the way the acrylic medium was applied. Thicker glue application connects papers closer to the layer below. Thinner glue application leaves a little air pocket so the paper dries closer to the original color. FYI: The process of gluing tissue papers down is not difficult. Place papers one at a time exactly where you want and carefully brush acrylic medium over the top and beyond the edges slightly. Add papers one at a time. The glue seeps through the thin paper to the bottom layer and will dry clear.
Following are student images from the 1st class, and my comments about each collage.
The image at left is by Bernice. I think she really liked how the black background showed through the tissue papers and created surprise textures. Notice 5 flowers on tall stems. Each flower is different, left to right – yellow, yellow, black and yellow, blue and green. Notice how the black and yellow center flower seems to disappear into the background and only the yellow dots show.
This collage is done in a horizontal format, but strong diagonals keep it dramatic and dynamic.
The image at right is by Carol. She has a strong love of natural images and landscape. It shows.
Notice how she cut her flower shapes. Notice she also tore papers in a way to create white edges that contrast beautifully with the papers below and the black background. She layered painted papers and tissue papers. The green flower stems show vertical stripes – these are the same painted papers I brought to class. In Carol’s collage, verticals compliment horizontals, balanced by gentle diagonals and negative spaces between stems and petals. Notice how a single band of thin dark green tissue paper is placed under flowers in the middle section, and how 2 dark thin green tissue paper strips cover 2 flowers and leaves at the top.
There is a sense of gentle motion. Everything is connected. It feels like a waterscape.
The image on the left is by Vivienne. Her paper format is vertical. The collage design is horizontal. Vivienne always selects collage papers in colors and shapes that express a beautiful visual design. Every paper is cut, placed and glued with care. Notice the lively texture in the teal, brown and green tissue papers glued at top, middle and bottom where the black substrate shows through. Notice how she created positive and negative space around her cut and pasted papers. Notice how the green flower stems curve, touch and overlap. Colors are coral pink, yellow, teal, green, brown, black and orange. Every shape holds its own space. Horizontals balance verticals.
It’s active, decorative, and elegant.
The image at right is by Jennifer. Colors are yellow, pink, green and red against a black background. Each circle has a unique shape, color and pattern. Some are wider. Some are taller. Some are nearer; some are further behind. The space is horizontal and not too deep. All collage papers overlap. Leaf stems tilt gently. Notice Jennifer’s flowers have large center discs (eyes) created with paper that’s printed in black with yellow dots. Every paper is cut or torn to create rippled or soft edges. The green leaf stems have a yellow under-layer that glows against the black background.
The design is animated, papers are textured, and the colors are fun to see.
Jennifer took the class images with my cell phone camera. She did a really good job and I thank her.
Please add your comments. Try the flower collage project with tissue papers, and let me know if you create with painted papers.
August 4, 2014
I am always inspired when I read a book by a creative artist. For example: Twyla Tharp’s book THE CREATIVE HABIT Learn It and Use It For Life is not just for dancers and choreographers. Every chapter will boost creativity in whatever your field. When I read these books, I always find something I can apply to my collage studio practice or apply when I design projects for collage workshops.
Her chapter titled “Scratching” talks about how to get ideas and how to explode ideas. She says you can scratch in the footsteps of mentors and heroes, but must not copy or your work is derivative. Try to interpret the idea into a new idea and “scratch” in unexpected places to get a new slant on the expected. She says: link A to B to C to come up with “H.” She adds: scratching is the ability to identify A, and then get to B and C. So – don’t stop with one idea.
A class project in black and white and 3 primary colors
I love class projects that explore collage with unique media, or explore images in collage based on other media.
The image above is titled “Cucaracha” (1948). It’s painted sheet metal and wire, 17” wide, private collection, by Alexander Calder (American 1898-1976). He is famous for his mobiles and stabiles – metal sculptures that move in space. His work is about movement and change. Very often his metal sculpture is painted in primary colors – red, blue and yellow. Notice how the mobile parts hang together from tiny chains. Notice how the sculpture casts a shadow as it stands on the ground.
I asked students to make collage inspired by Alexander Calder’s mobile Cucaracha – a 3D metal sculpture interpreted as 2D paper collage. I asked the class to juxtapose print text with cut and pasted papers – one collage on top of another collage – to create a dialogue between the parts and show movement. Black and white magazine text would be the bottom collage layer. Cut and pasted red, blue, yellow and black papers would be the 2nd layer on top of the black and white text. I found the Cucaracha image in the book CALDER CREATURES Great and Small, published by E.P. Dutton, Inc., NY in association with the Hudson River Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
The 2 images (above and below) show 2 different views of the same sample collage I created for the class. I deliberately cut shapes that looked like the 3D shapes – to show students how collage can look like sculpture. The top image is a close-up view and shows unglued yellow and black paper and blue and red round shapes overlapping in the middle of the page. The image below shows the same unglued shapes in another configuration on top of the text collage. When I move the papers, the design changed. I moved papers several times. I wanted to show the class how the image changed each time the papers moved. Calder’s art is all about movement and change. Collage is also about movement and change. And if you don’t like the collage, you can remove the paper and start again.
LESSON PLAN: BLACK AND WHITE AND PRIMARY COLORS
Step 1: Make a collage with magazine text.
Cut and paste magazine text to create a design. It’s black and white, can be clean and crisp, and creates a graphic pattern with letters. It looks easy but it took almost 1 ½ hours for students to create a collage with just text. I asked students to glue a long, thin strip of black paper diagonally across the page before they started to glue text. I told them it was important to have the text strips meet the black paper “antenna” and leave a tiny space between the edges. Notice I created a pattern with text.
Step 2: Make a second collage with painted papers on top of the text collage.
This was fun and much faster. I told students to cut papers into shapes and that their shapes didn’t have to resemble the sample shapes I prepared. Everyone cut unique shapes. They didn’t want to copy the Calder image. Some students created a narrative collage related to words in the magazine text. Almost everyone told me they loved the idea of having text as a bottom layer in the collage.
Following are student images. Notice every collage is created with the same painted papers. Notice every collage image is unique.
In Dee’s image above, notice how her shapes balance well against the text design underneath. Notice one blue square extends beyond the substrate bottom edge. Notice 2 red triangles, 1 red circle, 2 yellow curvilinear line shapes and 2 black thin strips in a “V” shape protruding from the blue square. The shapes are geometric and simple and contrast beautifully with the clean design of text collage. Dee wrote she liked the way fitting the print into the background made her think about space. That was a positive. Negative: Dee prefers working on a large substrate – I gave the class a 7 1/2”x8” art card for the substrate. She doesn’t like working with primary colors. Calder’s mobile image isn’t a natural inspiration for her because she likes softer Impressionist art. Positive: the text is in motion and the painted paper shapes are engaged. I think her collage is bold, clean and well designed.
In Louise’s image above, you can try to read the text, but the image is marching on top and is the primary focus. Notice the thin black strip is a criss-cross “X” placed diagonally across the page. Notice the black and white text in the background creates a grid of blocks with white negative spaces. Louise pasted a pale yellow round shape within the “X” and placed a tall red right angle triangle with torn edge on the bottom right side of the substrate. She added more cut and pasted red papers: a tiny square, a tiny circle, one small red equilateral triangle and a thin, curved red paper with personality – all touching the black “X” in the middle. She added a semi circle and a tiny pale blue square touching the red square. She added new papers: 2 irregularly shaped triangles in speckled magazine paper pasted on top of black paper shapes. The painted papers show movement. The text papers show direction. Louise said she liked working with magazine text and thinks she may use it again as a starting point. She says there is no narrative story in her collage. I think her collage has so many interesting components.
In Vivienne’s image above, notice the juxtaposition of shapes in text with shapes in painted papers is dynamic and also narrative. I think there’s a story above and beyond the words. Notice how much care she took with selecting text papers for her collage bottom layer. The colors in the magazine text range from dark letters on creamy white, to grey black on light pink white, to blue black on a range of pale grey whites. It’s a beautiful text collage with so much variation in the colors and design. Notice Vivienne created a unique shape in red painted paper. I think it looks like a boat. She has 2 thin black strips projecting up from the red shape on the right side, and one thin blue strip projecting from the red shape on the left side. She has a yellow strip at the end and a yellow triangle on the right. There are 3 overlapping triangles – yellow, blue and yellow – that move down onto the red shape like sails. There is a wonderful sense of harmony and gentle rhythm in this collage.
In Claudia’s image above, notice she included text in different sizes and fonts. The text strip “IF YOU LOOK” is prominent in the upper right side. Claudia overlapped her text papers. You can’t read text easily (rows are crunched) and it makes you look more carefully. Notice Claudia created a “V” design with jagged black strips. Notice the left side of the “V” touches a color block that is yellow, red and, blue – one paper on top of another. In the lower third of her collage, notice there is a horizontal black and white band across the entire width of the collage and it overlaps 3 red triangles that look like sails. Another blue on yellow shape (mostly yellow) sits below. The text ‘IF YOU LO0K” tells you to look “IN.” This collage is very layered, very colorful, and very well designed.
In Sheila’s collage above, notice she kept the Mondrian “Boogie Woogie” image that was printed on the art card beneath. Her text strips are glued around the Mondrian image and go to the edge of the card substrate. Her cut and pasted paper shapes go beyond the substrate edges. Sheila said the Mondrian image on the art card influenced her colors – so the project with painted papers in red, yellow, blue and black was a good fit. Notice some shapes overlap; some shapes nest between shapes. Sheila titled her collage “Joyful Explosion.” Notice you can read the text – it’s about Alexander Calder and his mobiles. This is another well-designed collage. Its abstract and about modern art. There’s a strong relationship between the text blocks and paper collage shapes, and a gentle connection to the boogie woogie rhythm implied in Mondrian’s work.
In Irene’s collage above, notice that the pattern of painted paper shapes mimics the pattern of pasted text shapes. All the text is slightly oblique and tilted like the paper shapes in red, blue, yellow and black. I love the fact that Irene left part of the top section of the substrate uncovered to create a horizontal white shape. Did you notice there’s a tiny section of text at the top that’s upside down? Notice that red peeks through the black strip (the right sideof the “V”), I asked the class to leave a tiny space next to the black strip. Irene’s paper shapes are bold and geometric. She cuts into her blue triangles and creates “V” shapes that repeat the “V” of the black strips and the “V” of the yellow strip and yellow triangle. There’s overlapping and repetitive shapes that move in unison along the “V” line. There is a subtle dialog between the upper and lower collage that keeps moving and keeps you looking.
In Carol’s collage above, notice how she created text in overlapping blocks and layered painted papers that became a flying bug on top. The “V” of the bug’s antenna covers the “R” in the word “Creature Comfort.” Carol commented: I decided to do some sort of insect when I saw the black “V” shaped pieces that were to be placed on the first collage text layer. She added: Calder made a critter in primary colors so that clinched it for me. I struggled with the background, not realizing how the image and the text would be having a dialog. I found some clever headlines that made the image humorous. The insect itself dominates the lower left portion and though the bug is moving downward there is a feeling of flight. The creature has an oval yellow head with a large black dot for the eye. Notice the body is blue and the wings are red. There is a tail with a fringe on the back in blue and a fringe in blue underneath the head. Two black skinny legs are showing. Carol said: this project was a delightful revelation to me, and I think I’ll do more collage with text and image from now on.
Every color and shape emphasizes directional pattern. There is a strong sense of harmony between the lower and upper collage. They talk to each other. I wonder if there is a pun intended in the text “Altitude Slickness.” Where did the “L” is slickness come from?
Thank you for reading and I welcome your comments.
December 18, 2013
Pancho Villa Dead and Alive
My favorite work by Robert Motherwell is titled Pancho Villa Dead and Alive (1943).
I love the work for the color, texture, painterly surface, the look of the layered papers, and Motherwell’s exuberant approach to his collage practice. It is mixed media to the max. It looks so contemporary.
What a treat to see this and other works by this artist when I entered the Thannheiser Galleries at the Guggenheim Museum (through January 5, 2014) at 1071 Fifth Avenue at 89th Street, NY.
I did not expect to see so many – 50 plus collages and related drawings in ink and paint from the period 1943-1951. I did not know Motherwell created that many works in collage media. Every work is large in scale (especially for collage and drawing).
Pancho Villa Dead and Alive was created with cut and pasted papers, ink and wood veneer on paper board (28 x 35 7/8 inches). Some papers are printed and embellished with more paint. The paints include oil and gouache (opaque watercolors).
Motherwell layered painted papers in the same color family (see the light blue section in the lower center part of the collage). Notice the paint drips.
Motherwell painted his papers in his favorite colors: black and white, ocher and pale blue.
He used flat light blue paint and faded pink paint for his background and some of the overpainted papers.
He painted red and black splotches and (faded) red and blue drips behind the child-like stick figures that imply two bodies (dead and alive) riddled with bullet holes.
Motherwell liked to work with fine-art drawing papers for their matte appearance and subtle color variations. He liked commercial coated papers, especially in bright colors, because they reminded him of the colors he saw in Mexico (during a 6 month stay with artist Roberto Matta).
View from a High Tower (above) was completed in 1944-45. It is 29 x 29 inches, tempera, oil, ink, pastel and pasted wood veneer, drawing paper, Japanese paper and printed map on paperboard (private collection).
I recommend the exhibition catalog for the four excellent essays. The first essay is about Motherwell’s early career with Peggy Guggenheim (titled The Theorist and the Gallerist, written by exhibition curator Susan Davidson). Another essay is about Motherwell’s life-long fascination with themes of violence, revolution and death (titled Bloodstains and Bullet Holes, by Megan M. Fontanella). The third essay is about how he stretched the boundaries and the possibilities of paper as a vehicle for visual ideas (titled Motherwell’s Risk, by Brandon Taylor). The last essay is about his materials (titled Motherwell’s Materials in the 1940s, by Jeffrey Warda).
Jeffrey Warda’s essay (page 56) mentions that all the commercial papers Motherwell used faded and the strong pink is now a pale flesh tone.
Holland Cotter wrote a review for the NY Times (A Painter’s Cut-and-Paste Prequel: Robert Motherwell Early Collages at the Guggenheim, Dec. 3, 2013).
Cotter’s final paragraph asks slyly if Motherwell relinquished his role as sole creator of his work (a defining feature of Abstract Expressionism) because gravity, chemistry and light deserve equal billing as collaborators since the works have changed color, texture and form. My comment: Change is good.
Embellish the Media
I love how Motherwell painted over his media, used patterned papers, painted onto the papers, painted out papers, added lines, dots, drips and splotches. The surface is dense and yet there is incredible freedom in the process, and so much energy in the execution. I love how he tore off layers of papers to expose raw paper surfaces below, and contrasted hard-edge cut papers with soft-edge torn papers.
The image above is titled Jeune Fille (1944). It’s 24 x 19.5 inches, oil, ink, gouache, pasted drawing paper, colored paper, Japanese paper, German decorative paper and fabric on canvas board (private collection).
Motherwell was an explorer – adventurous and exuberant in his practice. Everything in the exhibition looks cutting-edge and even edgy. That is why this show is so important.
Read my comments (below) on how Motherwell got the exhibition that launched his career in 1943 – see FINAL THOUGHTS – Who you know…
Motherwell was a scholar and a founder member (who wrote about) the Abstract Expressionist movement of the 1940s – also known as the New York School – and (no surprise!) Motherwell’s collages are filled with the gestural energy prerequisite for Ab-Ex painters.
Read more about Abstract Expressionism at the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (Metropolitan Museum of Art) website.
The image above is titled 9th Street Exhibition (1951). It is pasted papers with gouache and ink on paper, Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, Donazione/Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph L. Tucker, 1963.
Read an excellent overview of Motherwell’s life and career (with images and links) at Wikipedia.
Also see the the humorous (and informed) post about the Motherwell/Guggenheim exhibition (11/13/13) by Ariel at Collage Volupte called How Robert Motherwell Lost His Dada Cred – its about Motherwell’s connection to Dadaism and Surrealism.
At the end of the post, Ariel writes about an old parlor game called Exquisite Corpse – played by Dadaist poets and visual artists in Europe in the period between World War I and World War II.
Motherwell was fascinated with dada, Surrealism, and automatic drawing.
FYI: Roberto Matta introduced Motherwell to a version of the exquisite corpse game at his NY salon. Motherwell attended the salons regularly in the early 1940s. Read more about the history of the Exquisite Corpse.
FYI: As a game, the exquisite corpse can be played by poets or visual artists. Players add words or images (drawings or collages) in turn. The first player writes or draws, folds the paper and passes it on to the next player. The final image or poem is supposed to be a surprise. Usually there are three or four players but, depending on how the paper is folded, the number can be more or fewer players.
FYI: Pancho Villa is an historic Mexican Revolutionary general, celebrated for his extraordinary feats in battles in the Mexican War for Independence. He was never defeated. He was assassinated in 1923 when he tried to run for political office in Mexico. Many streets throughout Mexico are named for him.
WILL YOU BE IN NEW YORK FOR CHRISTMAS?
Try to see Robert Motherwell: Early Collages at the Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue at 89 Street before it closes January 5, 2014.
The exhibition catalog is excellent for the essays, but not for the images. You have to see the works in person. I can remember how bold and colorful the works are. I saw them. I will remember. The catalog colors and resolution is disappointing (it may be because the catalog was relatively inexpensive). The Motherwell exhibition archive and the number of images may change. Best to get to the Museum and see the works in person. If you are a collage artist and if you love collage, you must see this show.
Who you know and how you build relationships with the right people is critically important. It also helps to be a brilliant artist in the right place at the right time.
Robert Motherwell (1915-1991) was an intellectual who wanted to be a painter.
Motherwell got his BA in philosophy and French at Stanford University (CA) and started his PhD in philosophy at Harvard University. He left Harvard, went to Columbia University (NY), met and was mentored by Meyer Schapiro (art history professor with an extraordinary reputation and contacts) who advised Motherwell to quit philosophy and focus on painting.
Meyer Schapiro introduced Motherwell to European emigree artists in NY, including Andre Masson, Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst. It was helpful that Motherwell was fluent in French, had studied literature and philosophy, and had been to Paris.
Motherwell became good friends with Chilean Surrealist artist Roberto Matta who introduced Motherwell to automatic drawing and Surrealism (which influenced Motherwelll’s artistic practice for the remainder of his life).
Matta also introduced Motherwell to Peggy Guggenheim who invited him (with William Baziotes and Jackson Pollock) to create collages for her upcoming collage exhibition at her gallery Art of This Century in New York.
According to Peter Plagens’s Wall Street Journal review (Robert Motherwell and the Exuberance of Invention, Wall Street Journal, Dec 5, 2013), Peggy Guggenheim wanted to juxtapose the work of pioneering European modernists with younger American artists just beginning to push into Abstract Expressionism. She asked the Americans to create collage for the Art of this Century show.
How could the young artists say no – they had to create the work – they wanted to be included in a show with European masters like Jean Arp, Georges Braque, Juan Gris, Joan Miro and Pablo Picasso.
Motherwell’s collages were a huge success in the Art of this Century show. Peggy Guggenheim organized a solo collage show for Motherwell the following year.
Pancho Villa Dead and Alive was in the second show and immediately purchased and is now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art NY.
Please send me your comments. Happy Holidays and Happy New Year.
November 8, 2013
We haven’t got enough PAPER
I teach a collage class at the Pelham Art Center in Pelham, NY. We have a new collage project each week. Almost every project has paper as the primary media.
We are half way through the fall term and have run out of magazine papers – our primary source for collage. I supplied the magazines at the beginning of the class term, and the students have depleted the supply. We need more magazines.
I would like the students (or a donor) to replenish the supply. I don’t want junk magazines. Cheap paper is a waste of time. It’s very hard to create collage with cheap paper. It curls when you apply glue. It’s hard to cut and tear. It doesn’t hold up over time. It looks cheap.
I want students to work with quality magazines papers that are printed with rich color, offer strong graphic design, and use creative text. Replacing the ArtForum magazines would cost me much more than I want to spend. I would like every student to donate or find a donor neighbor. So many people toss away magazines or put good magazines into recycling bins. Collage artists recycle. We need good magazines.
Magazines I like include art, photography, internet, home decor, fashion, garden design, nature and more. The paper quality is important. ArtForum, ArtNews and Art in America have good paper. I like Vogue, Elle, Elle Design, W and Interview magazine. National Geographic is excellent for paper quality, color, nature and animal images.
I will ask my friends and neighbors for donations. I would like my students to do the same.
I’m a snob for good paper. In my own collages, in addition to magazine papers, drawings, and my painted papers, I use artist hand-made imported printmaking papers because I love the range and contrast of whites. A lot of my white papers go in as the background layer in a collage.
Good Paper is Expensive. Good paper makes a Good Collage.
Another Way: Create Our Own Papers for Collage
In recent class projects we created large collage papers with multiple small magazine papers. See the first image – a grid collage above. It’s a substrate for a figure collage. In another class, we created a crazy quilt collage with overlapping patterned papers. See my sample image below in red, black and white. I will add another layer.
In a third class, we created a background collage for a landscape. We used pieced papers from a lot of different magazines.
I asked the students to keep the originals and reproduce multiple copies in black and white and color. The copies become the resource media for additional collages: as collage paper and as a paper substrate (bottom layer). Papers can be reproduced from the original as needed. If the original collage is copied digitally, it can be reproduced in a copy shop in very large format. You can play with the image and color in PhotoShop.
I like to include drawing with collage. See the 3rd image above that I made on artist paper and stamped all over with a bird pattern. I cut and paste small sections whenever I want line drawing in the collage.
I included two images that are computer scans of a rug (advertisement) from a design magazine. I like the diamond pattern and needed one to be positive (black on white) and one to be inverse (white on black).
4 Goals for the Class
Create projects that create (generate) papers. Create projects that repurpose and embellish papers. Discuss how to sort and organize collage media. Discuss why it’s important to collect, create, reproduce and build inventory for collage – because it saves time and money, it makes your media personal (you can pick the colors you like), and it’s much better to have all your papers available when you are ready to work .
Please add your comments and suggestions on how to hunt and gather materials for art projects. Thank you for sharing.