Honestly, I had about given up on ever doing collage. I have been thinking about getting into it in someway for the last 20 years or so. I never could really decide if I would just make straight up collage for collage sake or if I would end up just applying photos or parts of them to my paintings.
I get these ideas, then I think about them wonder what was I thinking.
It wasn’t too long ago I was reminded of some of a painting Willem de Kooning did in his Woman Series where he glued the mouth of a model from a Camel cigarette ad that he had cut from a magazine onto the head of the figure.
Maybe I wasn’t crazy after all.
I have yet to do that in any sort of a successful enough way to show it to anyone yet.
Fast forward to December 2017. Piper, my daughter was home and had the very clever notion to decorate some dollar store iPhone cases with collage for her brother Phillip for Christmas. While she was in the studio late one night cutting up old Art in America and Lantina magazines and Mod Podging her clippings into beautiful little compositions, I just couldn’t resist any longer.
That night of December 23, I made three little collages on some wood panels I had laying around that were about 4” x 5.5”. Each one was a little better than the next. A shiver ran through me because I was having the feeling that, not only did I not know what I was getting into or where it was going, but I had the feeling I might already might becoming addicted.
In doing a very little research on the history of collage I learned a few things. I am clever enough to realize and suppose that people have been glueing bits of paper together since the advent of paper. I also realized that Picasso and Braque were the foremost of the forerunners of the cubist movement, and were some of the first to use collage in the modern era to make serious art.
What I didn’t realize was that together Picasso and Braque actually coined the term collage. They conjured it up from the French verb collar, meaning to glue or to stick. And this of course is what they were doing; glueing bits of paper, wood and fabric to the surface of their canvases to give new dimension and texture. This simple act changed the definition of what was a painting and maybe even what is art?
Then Dadaists picked right up on that and took collage to another place. But that is quite enough art history for now. Let’s talk about me and my art some more.
When I posted those three collages without warning to Instagram, I mentioned in the comments that these were the first collages I had done since 1973. As it turns out that wasn’t exactly true. Due to an unfortunate leaky pipe in my basement and the unexpected salvaging of soggy boxes from former studios of mine, I found a collage I did for, of all things, a photography class I took in 1985. It was a lame and a singular attempt and resolving some sort of compositional issue for and assignment in that class.
I mentioned that I have had collage in the back of my mind for some 20 years or more, I have been stashing away strange magazines and odd bits of papers for that purpose for years. Since that fateful December evening when Piper pushed me over the edge, I have not been able to stop making them.
While I am still figuring out what it is that collage is doing for me, I can say that initially I would intuitively lay down the bits of paper I would cut out onto the board, glueing as quickly as I cut the pieces out. Only to find that I would just have a mess that I had to resolve. That though honestly is where the hard and the fun part resides!
After a couple weeks of glueing onto every possible substrate I could find, I was refining my approach. Then a thought that is so typical of me, I thought of something that would make this new thing a real challenge. What if I were to make collages from the live model? Since I have a model in the studio weekly I figured that I had the perfect opportunity the next Tuesday evening.
The model was on the stand, and I at my painting easel with a couple different knives and scissors instead of brushes, stacks of magazines, and Mod Podge instead of paint. I had no idea what I was doing and I was loving it. The results were wonderful to me. My fear was that it was beginners luck.
So, I did it again, and again. Each time figuring out a little bit more about how to refine my process. What I was finding was, without my least effort to mimic my painting style, it seemed that is exactly what I was doing. I didn’t notice while making the collages as the technique is so different from painting. When I put the two side by side I was astonished by the similarities.
Collage is still a new adventure for me, I see some very interesting and intriguing results daily. I am encouraged to see that when I break my subjects down into fragments of paper, they often come together with the same sensibilities as my brushstrokes.
Like all art forms, the reasons and motivations for doing them is as varied as number of artists that make art. For me collage is just one more reason to love being an artist. I feel so fortunate to be able to wake up with a new idea and be able to go to the studio and see if I can make it a reality. I am sure that in the next weeks I will refine my thoughts on what collage brings to artistic practice as a whole, and at that time i will write something more direct and to the point. But right now, it seemed like I should just tell the story of how I got from there to here.