Cut & Paste, Part 2
It’s finally part 2…and less than one month later. Not too bad.
We left off at my break-through moment about creating art intuitively…and then came winter break.
I don’t think I lifted a paintbrush once the entire time. Or a pencil that wasn’t mechanical. And we all know artists never work with mechanical pencils.
When I got back to school in January, it felt like I had to break through a wall. Kind of when you’re trying to work out after weeks of just sitting at home. (Not that I’ve experienced this, but I thought, you know, some people might be able to relate.) That quarter I was only taking one studio class that was mostly self-directed. Sometimes assignments are obnoxious, but they do force you to create. It’s like easing back in. Like going to Zumba classes and being able to just follow the crowd instead of having to plan your whole workout. (I halfheartedly apologize for all these gym metaphors. I promise I’m not trying to guilt-trip anyone here.)
Anyway, my first piece in January was a collage. I did it because we were cutting and pasting paper in another class, and because I didn’t have to come into the studio to work on it. The amount of physical effort and technique that goes into a collage is almost nothing! Which was just what I needed when the assignment was due at the end of the week and I hadn’t started! Unfortunately there’s a lot of mental back-story to a collage.
One problem was that I had no baseline to work from. What makes a “good” collage, exactly? I didn’t know. But I was good at being analytical, remember? So I used a weird combination of intuition and analysis. I cut out images that interested me, just going off of the visual. It didn’t matter that pigs and swimmers’ legs and whipped cream off the top of a milkshake ad didn’t seem to relate. Except that they sort of did. Spread out on my couch and coffee table, I surrounded myself with cut-up bits of paper. A tip to aspiring collage-ists: Don’t make any sudden movements or else everything will blow away.
After I got into the swing of things – not letting my cut-out eyes and hamburgers and lips fly away – I tried to group them. Some configurations were awkward and ugly – even I could see that – but others might be good? I couldn’t tell.
I based these first few collages loosely on gender – something I’ve been exploring lately. Plus a Buddha, since I just liked the picture. In a sense, I had to throw any conceptual intent out the window. I didn’t try to communicate any specific message. As a result, these collages felt completely random, but I hoped that visually they could work.
Here are my first two:
Pretty rough. But the bodybuilder image, titled “Goal!” ended up in my first exhibition. And it did look a little better in a frame.
From here I didn’t expect to be doing more collage, but to my surprise, I just felt like doing more. And so I did. While that sounds pretty simple, for me it was strange. How often do you get to act on your random impulses? Well, maybe you do this a lot, but I don’t. I’m type A, tightly organized, trying to keep my distractions at a minimum, but also an artist. Which is a pretty good excuse to do what I want. So I cautiously followed my artistic urges.
But I couldn’t start from scratch, nor did I need to. There have been plenty of artists who have done collage, but I hadn’t really been exposed to them. Time for research.
I had been looking at a lot of Max Ernst’s collages in my Dada and Surrealism class, and his approach was very different than what I had been doing. Rather than building the piece up from scratch, he used found images – which were often already visually interesting or bizarre – and changed only a few pieces.
He was into birds.
So this became the next stage in my collage-ing. Not the birds, but the use of found images. This is what I made next.
I ended up working in only black and white. I don’t know exactly why, but I liked working within this limit; if I were using color, my source material would be almost endless. I haven’t yet gone to the internet for material yet…that might be too much. And digital collage is completely different story.
At the same time, collage is limiting and requires extra effort. I can’t go to an art store and buy my materials like I would for scratchboard or oil paint. To really get going, I have to collect a lot of material, so there’s a greater range in what I can create.
All the while, I’d also been looking at Keith Haring’s work. While I enjoy his simplified, stylized figures, and see a lot of similarity to my own work, he also tried his hand at collage. The complete opposite of Ernst, Haring incorporated paints, ink and graphite into his collages, while also expressing overtly political messages.
These are his older collages, which are clear critiques. They remind me of a piece I started, but never finished, on media coverage of the Egyptian revolution in 2011.
These are Haring’s later collages, with the messages less overt and an incorporation of other media.
I’d like to try his mixed media approach too, but haven’t gotten there yet. Maybe I’m still not done with black and white, or maybe I just need a break from college.
That, and I don’t know where collage will fit into my gallery categories.