Why collage?

Last week, I was idling around my studio, trying to avoid working on a series of paintings that so far had left me feeling grumpy. Other activities I was avoiding included entering new information about several new works into an excel spread sheet, sweeping the floor, gessoing a new canvas. I hadn’t made a collage in a while, and I had some beautiful papers I purchased from Hiromi Paper in Culver City so I started to sort through my pile of rejected/half-finished/failures/what was I thinking when I made this miscellaneous pieces of canvas and paper.  Maybe there was a collage hiding in this pile.

Here’s a little background: Collage, or assemblage of various materials, has a long history but its place in contemporary art is most often attributed to Georges Braque “Fruit Dish and Glass" in 1912.  Apparently, M. Braque was moved by a trompel’oeil piece of wallpaper. Wikipedia, et al, speak about how collage artists used humble materials, mass-produced materials and the ephemera of society to question the ideals of fine art. This query also became a means of social commentary and a reflection of the broader changes occurring in a modern world.  Braque and Picaso first coined the term ‘collage’.  (I also looked up synonyms for collage and Miriam-Webster listed its top 50 or so, of which almost one-third describe food–hash, smorgasbord, stew, jambalaya, ragout, salad, gumbo, dog’s breakfast, olio, gallimaufry, macedoine, olla podrida, salmagundi and alphabet soup.  For some reason ratatouille didn’t make the cut!)

My sorting process is to start with one paper or image I like, then to keep sorting to find some things that compliment or contrast.  The size/scale of the potential ‘likes’ pile leads to selecting a base.  There are two schools of thought about what to do next.  Most prominent are the cut (or rip) pieces out, arrange pieces in a composition you like, then paste the pieces down. This approach doesn’t work for me as the scraps never re-align themselves in as pleasing a manner. So, I start by pasting a big piece down and work from there.  I also have a good-size box of miscellaneous ribbons, small objects and doodads that I can add to the collage. I often finish by applying some painting or ink marks to add unity to the composition. 

It was a good idea that I put off sweeping the floor, as one by-product of collage is that lots of snippets of paper, etc. seem to fall everywhere.  I should name this piece ‘Tribute to the Dust Buster.’

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