Radical Fragments Radical Glue

by flaunt

Four Collage Artists, in Their Own Words, Discuss Their Process, Technique, and Theory in the Digital Age

Nicolás Santos

I understand collage not only as a raw mix of images, but more as a construction based on different ideas. So I do agree that our culture has evolved into adapting collage to many fields. We—almost—all have the same references and we can evoke them with the same images or sounds. Sampling a song, editing a film, or even a fashion editorial in a magazine are more evolved examples of collages, they are all formed by different deconstructed concepts that eventually form one whole.

This is to say, my work is normally structured around different concepts, it can be a study on desire using vintage porn magazines, a search of my own identity through iconic fashion images from the 90s, an essay on collage creating the images with other photographers ... it all depends on the starting point. But it's usually a long process; maybe 3-4 months until I start developing the first idea, find the images, etc. But after that the process speeds up and the production part can be over in a month or less.

I have been doing two personal projects per year, so 6 months for the whole process could be an approximate time. I also do commissioned works for brands and magazines. Here the process is shorter since they usually already have a concept and they give me the images, so these works can maybe take a week or two to be completed.

I do agree, but I also think the contrary can take place. A collage can have a lot of power, because of its different layers or contrasts, but it can also be more subtle or "flat" and also be novelistic, oneiric or poetic. I think what makes it such a viable art form is that it gives total freedom to the creator, and the viewer. There're no boundaries in creation or perception.

A collage artist that has inspired / inspires me by could be Collier Schorr. I find she has developed a very personal way of doing collage, using the human body as a frame. Also by taking her own pictures and using the technique as what it is, a technique like any other. It's very emotional but balanced at the same time. But I am influenced by art in any of its forms. Paintings, contemporary art, photography, music, Youtube... My inspirations also form a collage.

Nadine Boughton

I had work in the exhibit, “Strange Glue, Collage at 100,” which honored the one-hundred year anniversary of collage, beginning with Picasso and Braque in 1912. Aside from the historical aspect, I am drawn to collage because it so represents the process of life. Life is collage. We make meaning by piecing together memory, dream, daily experience, bits from media. There’s an explosion of interest in the form of collage, partly due to it’s mirroring the times we live in, that of fragmentation, digital thinking, the power to reconsider and make new.

Collage excites me because I get to look back on a time, mid-century, and comment on it from the present, socially and psychologically. I am looking back at this period of post WWII, the burgeoning of advertising and consumerism, the gender polarity, this period that shaped me personally.  All kinds of questions arise. With a background in psychology I’m naturally curious about the underbelly beneath the pleasant surface.

Much of how I work employs the medium of photography.  The scanner acts as a camera, the software is Photoshop and I appropriate photographs from advertising and pulp magazines. Appropriation defined the photography of the 1970s. Today we see this with the Internet, which has unleashed enormous creativity. The exchange of ideas and imagery, the borrowing, “mashing-up,” blogging and reinventing is all collage.

But my images come from vintage magazines, from the late 1940s to early 1960s, found at flea markets and musty bookstores. The series “True Adventures in Better Homes” uses images literally from men’s adventure magazines and Better Homes & Gardens of the same period.

The images I work with are organized in a couple of ways. I have stacks of images under various headings on shelves. These are cut out of magazines because I still love the primal feeling of scissors. I may tack up a single image and let it work on me, until I know what to do with it. But I also have a large database of images built up from scanning pieces into the computer over the years. I make my final composition in Photoshop and then print using a large format printer.

Color is an important part of my process. Patterns of harmonizing colors will lead me into a piece. Also, humor is key; it is a doorway. We laugh and then realize there’s more going on. My work is highly conceptual, full of ideas, but I have to remember to keep returning to the image.

But certainly the magic of collage is in the juxtaposition, the dance that’s created as soon as two pieces come together, the way one comments on the other. I’m not sure, however, that collage always works with opposites such as serious and comic. One might work with high-end materials and in a totally serious way. Some abstract pieces are all about texture etc. The novelistic feel comes when there’s a strong narrative. As in my own work, as soon as you introduce representational images, the narrative drives the show.

Collage is alive and well because of it’s breaking out of old forms, the cross pollination of fragments and ideas, and it’s ability to ever renew itself.  It’s tremendous vitality is on display in a wonderful new magazine called, Kolaj.

But it’s not just collage. I’m drawn to all of Pop art, in particular Richard Hamilton, Martha Rosler. Also, Hannah Hoch, Paolozzi, Rauschenberg.  From contemporaries, John Stezaker inspires me every day, John O’Reilly, and William Wegman’s postcard paintings. There’s so much out there.

Randy Grskovic

Modern Collage has been around since the Dada Movement, reportedly since Dadaist Kurt Schwitters started in the early 1900s. What makes you interested in such a historic art form, and in what sort of way do you see your craft developing it?

For my collage practice I am concerned with print media and it’s affect on popular culture. For most people reading a periodical or a book is a private and intimate experience. Even when you are in a busy waiting room, reading a trashy magazine, print media creates a solitary space for the viewer. What is interesting, as print media has developed over time, is that there are thousands of replications of the magazines and books. Many people are sharing what seems like a solitary experience, yet the exact same information and images are being consumed by countless others over varied contexts and geographic locations. Since the early 1900’s the replication of images has grown and the value of printed material has lessened. However, in our 21st century digital age, the scale of digitally replicated of information has eclipsed anything that has ever been achieved by printing presses. Even the estimated production of 6 billion Christian bibles is small when compared to the possibility of infinite replication on the Internet. So then, has the value of printed material risen since the collective understanding of digital replication has become common knowledge? If so, is it a renaissance of print media’s actual value or is this renewed craving for the tangible merely a fetish? What I have coined “Analogue Collages” are works that reference the style of digital collage. What I would like to question here is if the style of the image (seemingly digital), is of any greater value because it is hand made and why? What we have today is an opportunity to reinvestigate printed material in relationship to digital duplication. I hope this exploration reveals not only how it affects the craft of collage but also our understanding of images and their affect on us, whether the product is tangible or not.

This question is somewhat related. In what ways has "collage" as technique evolved—how have other mediums contributed to this (sound collage, movie montage etc)? I think it is the shear amount of media and the availably of the archive that has fueled the resurgence of collage in all forms. The technology of the mediums themselves have gotten more advanced and user friendly. Anyone can take film or sound from a digital source and create art using simple programs and apps. People can create on their phone while sitting on the bus. There is no longer any downtime. As I mentioned before, these digital ways of producing inspire new techniques that engage the analog producers. The digital (re)production of images has really changed the game in regards to style. Using these techniques in the latter part of the 20th century really introduced new ways of creating composition. The limits of collage (size, color, availability etc.) were removed and our ideas of to compose changed.

Where do you find your images, and how are they organized? How long does a piece of work typically take? Can you describe your process from conception to completion? I find my sources all over the place. Depending on the period of style I will switch from different sources. If I want to use images of Nuclear Families I’ll go to Popular Science and Mechanics from the 1950’s. If I want to talk about technology, I seek out textbooks from the 1980’s. Often I use National Geographic because in popular culture it provides archetypal imagery. National Geographic is also really interesting because of its distribution and quantity. For many these issues of “Nat Geo” allowed people to explore the world without leaving their lazy boy. This of course was the World framed by the magazine publishers and not a wholly accurate depiction. Again, many people reading a magazine in solidarity in their own homes but the hegemony of information created a uniformity of information and perspective for its subscribers. Also, having the availability of these same images in the average school or household library created a mass memory of images as we all had the opportunity to flip through at least a few issues. I sift through the magazines with this in mind. I collect images and categorize them. I have folders marked “Death”, “Space”, “Money”, “Guns”, “Architecture” etc. and file them accordingly. I then have ideas or am inspired by images and sift through the collection looking for archived images that would work. Also, I use the Internet to recollect images. If I find an image that I like, I will note the issue and date find multiple copies online and have them shipped to my house so that I can create duplicate images. Part of this process helps to reinforce the idea concerning the hegemony of information. I get issues from all over North America and they all have the same content. Again, reading a magazine alone is actually a shared experience. It’s hard to say how long each piece takes because it is part of a long collection of the archive. It may only take a day to assemble it but it took years to collect the right imagery.

A Guggenheim Essay says that the juxtaposition of elements, “at once serious and tongue-in-cheek,” is fundamental to collage. Is that what makes it such a viable art form, that it accommodates various modes of "image"--the high and the low, the serious and the comic. It's almost novelistic, in this regard. Do you agree? Can you expand/expound on this? I think this is true but I don’t think you need a collage artist to make it happen. Every day p­­­eople drive down the highways and see billboards in succession. You will have an advertisement for McDonalds right after an ad for Ferrari right after an ad for cancer outreach. This placement is not intentional; it doesn’t mean anything but it does create dialogue. These incidental collages of imagery and messages are in front of our faces every day, it’s not that collage artists create the juxtaposition, it’s that we refine it.

Who are some of your favorite collage artists that have or continue to inspire you? I owe a lot to John Baldessari, his ideas of what art is really influenced my practice. He once said, “Art is about making a choice”. This comment was so liberating because it doesn’t matter what you do, you just have to commit to something. Make a decision, go with it, learn from it, and keep creating.  Of course I’m also influenced by the masters, the Dadaists and Situationalists, the writings of Guy Debord and the Spectacle. All of my ideas are a collage of everyone that came before me. Now, with the Internet being a central source of distribution I am also inspired by young artists who are creating daily and exhibiting online for all to see. This surge of distribution through sites like Tumblr make the critique much more open. I no longer have to only associate with the artists in my physical proximity; I can connect with image-makers from around the world at any hour of the day. This is really inspiring.

Laurindo Feliciano

Modern Collage has been around since the Dada Movement, reportedly since Dadaist Kurt Schwitters started in the early 1900s. What makes you interested in such a historic art form, and in what sort of way do you see your craft developing it? I'm interested in several artistic movements of the early twentieth century: Surrealism, Futurism, Dadaism, Constructivism, which are related to modern collage and its objectives. All of them participate in the development of a collage aesthetic. The diversity of this technique is an inevitably plural subject, because it has rejected every doctrine and all of the normative models - and at the same time it has dealt with multiple and sometimes conflicting intentions.

Experiments related to bonding have produced innovative works, defying the rules of art. When I started making collages, I was fascinated by those multidisciplinary aspects and the possibility of infinite combination of elements and textures. My style has changed a lot since I started. My first collage works used to follow this strong notion behind the accumulation of elements, but now my focus is to go against this assumption to try and create compositions that are more homogeneous as a whole.

This question is somewhat related. In what ways has "collage" as technique evolved — how have other mediums contributed to this (sound collage, movie montage, etc.)? The new technologies are a big part of this development, and sometimes are even capable of determining its forms. In the process of collage work, the most important phases, the deconstruction and the reconstruction, are probably even more visible now, as we witness an accelerated pace of works that are unclassifiable.

Indeed, the emergence of these unidentifiable productions seems to accentuate the lack of boundaries in between the arts, which are already heavily undermined by the experiments of modernity. And at the same time, this process leads to bigger mixtures, never before achieved. It is impossible to say where we are going.

Where do you find your images, and how are they organised? How long does a piece of work typically take? Can you describe your process from conception to completion? Since I moved to Paris, 10 years ago, I started a collection of vintage books, magazines, postcards and letters. Everything is organised by specific themes. I often go to used books stores to look for these rare documents. The time it takes to finish a piece depends on the nature of the work. It is impossible to say how long my personal artworks take to be finished, maybe some hours or even months. Commissioned works have strict deadlines, so I have to respect the deadlines and concentrated on the essential, but usually I take less than 48 hours to finish a very elaborated work.

My background is in product design and architecture, so I use some techniques I learned in those fields in my own work. The most important thing in my creative process is to follow some rigorous steps to define that define the composition, as the elements and the colours combinations. It starts with a long research, that is when I take several notes for future reference. Then, I do a hand-made composition in a blank page, while start drawing and painting different elements that will be used after on the computer. All of those steps give me the possibility to decide how the elements will be deconstructed and mixed. Then, I scan everything, and only in this moment I start using Photoshop. I think that this is a powerful and wonderful skill in contemporary arts, can you imagine if the surrealists had this software?

A Guggenheim Essay says that the juxtaposition of elements, “at once serious and tongue-in-cheek,” is fundamental to collage. Is that what makes it such a viable art form, that it accommodates various modes of "image"--the high and the low, the serious and the comic. It's almost novelistic, in this regard. Do you agree? Can you expand/expound on this? This notion around antagonistic elements can, in a way, reveal the potential of this form of art. But at the same time I don't think that this is fundamental. Collage can refer to a gap between rhetoric and reality, between two perspectives, or more generally between two different worlds where harmony and beauty, the usual criteria for the recognition and evaluation of art, can be preserved or despised.

Who are some of your favorite collage artists that have or continue to inspire you? Joseph Beuys, Cy Twombly and Max Ernst are my biggest influences. Collage is not the main aspect of their work, but their concept of art is a major contribution to my own guidelines as an artist.

Ben Giles

There was never a light-bulb moment upon looking at another artist, which led to the practice I follow with collage, but collecting and hoarding is something I did from an early age. This led to the rearrangement of said objects and the imagination to compose it into something new. In terms of developing it, I can’t say, I've always aimed to have something of a clarity with the piece and composition as opposed to a collection of ideas or hints. In terms of developing my own relationship with it I’m moving away from the scissors and glue and stacks of magazines and the two dimensional aspect of it, moving into a more sculptural collage, one that an audience can interact with, feel, walk around, something more tangible. Collage is definitely a pathway to sculpture.

But it’s interesting, throughout art history, collage is constantly being rediscovered, redefined, disregarded. Over time the accessibility has led to it becoming something everybody can attempt, through diaries and sketchbooks, perhaps this is why its appeal as fine art isn't as strong as other mediums, it can be more relatable and mass produced onto products and prints. The idea that it is a shortcut is often raised, yet with other mediums this isn't considered. The technique can be found in the works of filmmakers such as Terrence Malick, who painstakingly films and edits hundreds of seemingly random pieces and threads them together to tell a thematic narrative. Even musicians use samples to weave into analog compositions, or layer loops at the push of a button amidst the confusion of a live setting. Although it can often be easy to acquire the pieces, the forming of a new whole is something that can take time and shouldn't be disregarded as lazy or easy. A bit like a Steve Reich piece, the initial lines or parts aren't particularly difficult on their own, but the layering, looping, balancing and general structure is.

It needs to be said that it’s possible to achieve collage techniques with digital technologies but that the original sense of the word ''glue'' has somewhat been lost, but this is by no means a bad thing. It’s certainly interesting how older sources of materials can be brought together using modern software and rearranged and distributed, the possibilities and variables of use are infinite. Collage has to be understood as a medium that cannot die. New imagery is constantly produced, printed and delivered

Looking at Versions by Oliver Laric is quite haunting, especially when considered in the context of the Internet, websites such as Tumblr and programs such as Photoshop. When collages are formed but not in the name of art with normal images or stills ... when digital collages are edited and recycled as collages, posters and backgrounds ... any semblance of the original is lost, the physicality.

Images will begin to be reused, redesigned, reprogrammed, reproduced in the artists hands again and again, there will never be a definitive version or manipulation as the image can easily be owned and distorted into the owner’s or artist’s view. This is interesting when noticing that a large portion of contemporary collage is a flat image that could be potentially repurposed and the artist's piece becomes the source for another.

Perhaps differently, I find images from books and magazines, from charity shops and car-boot sales, or National Geographic magazines. There’re just piles lying around, in drawers, on the floor. I try to organize the images into sets of content, but often I’ll pile the images I want to use the most at the top and work my way down. It’s confusing. The process in creating each piece really varies in time, it can take weeks collecting for an idea to emerge and a day to make once everything is together. Or days spent considering what to do with an image I’m drawn to and hours once I know. An image can often influence the entire piece.

The flowers take the longest. Each flower is individually cut out and arranged leaving me in an ocean of cuttings, which I then have to navigate. There’s rarely a set pattern, but once I've started I can’t stop working until it’s finished, the idea of going back to it after a certain amount of time, there’s a spontaneity I enjoy working in, perhaps an honesty. As well as a certain playfulness. It’s quite a reoccurring thing; perhaps that’s what’s appealing. There is a desire to not take the self seriously in my collage work, perhaps this is true with others, and with this it’s easier to suggest collage as a home for both high and low aspects of culture.

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