I am still reflecting on the learning and inspiration from this weekend's collage workshop with Dorothy Field. I spent some time today documenting the pieces I created over the weekend, and found one I felt was good enough to mount - it fit beautifully into a black shadowbox I've been hoarding in my studio for a while. Other pieces may not be worthy of framing, but are still worth looking at and learning from, and I've posted a few here.
Dorothy articulated the process of collage really well, I thought. It is an artform that is loose, intuitive, playful, and unconscious, yes; but there comes a point in the process when careful observation, a tight modulation of visual energy, and a rational, focused approach to composition become very important. It's all about relationships, and finding a reason for the various visual elements, the bits and pieces, to converse and conspire together. It may be about harmony or dissonance, connection or contrast, but it is always, primarily, about relationship.
I've also been reflecting on the fact that collage as an artform did not emerge until the 20th Century - which makes complete sense, really, when we consider the nature of the modern world. We have so much STUFF. More than we have ever had before. We have so much waste, so many scraps and bits and pieces. Imagine the value of things like paper, ink, glue, and pigment, not to mention print and photographs, in pre-industrial or early-industrial society, then imagine our own mountains of scraps and packaging and print and paper... the human imagination, and the artmaking urge, play on whatever is available, from bone and mud to newspapers and packaging. Collage is the timeless artmaking urge playing on modern materials.
In this exercise I was exploring visual weight and contrast.
I'm thinking of it as visual composting now. From a pile of messy, disparate scraps, comes this rich loam of visual art, right? (Please forgive me, I've been gardening a lot lately, and am especially proud of my newly acquired composting skills!!)
This little collage (top) is a good example of visual composting. This was done as a warm up exercise in the workshop. I adore Chinoiserie wallpaper and Toile (examples, bottom) and have spent lots of time looking at various specimens of them, but they were the farthest things from my mind when I did this little exercise. You see what my visual memory, collaborating with my unconscious mind, did?
Here's another bit of wisdom I got from Dorothy, and it applies not only to the physical elements of collage, but to the bits and pieces of ourselves that we bring to our artmaking. It falls into the simple-and-obvious yet pithy-and-profound category: Everything you know you gotta use. That means don't hide from the stuff (in yourself) that you happen to think is ugly, or boring, or irrelevant. Use all the juice of your life. Do you want to be making art with your ego, or with your whole, authentic self?