One of the most difficult aspects of being a cut paper collage artist is the inability to take it with me when I travel. But if I don’t keep my hands busy and my visual mind stimulated, I get restless and bored and ultimately angry. We’re doing a lot of travelling again this year, and frequently I need something portable to do. I’ve tried drawing, coloring (with pencils and crayons), crocheting, and even painting-by-number as stop-gap measures, but ultimately, I need to be able to manipulate shapes and colors and textures to fulfill this need.
Since I’ve always wanted to add fabric to my list of collage materials, here’s what I’ve started carrying with me to hand-stitch on the road, using quilting and crafting scraps:
And what about embellishing with antique buttons? A few years ago an elderly acquaintance insisted I take home tins of antique buttons and trims, many of which that had been her mother’s. I had not yet found any use for them, but maybe now I can integrate the buttons and trims into these portable, hand-stitched collages.
What will I do with these mini-collages? I’m not sure. I just know that they fulfill an itch that needs scratching when I’m on the road–again . . . .
Last month at a meeting of the Atlanta Collage Society I had the opportunity to show to my peers the latest collage I was working on. I showed them the book from which I got the idea for this exercise in flattened perspective: Study for Bart Van de Leck’s “Composition 1916 no. 4” done roughly in what looks like tempera paint. He was an architect by trade, but he messed around with his drawings of houses and rooms to create new compositions. I was really impressed with how a flattened drawing could still have depth, so I set about to recreate it in my style.
I explained to my peers that I was using 1/4” strips of magazine papers (cut precisely using a ruler and Xacto blade) for the blocks of color, and strips of plain white art paper as the outlining. The background edges are covered in a neutral decorative paper from the art supply store, to simulate the plain yellowed paper Van der Leck used. They asked the standard question: “What glue do you use?” When I responded, “Yes! paste,” they got into a lively discussion of everything they don’t like about Yes! paste. That was the extent of the presentation and following discussion.
I don’t think my fellow collage artists knew what to make of my attempt to copy a master. Perhaps what I did is too left-brained, too precise. I think most of them prefer to let their inspiration take them wherever it wants to, free-wheeling their way through multiple collages at a time with minimal planning, experimenting with many mediums. Perhaps what I do is too much design and not enough spontaneity. Maybe I’m too mired in structure and too restrictive with myself. Probably so.
But can’t a self-controlled, structured approach also be a reflection of an artist’s soul? Does every creative act have to be like a child’s finger-painting—wild, undirected, accidental—or can creativity show self-restraint, too, where what is left out is as important as what is included? (Think visual poetry.)
As usual, I have no idea how anyone will respond to “Unfolded.” I am hoping that it becomes the kind of piece in which one can get lost following the blocks of color, marching up and down the unevenly flattened steps that lead only to another block of color . . . .
“Unfolded,” 20×20″ on gallery-wrapped canvas
It took four months, but I have finally finished “State of the Union,” my 30×24-inch collage of triangular cut-paper collages. This project turned out to be what my mother-in-law calls “un jeu de patience.” It felt as though the tedium would never end. Each individual triangle had to be cut to perfect size out of white paper. I had to keep up with where I was on the canvas, on my paper chart, and in the original photo (expanded on my iPad), all at the same time; then I had to cut tiny snips of colored paper to glue onto the majority of the triangles (especially the small ones). This is the first time I used only tiny, very sharp Fiskars scissors, X-acto blades (many), and tweezers. I used rubber cement so that I could remove the excess dried glue by rubbing very gently. There were days when my hands and the scissors got so sticky that every scrap on the workbench stuck to my fingernails and the blades, and all the flinging and rubbing couldn’t loosen them. I ruined first an apron and then several t-shirts by wiping the glue and snippets of paper directly on my clothing. The carpeting, pavement, grass, and deck between my workbench and the door to the house have been littered with sticky paper scraps adhered to the bottom of my shoes. I have been dreaming in triangles and seeing usable colors and patterns everywhere—on people’s clothing, on the TV screen, in the trees. Deep breath: all that can end now.
Today I sprayed on three coats of UV-protective finish and varnished the surface with a sponge brush. Tomorrow we’ll wire the back, slap on a label, and deliver it to an art show. I will be glad to separate myself from this self-portrait for a while!
“State of the Union,” 30″x24″, cut paper collage, based on a photo of reflections in “Untitled” by Anish Kapoor, a stainless steel sculpture at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, GA
I am literally dreaming in three sides now, trying to overlay triangles with people all night long. Maybe it’s the rubber cement fumes or the spring allergy medication, but my brain feels as though it’s being reprogrammed to see into a different dimension. Is this really 2-D art? I am trying to present something 3D in multiple fractured viewpoints all at one time. Each triangle in my collage is a world into itself, requiring me to cut and paste individual papers to make up a different angle and distance of one portion of a complete whole that’s been flattened onto a canvas. The fact that it’s partially a self-portrait makes this even more ridiculous. I may be getting a little obsessive about this collage, and so I’m planning to take a break from it next week. Perhaps by the end of May I can escape this nightmarish landscape . . . .
Yes, I’m still cutting out triangles and making mini-collages on them to try to capture the fragmented view of my husband and me as reflected in a stainless steel sculpture. I’m down to our faces now, and a mild panic has set in. So far, the foreheads and hairlines look like 1980’s computer graphics, but who knows what will happen as I add “eyes” and “noses” of cut magazine paper . . .
My studio isn’t clean and neat any longer; now it’s covered in slivers of (mostly) white purchased and found papers. I’m recreating an image of my husband and me cast on a stainless steel mirrored sculpture which is part of the permanent collection at the High Museum in Atlanta (Untitled by Anish Kapoor).
This is probably one of the craziest collages I’ve ever attempted because each triangle must be precisely cut so that all points line up. It’s slow going, but somehow intriguing. Although the image I’m recreating is vertical (portrait), I’m working on it horizontally (landscape) because I’m using the biggest canvas I’ve ever before attempted—30”x20”—and my arms aren’t long enough to work at it any other way. Oddly, I’ve opted to work in rows from right to left, starting at the top of the design.
This is another example of unpredictable outcome—I have no idea what this will end up looking like, whether I can pull off this illusion or not, and even if I do, whether it will be readable. It contains repeating images of parts of our faces, too, and I’m not sure how I’m going to recreate fragmented human faces using only cut up magazine ads.
Once again I feel my vision changing: now I’m seeing the world as a tessellation of convex polygons. (This, from someone who barely passed geometry in 10th grade and never went any further in math??)
The roughest times for me are when I’m in between collage projects. Here’s what my studio looks like right now.
Every scrap of paper has been swept away, my scissors are clean, pencils sharpened. Very intimidating.
I have plenty of busy-work to complete: delivering my two newest collages to an exhibit this week; shipping three collages to a gallery in Baton Rouge, LA, and sending supporting documentation; completing applications to exhibits that are piling up on my desk, by first figuring out which of my show-worthy collages will be available on those dates, which ones I’ve not shown with that group before, which ones meet the necessary themes, sizes, etc.; generating year-end accounting reports for my business and preparing for tax reporting . . . . But all the busy-work in the world doesn’t get me closer to latching onto my next project and beginning a new journey.
On a lighter note, though, I must give credit to my step-grandson for naming my most recent collage “It’s a Hard Rock Life.” Such a clever title (I love allusions!) for a collage of colorful vegetation growing tenuously along the Southern Ocean on the rocky cliff above Admiral’s Arch in Flinders National Park on Kangaroo Island in South Australia.
“It’s a Hard Rock Life,” 12×16, mixed torn and cut papers