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Collage and relief

 

I started doing collage as a way to compose paintings. I’d make a little cut/torn paper image and then I’d paint an enlarged version using Stevenson’s Watercolours on full sheets of Arches 300 lb paper. The Ultramarine Blue developed these beautiful sedimentary whorls when a big wash was laid down. In Ecuador, collage developed as a medium in its own right. It took me a while to clue in that some materials were more permanent than others—welcome to the modern art conservationists’ nightmare. I used berries and powdered dyes picked up in markets and tissue paper for a while, until I realized that all those would fade.

 

For the relief pieces I worked on found wood. I picked up stuff in the alleys around St Clair and Christie when I went for a run, well, more of a stop-and-start, then I’d visit the swans in Wychwood Park and eventually make my way home with alley-detritus bulging out of the pockets of my windbreaker.

 

Why I was drawn to collage in the first place had to do with setting up some kind of surface tension. I produced painterly collages because acrylic— applied in glazes or in puddles and then rubbed away— adds the illusion of depth. And yet the physical fact of collage, which is essentially a low or shallow relief, pulls the attention back to the surface.  A tug of war. In some ways, collage insists on the inclusion of the awkward, a piece or part that always refers to itself, its original purpose or use, and therefore resists being composed or colonized by the composition. I suspect that’s something Picasso and Braque recognized and relished about their innovative forays into the medium.

 

It so happens that in this digital age, we are surrounded by elaborately beautiful imagery, much of it built of layers and overlays and transparencies, a contrast of surfaces and depths. Things can be cut, pasted, collaged, dropped in, heightened, elongated, and otherwise altered or transformed by programs like Photoshop, by image transfer and overlay. Collage is everywhere, perhaps because it’s an art-form best suited to lives measured in ever more minute units, and diverse stimuli that comes at us simultaneously. Our thinking is collage, our newspaper reading is collage, our tv-watching is collage, our activities are collage. We have the attention span of gnats.  And yet many of these images are about stillness and contemplation.

 

 

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