Archive for November 15th, 2010

I have a box in my studio where clippings get tossed, from magazines I subscribe to and magazines that people give me because they know about that infamous box.  In general, when you’re an artist, people give you things, either in earnest or because they think it’s time to rib you about being an arteeeeest.  A friend once gave me a banged up aluminum kettle that he had found in his apartment building’s garbage because he thought I would want to draw it.  Another friend bought me a 25 cent painting at the Good Will store, something with an American flag and a coyote, you can’t imagine how awful, and I got the joke.  No matter, that infamous box is a treasure trove.

I scooped out a few handfuls and brought them to my landscape painting class.  Spread out on a long table, the pile of paper looks like a hopeless mess.  Of course.  So is the oil paint being mixed on a palette.  That’s exactly what the mess of paper on that table is, a palette.  But whereas painting requires mixing, cleaning, scraping, wiping—a truly messy process—collaging presents you with an ironically neat working process.  It’s all there.  You cut, rip, try this, try that—all in a rapid, intuitive thought process where color is instant and shape is in a quick cut or the ripping gesture of the wrist.  Because there’s no technical complexity, the imagination has a field day.  My students, all over-educated high-achievers, plunged in, bringing their usual energy and concentration to what to an outsider would have looked a bit silly.  Not silly, folks.  Collaging opens up possibilities not accessible by the habits of brush and turpentine.  Most students produced three collages in three hours, each more freed from literalness than the one before.  The liberation from the literal is at the heart of abstraction.  But abstraction is hard to get at if you clench your jaw and try to will yourself into it.  Doesn’t work, results in phony, flat, klutzy arrangements and we’ve seen plenty of that kind of stuff.  Abstraction, I’ve observed, happens when your love of color and shape sneaks up on you and boo! derails you out of your complacent loyalty to polite representation.  “I’ve never done anything like this before,” more than one student said, and  “I always hated collage before.  This is amazing.”

It was a productive day.

Some of these collages will be framed as independent works and some will serve as the point of departure for paintings.  The collage work was so engrossing that none of the students felt worried about how they were going to tackle the painting stage.

The process of transferring a collage to a canvas will be discussed in a future post.  After that, in yet another post we will see the paintings.

Collages shown here by Spike S., Elaine C., Beatrice K., Ivan T., and Naomi P.

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