It’s been over a hundred years since Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque began using collage in their work, elevating collage into the realms of fine art. The idea of collage wasn’t especially new, originating over 2000 years ago in China. In the 10th century, Japanese poets incorporated collage into their poetry. In practise since the middle ages, gilding and gluing gemstones on religious iconography in cathedrals, is an ancient version of creating mixed media collage. The word collage is from the French verb collér, which means to glue or stick together.
And yet, Picasso and Braque are often regarded as the originators of collage. For these two, the process of using collage was a method to deconstruct form, by using fragments of unrelated media (such as wallpaper, newspaper, or other coloured or patterned papers) in their work. They would often draw or paint on their collages playing with perspective and dimensions. And, very intentionally, they were deconstructing the idea of what constitutes art at the same time.
News stories and war propaganda were popular targets in the early days of collage and used by artists to express their dismay at the absurdities and the horrors they were witnessing. The act of creating collage was seen as subversive; by co-mingling the cultures of art and the everyday, new contexts and meanings were made, while the traditional definitions of what constituted ‘high’ art were being undermined and rejected.
Image: Kathy Nash, Holy Trees, Cloth Bound Photography on Bark Paper
“An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way.
An artist says a hard thing in a simple way.”
Image: Martha Jablonski-Jones, Location (detail), Paper Collage Booklet
The Dadaists (beginning in 1916) introduced whimsy and fantasy into their works, abandoning the still life as inspiration for their collages. Freeing their art from the rational, they used the nonsensical to comment on the insanity of a culture at war. By utilizing the worthless and discarded (i.e. gum wrappers, fabric, memorabilia, magazine clippings) in chaotic and confusing ways, they turned the mundane into art; art that was critical social and political commentary. Hannah Höch used collage to challenge societal sexism, racism, and discrimination by mixing and matching heads and bodies, using collage.
The Surrealists soon added dreamscapes and material from the unconscious to the mix. By combining and juxtaposing images of the improbable, as in free association, they were paradoxically using chaos to create coherent artworks. The Surrealists also added more text to further clarify or confuse their meaning, and to question societal assumptions, mores, and values.
Image: Kathy Nash, California Dreaming (detail), Mixed Media Paint and Collage
“I’ve worked with collage a lot. And there’s this chance thing
that happens - you don’t always control things. Why did you
find this today and not this? But you’ve got this thing, and you
make it work. It’s the way life is, I suppose. Whatever happens,
you deal with it”. Christian Marclay.
There are numerous types of collage and the current exhibition at Artful provides plenty of examples. A montage is a collection of images. A photomontage, a collection of photos. Montage can also be created using film or video, and there are three video montages created by Kristina Campbell in the current exhibition Locality: Space and Time, on thru September 10th:
Maya Deren was an avante-garde experimental filmmaker (working in the 1940’s and 1950’s) who as a combined choreographer, dancer, poet, writer, photographer, and actress is an excellent example of a multi-media artist.
Image: Kristina Campbell, Winter, Video Montage
Mixed media is collage created from a variety of different materials. Multimedia is usually used to describe work that incorporates electronic media (i.e. film, video, audio and computers) and can also incorporate music, writing and performance. Assemblage is collage moved into the three dimensional realm of sculpture.
Image: Jeff Hartbower, For Our Benefit (detail), Sculptural Assemblage
Lucky for us, the 20th century has embraced the idea that art can be any combination of materials and welcomes cross pollination with the interjection of various art forms into one another.
“Popular culture isn’t a freeze frame; it is images zapping by in rapid-fire succession,
which is why collage is such an effective way of representing contemporary life. The
blur between images creates a kind of motion in the mind.” James Rosenquist.
Image: (top) Martha Jablonski-Jones, Mixed Media Collage Series
(bottom) Kathy Nash, Mixed Media Accordion Books