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Collage Up Close

Mixed media collage on paper colours blue grren yellow
Little Curiosities Collage

There's nothing like a little collage exercise to explore interesting textures, contrasts and compositions!

Using leftover pieces from the gel prints I did for my Dusty Summer sketch I spent a happy couple of hours putting together there small A5 sized collages, to add to my 'Wall of Curiosities.'

Working with collage always feels a little simplistic as it's one of the earliest art making methods we're introduced to as kids in school. It's a quick and simple way to create new and original imagery, requiring only basic materials and skills.

But as with any art process the more you do it, the more refined your vision becomes and the more you can achieve and learn by working this way.

As I look back over my art making journey, I realise that I began seriously exploring collage over 30 years ago at art college and I still have my sketchbooks that are filled with experimental pieces. I found it such a useful and immediate way to make exploratory images before committing to larger artworks. Initially I just used whatever materials I had to hand and eventually I progressed onto making my own papers from different kinds of raw materials. I have a vivid memory of stacking sheets of soggy wet paper on top of the old iron radiator in the college studio to try and dry it out, so I could get on and use it!

My 'Rekindle Series' saw a move back towards collage as my dominant working process, which stayed with me as I embarked on my 'Habitat Series'. Brought about largely by the arrival of my gel printing plate which opened up a a whole new avenue to explore in terms of creating papers with amazing visual texture, the kind of texture that you could never hope to achieve with just paint brushes.

'Submerged' by Charlotte Wensley (2022)

I'm endlessly fascinated by the continuum of creativity in which we, as artists, make our work. So, let's take a closer look at where 'collage' comes from and it's development through the post war years and how it's relevant to us as we make abstract art, today.

Artists have been using collage in their process since the Cubist painters, Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, began employing 'Papier Colles' (pasted paper) in their work in the early 1900's. Cubism paired perfectly with the collage approach, as it enabled artists to literally piece together an image from dissimilar components. enhancing their process of deconstructing their subject matter and fracturing forms to allow for multiple perspectives to exist in the same image.

‘Violin and Pipe' by Georges Braque (1913)

Both Braque and Picasso made a number of collages around 1912 with Picasso substituting the wood-grain paper favoured by Braque with pages from the newspapers in an attempt to introduce the reality of everyday life into his pictures. Both artists used still life arrangements as the source of inspiration for their collage work.

‘Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar and Newspaper' by Pablo Picasso (1913)

And then came along the Dadaists who began to incorporate a wide array of iconography, from reinterpreted portraits to figures rooted in fantasy. They creatively incorporated more materials into their collages than their Cubist counterparts and became particularly renowned for their innovative use of seemingly worthless or often overlooked items like tickets, magazine clippings, candy wrappers, and even 3-dimensional trinkets. By transforming ephemera into polished pieces, the Dadaists challenged traditional perceptions of art.

‘Tableau Rastadada' by Francis Picabia (1920)

‘Flight' by Hannah Höch (1931)

On the heels of Dada, the Surrealists adopted and adapted this cut-and-paste technique. Much like their “automatic” approach to painting, these artists relied on the subconscious to produce one-of-a-kind assemblages made of photographs, illustrations, colored paper, and paint.

Abandoning the Cubists' focus on still-life, they embraced and expanded upon the Dadaists' move toward strange subject matter to create pieces evocative of a dream. Joseph Cornell and André Breton, both used this method as a means to conjure up cohesive yet entirely made-up scenes.

‘Untitled (Celestial Fantasy with Tamara Toumanova)' by Joseph Cornell (1940)
‘Egg in the church or The Snake' by André Breton (Date Unknown)

By the mid 1900's artists had taken collage from a raw, experimental and exploratory working process, very much into the realms of fine art. There are plenty of well recognised and influential artists who became famous for their collage work. Here's just a few!

Robert Rauschenberg was an American artist best known for pioneering Pop Art in the 1960s. He incorporated popular culture with technical experimentation, creating characteristic postmodern artworks marked by eclecticism. Besides his three-dimensional works and silkscreen paintings, Rauschenberg was also a true collage artist, using photographs from books and magazines as his source material, deconstructing the images before reconstructing them using paint as a visual strategy to create a coherent artwork on paper.

'Flue' by Robert Rauschenberg (1980)

David Hockney created a series of iconic photo collages in the 1980s. The British Pop artist and painter had always been intrigued by photography, optics, its influence on art and painting, and the human perception of our surroundings. With his photographic collages, Hockney experimented with the possibility of fragmenting a scene into several pieces, achieving a result that is—according to Hockney—more similar to how the eye works instead of viewing a single-shot photograph of a scene.

'Pearlblossom Hwy' by David Hockney (1986)

Henri Matisse was a renowned French painter, sculptor, draftsman, printmaker, and collage artist who, during his final decade, was associated with Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and Fauvism. His typical use of bright colors and his early influence on textile patterns would result in radically innovative collages best known as his cut-outs. During the 1940s, Matisse used cut paper as his medium before reassembling them into a vibrant and lively collage with a radically new overall aesthetic.

'Composition, Black and Red' by Henri Matisse (1947)

There are many more collage artists to explore, but this Blog post is probably getting a bit long!

So what can we learn from what has gone before, which we can take forward into our current abstract art making processes?

  • Deconstructing or fragmenting our source material and rearranging it into a new composition instantly moves our work into abstraction;

  • there is endless scope for creating visual 'differences' in the way we can use collage;

  • we can explore 'Elements of Art' either singularly or in combination; for example value, colour, shape, space and texture;

  • we can explore 'Principles of Design' in different ways; for example balance, contrast, rhythm, movement and pattern;

  • we can use any type of 2D material to create imagery, printed or painted papers, items destined for the recycle bin, fabrics, old tickets and ephemera that have personal significance;

  • spontaneity is an inherent characteristic of working with collage pieces as the process of assembling and re-assembling can be undertaken quickly and intuitively;

  • we can use collage to explore and experiment with our ideas and notions as part of a broader project, or to create finished artworks;

  • collage can give us a new perspective on our thoughts and ideas;

  • we can make it complex or we can keep it simple;

  • we can use our collage work as the basis for mixed media art.

And best of all we can bring our unique creative vision and purpose to the way in which we create collage work.

My 'Little Curiosities' are really just a side step and a supporting process for something new and different. I approached these collages with an exploratory attitude and whilst they'll never hang in the Louvre, they have helped me to create a focus around what is really interesting me at this moment in time.

As an abstract artist I'm always looking for new perspectives, and the most authentic way to express my ideas, much like the Cubists! Weaving ideas that have surfaced during my collage experiments into more finished work will take some time, but my work will be richer for it, of that I'm sure.

So if you haven't embraced collage as part of your working process yet, I urge you to give it a go! And don't forget to grab your copy of my 'Top 10 Tips - Collage Basics' to help you get started.

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Sources: Kelly Richman-Abdou/My Modern Met; Tate Gallery, UK; Sylvia Walker/Contemporary Art Issue
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