Are you ready for collage?
THE HISTORY OF THE COLLAGE
It wasn’t until the 20th century that the term collage was coined (more on that shortly). However, Japanese calligraphers in the 12th century pasted paper and cloth over their written poetry as a background. This technique could be defined as collage. Artisans in the 15th and 16th centuries in the Near East applied intricate paper designs for their handmade books. In medieval times, around the 13th and 14th centuries, artists enhanced their painted spiritual images and icons on panels with a variety of materials including gold leaf (paper-thin sheets of gold glued together), cloth, jewelry, relics and hand-colored papers. . The nuns were creating beautiful bookmarks with intricate designs for their prayer books. All of these clever applications are aligned with the collage technique.
In the early 19th century, with the advent of the camera and photography, families pasted photos into scrapbooks. Commercial displays and displays featuring photographic images of popular tourist attractions and European landmarks were mass-produced and became very popular home decor items.
It was not until the 20th century that Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque first glued material into their paintings. That’s when “collage” became a word referring to a specific type of art form. The term collage is derived from the French “coller” which means “to paste or paste”. Soon collage became the word to describe a new and exciting artistic process.
The stage was set and Picasso and Braque were the protagonists. The traditional, idealistic, classical theme of the Renaissance and Romantic eras was on the wane. The Impressionists helped pave the way for this movement by choosing to paint local subjects: public gardens, cathedrals, and country lanes. Claude Monet, a famous impressionist, painted many studies of haystacks under the ever-changing light of day. Therefore, it was not surprising that artistic precursors such as Picasso and Braque were using theater tickets and fragments of posters and newspapers in their paintings. Ultimately, his use of mass media materials set the open contemporary guidelines for modern art:
(1) Any material can be used to make a work of art.
2) Any idea can be used for a work of art.
(3) Any technique can be used to make artwork.
Today, collage is an established art form that presents an imaginative, provocative, and often humorous perspective by employing common, everyday objects as subject matter. The collage transforms the usual into the unusual. The skills required to make a collage are both visual and physical. Physical skill consists of combining objects to create a composition. Visual ability requires an eye and mind sensitive to the meaning and context of objects.
HOW TO MAKE A COLLAGE?
Collage begins with the collection of a variety of materials to produce a “visual vocabulary”. This should be anything that appeals to you. Ransack your dresser drawers, go to yard sales, flip through your old photos, or dumpster dive. Believe in your attraction to the objects you have found. Keep in mind that the materials used in the collage can be anything: papers of any kind, scraps of fabric, leaves, driftwood, plastic containers, herbs and seeds, old appliances, driftwood, leaves, etc. The possibilities are limitless! So start collecting! Then start exploring and experimenting with how found objects can be combined in the composition to create a collage. Remember that the ultimate goal of collage is to bring together a collection of materials to create a new visual form. What could your collage represent? You could talk about your life using photos and other materials that reflect your personal story. You could make a statement, for example you could show how you feel about global warming and the environment. Or your collage could take you to a place you’ve always wanted to go: a paradise of tropical beauty or a utopian city. Their imagination will be activated as they collect the materials and assemble them. And then your thoughts and feelings will be revealed.
Collage is so much more than just cutting and pasting things on a board. It takes skill to see beyond the obvious picture. For example, if you were to go through the pages of a magazine and cut out all the images of the eyes, then arrange them in a pattern, this would be a new way to see a familiar image in a different way. The image, repeated many times, is delivered to the composition of the collage. Why? So you can see something else! When you look at the composition, the pattern will be apparent first, then you will identify the images of the eyes. The images of the eyes have become design modules or units in a collage composition.
Here is another example. How could a group of photos and other materials that you collected from, say, your trip to Las Vegas, be put together into a collage to represent a desert sunset? It would be necessary to go beyond the virtual material of photos and memories and translate it to the idea of sunset in the desert. You would have to adjust your eye to perceive photos of other materials as just colors and shapes. Once you can do this, you can reality jump your collected materials to another reality and create the sunset!
What if you want to make a collage that evokes the feeling of, say, the 1950s? Using photos and images from that time would be an effective journalistic way of defining that period. However, it might be even more effective to choose a 1950s-type color scheme by collecting lots of pink and black paper and then building an image of a car with large fins or a poodle skirt from those found papers. Why? Because the use of images related to the 1950s is common. Choosing a color scheme from the 1950s and creating a symbol or icon of that period is more creative, more demanding and more visually exciting.
Here is another example. You want to make a cityscape collage complete with letters and logos of well-known products: Coca-Cola, Chevrolet, Palmolive, and John Deere, etc. that you have cut out of magazines. This project would be interesting and effective. However, it would be more of a challenge and a more provocative commentary to represent a forest scene using those commercial images. The combination of highly identifiable commercial themes in a pastoral image is much more provocative and attractive to the viewer. Imagine the effect if one sees a beautiful landscape, only to discover, on closer inspection, that the entire landscape is made up of logos of large corporations!
THE MAGIC AND POWER OF COLLAGE
Taking collage skills one step further takes the magic of collage to another level: the mysterious interaction between objects to form a new collage concept. For example, famed artist Joseph Cornell created small boxes that housed curio compositions that included vintage toys and toy parts, mirrors, seashells, trinkets, shards, posters, theater tickets, and postcards. These boxes, now found in many museum collections around the world, are tiny worlds, magical settings that often evoke a mysterious and sometimes terrifying feeling in the viewer. This reaction is caused by the combination of the objects in the box. For example, a playing card from the 19th century is interesting as a subject, but combined with a stuffed raven and an old wristwatch, the meaning of the composite objects changes. What does this combination of elements evoke? The raven itself is simply a stuffed raven. But in combination with the other objects, it could look like a vulture. The wristwatch, just an old, discarded wristwatch, could be seen as a symbol of stopped time in the context of the other objects. And, the playing cards, just ancient playing cards by themselves, in the context of the combined objects, can symbolize destiny.
Artist Robert Rauschenberg placed a stuffed goat with a tire in the center of one of his paintings. The combination was surprising, not only because of the rarity of the goat with the tire, but because the painting became a platform or pedestal for these curious objects. In collage, the combination of two or more objects or images can produce a subconscious reaction. The viewer cannot understand why the collage is captivating, but reacts strongly nonetheless: confused, fascinated, repelled, frightened, or amazed.
Here is an example: In the artwork of the famous artist Lucas Samaras, the artist uses a simple chair as the subject. But, he has stuck pins into it and completely covered it up. A chair, in itself, basically means comfort and relaxation. However, covered with pins, the chair becomes an anti-chair, an object that has become unpleasant and evokes a negative connotation. This, the viewer may think, is not a chair I would like to sit on, thank you.
THE USUAL TO THE UNUSUAL
Ultimately, the power and magic of collage is most effective when there is a tension of meaning between the objects or images that make up the collage. By perfecting collage skills, one travels from the usual to the unusual. A beginner could stick pictures of cars in a certain way on a board. The collage won’t be much more than ad copy. However, the development of skills in the use of collage can bring new insights. For example, images of cars arranged on top of each other and in many rows translate the image into another connotation: that maybe all these beautiful new vehicles will end up on the junkyard. This makes the image much more provocative for the viewer and conveys a larger and more interesting statement.
The true power and magic of collage is in learning collage skills, so whatever the job, the translation of the images creates a strong and provocative composition.