Very few of the visual arts have the same magical diversity as collage. Actually, Wikipedia pretty much spells out the overall yet simple premise of our 2013 summer exhibition, “a technique of an art production, primarily used in the visual arts, where the artwork is made from an assemblage of different forms, thus creating a new whole”. Though the French root of the term means to glue, and was coined by both Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso in the beginning of the 20th century, few would have guessed back then the multiple applications to which the process would have evolved, and leaving no doubt as to projecting the multiple forms yet to be invented and practiced. In this exhibition, there are diverse applications aplenty.
The concept of collage in painting is exceptionally executed in the collage paintings by the artists Cameron Gray, Rick Hards, Ken Warneke and Mary Lou Zelazny, though there are unique variances/differences in the way each achieves their end product.
Cameron Gray’s work begins as digital studies, which are divided into hundreds of small pieces and then sent out to a group of artists composed of personal associates, professional colleagues and Internet correspondents. By breaking the painting down into a grid of pixels and outsourcing the work, Gray builds a virtual factory by way of the Internet. Each painting is comprised of several smaller paintings. The smaller images used are thematic and play a vital role in the depiction of the larger image.
Rick Hards, on the other hand, paints onto carefully selected 19th century tin-type photo portraits. The image he creates is derived from not painting the central image, but painting, instead, around a negative non-painted image, leaving an incredible transformation of the original photo.
The purest strictly paint interpretation of the painted collage genre is perhaps Ken Warneke’s. His paintings of altered fragmented facial features, of disparate skin tone, gender and poise, create impossible faces that defy the viewer's sense of intuitive spatial logic. Each of the fragments were roughly isolated in its own oval presence and set adrift on an abstracted plane of ambiguous depth. They seem to dramatize modern tension and strive for transcendent sensuality.
Similarly interpreting the sensuality of the human body in contexts both personal and impersonal, Mary Lou Zelazny combines the gestural fluidity of her painting with the slickness of the clipped photo image creating a seamless, successful hybrid of form which is both expressive and visually stunning.
Sculptural collage commonly used wood, assemblages of found scraps, parts of furniture and architectural fragments with other found objects. No one incorporated ingenuity in three dimensional collage better than the late Don Baum. He combined a kind of decoupage method with his 3-D structures, a magnificent body of art work spanning over sixty years of his life. Perhaps known best for his Domus pieces, a series of re-constructed constructions, Baum’s life-long employment of the art of assemblage uniquely and successfully analyzed all of that which makes us human. Combining any number of found objects (dolls, boxes, bread boards, paint-by-number paintings, game boards, etc.), Baum’s vision is often linked to the likes of Joseph Cornell, Louise Bourgeois, H.C. Westermann, and others.
Likewise, Mary Ellen Croteau affixes found pieces of common detritus (mostly plastic bottle caps/lids) found in reclamation centers to walls and, using the material as a kind of pixel. She creates sculptural forms and two dimensional wall pieces which range from self-portraiture to Brancusi-like columns which spiral up from floor to ceiling. They combine color with their ordinariness and are re-birthed into elegant statements about the human ability to transform and reshape how we see and think of ourselves.
Photomontage, the act of making a composite photograph or image by cutting or tearing and joining a number of other images represents, perhaps, the popular notion of what collage is. In that more classical tradition, California artist John Hundt certainly ranks as an exemplary example. A painter and collage artist, his work combines the personal effects of others—journal entries, personalized recipes, hastily written notes, stained ticket stubs, etc.—with his hand-drawn and painted images to create story lines filled with dark humor, absurdity, and insight. Current pieces are often composed of found materials from different time periods, cultures, and generations, blended into an unexpected order.
The dynamic duo, Nicholas Kahnand Richard Selesnick (as artists they are known as Kahn and Selesnick) are masters of digital collage. Structured to be read as photographic diaries, the complex images created by this collaborative team transport us to intriguing places non-existent in each of our own lives except in our wildest fantasies. We become captive to the adventure, danger, and survival that secretly propel us through the hum-drum of daily regimentation. The photos are filled with a lyricism both playful and serious. Often intentionally over-written, whimsical, tongue-in-cheek, campy, and purposely self-conscious, Kahn and Selesnick’s characters make no concession to the absurdity of their out-of-sync encounters.
Speaking about other worlds, no artist was more interested in their exploration than the self-taught genius from Wisconsin, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein. It all began with his courtship of his wife-to-be, Marie. His composite photographs depicting her are truly a statement of his devotion to her. Though he followed a straight portrait aesthetic with many of his images, he also relied on photomontage to underline his theme. He discovered that by combining negatives, he could achieve another dimension with his Marie imagery. Taking the combination of images one step further, he superimposed Marie, either her portrait or partial figure onto skies, trees and landscapes thus relating her directly with nature. The singular focus on Marie throughout his work reiterates the obsessive quality that is so often characteristic of visionary artists. These composite images evoke an intimate quality and that were driven by the artist’s self-taught vision.
Last but not least in our exhibition roster of artists, we are pleased to introduce the collage images by Johannes Lechner (known by his artist’s name, Lejo) to the American public for his first exhibition in the U.S. Lejo is an artist member of the world renowned group called Gugging Artists. Gugging is a famed psychiatric institution near Vienna, Austria serving to use art as therapy for its patients. Born in 1964, Lejo came to collecting photographs when he was approximately 30 years old. In 2007, he began producing collages out of the photographs he had collected, some of which were 100 years old. He cuts the material, tears it up and reassembles it. Formally, Lejo’s work could be seen as a gentle reminder of the Dadaistic collages of Hannah Hoch or Kurt Schwitter, and they show surrealistic tendencies as well. But no matter which art-historical pigeonhole they end up in, his work captivates through its subtle approach, formal sophistication and discreet ironic humor.