Collagist, Nel Burke talks about her influences and the Instagram collage community
Art history tells us collage started with Picasso and Braque, and flows through the twentieth century via Surrealism, Schwitters and Dada: these are the established threads through time, the links which connect collagists through to the twenty-first century.
Tearing and cutting, fracturing, displacement and insertion are collage techniques, the surreal collisions memorably described by Andre Breton – “ the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table”. Removing an image from its surroundings and inserting it into another, skews its meanings and undercuts its stability. There is a rich dialogue with photography; its languages and processes, history, news media and advertising.
I use what is already in the world – what has already been manufactured, and rescue and re-use a tiny fraction of what would be destroyed. I realised recently, that (almost) everything I use, is a photograph, taken by someone, mediated through a camera lens, whether an image of people in the street, or a photo of a fifteenth century painting. Then, highly processed: exposed on film, treated with chemicals, printed on paper, itself processed from trees, saturated with ink, and mass printed for (usually) a very short life span (one day? several years?). I have the illustrated London News from 1865, and yesterdays Metro. 1973 National Geographic, old books with beautiful illustrations of obsolete technologies. Fragments … which can speak to each other, create new meanings, new dialogues…new visual feasts for the eye.
Why do I love making analogue collage? When it works, there is a surreal beauty, strangeness and awkwardness. The whole process is visible – the collisions of different kinds of papers, images, and textures, the rough cuts and mistakes. Each work is unique, and expendable. Ruined a piece of paper you felt precious about? Too bad. Not happy with what you’ve glued down? Rip it up and start again.
Sometimes, a perfect collage moment happens.
I had cut some pages out of a 1950s design annual and they were hanging around the studio. The images of women were ghastly, the sort of thing I don’t use in my work, but I cut out one red-haired woman eating an apple. Dropped it, it fell up the other way, and there he was. He fitted on top of the Egyptian head of a woman from the Cairo museum as if he belonged there. Of course I had to lose her beautiful features, but there is always a trade off in collage – you might have to cover up or cut up something that was precious and complete.
Instagram has introduced me to the work of a whole international of collage artists who post their work, support each other, swap materials, and collaborate on works. Three of the many who constantly astonish me are, Clive Knights, Fred Free and Irina Sevostyanova.
Clive is not only a collagist but a printmaker and professor at the School of Architecture at Portland State University, Oregon.
A master of the scrap and the torn edge. Lots of his collages are made up of bits that look like what’s left when you cut/tear the ‘interesting’ bit out. The collages are assembled from these fragments, and are interesting and beautiful, lyrical, with plenty to satisfy the eye. Theres no centre, no event, but movement and no element is more important than any other element, so to me its about delicate balance. @knightsclive
Fred Free was born in Levittown, New Jersey, but today he is based in Boston. He’s done a lot of things – building design, illustration for TV, acting – as well as creating superb collages.
I’m not sure about the size of his works but they look small, and as if they are done on old paper which has been hanging around for quite a while – they’re a bit yellow round the edge, or wonky, or torn out of a spiral binder. He leaves lots of negative space, – using about a third of the paper with roughly cut scraps connected to each other. This collaged area is usually delineated with a rough hand drawn line – sort of fencing it off from the rest of the page. It’s spare, and enigmatic – there’ll be a random word or recognisable image in there. I am in awe of these, and really enjoy them. @fred_free
Russian artist, Irina Sevostyanova’s collages remind me of the work of Hannah Hoch. This is because of the style and awkwardness in her collaged figures. She plays around with the scale of different body parts from a range of sources. Magazine images (usually people – standard ‘types’) are cut up so parts of the figure makes sense but others are absurd. There’s something violent about that – the figures have been very obviously chopped up and reassembled with others.
She often works on a ground of coloured paper – and there will be drawing and very raw scribbled lines in the image. I’m intrigued by her work. @irina.se_se
Instagram has introduced me to the work of a whole international of collage artists who post their work, support each other, swap materials, and collaborate on works. Below are a few I follow, its not a ‘best of’, simply some artists who currently inspire me. The names are their instagram names: many of them I don’t know their names as artists.
bitswelove • vbcollages • geofflitchfield • mrs.bonesco • tsimmes mixedmediamanifesto • fancernancer • biblioexcavations • knightsclive rhedfawell • moonloops101 • irina.se_se • carolreidwhite • fred_free • kusam.bedi
Another great source of inspiration has come from Kolaj Magazine. Kolaj Magazine is a Canadian, printed magazine published every quarter and I look forward to its arrival through the letterbox! It has brought collage into the 21st century, treating it as a genre and an art movement.