Question, hand-cut collage, 5 x 8.5 inches
“I suspect many artists find it alluring for not only its immediacy but its unique and inherent nature to reinvent the familiar into something mysteriously new. Collage also has a long history of integrating itself in to political and cultural movements so it seems natural there’s a collage revival happening in these uncertain times.”
In a previous post, “The Art of Collage, part 1”, I introduced some early pioneers in the genre who helped collage to gain acceptance as a legitimate art form. In this post, I’ll share the work of some of my favorite contemporary collage artists. Their innovations, dedication to collage as fine art, and overall quality of execution have helped to bring collage to a wider audience.
Just to be clear, there are literally tons of talented and accomplished collage artists whose work is not included here. No one wants to read a 5,000-word blog post, any more than I have the time or inclination to write one. My choices were based on my own personal taste, as well as a desire to focus on artists who had achieved a certain degree of success and notoriety. I also wanted to represent a wide variety of styles. In addition, please note that I didn’t include digital or assemblage artists; I’m saving them for later posts.
In my attempt to identify the top collage artists working today, I found that there was little to no consensus. In fact, I was surprised that few of the articles I read even mentioned any of the same artists! When I compared popular books on the subject, ditto. So, I used my own judgement and did the best I could. This is not a definitive list.
Collage in progress in Rex Ray’s studio.
Neurobaria, mixed collage on painted linen.
Insidia, painted paper over stretched linen, 2005.
Rex Ray working in his studio – note stacks of painted paper on the table in the back.
Swerve, 16 x 16 inches.
Summer Reading 2, 8.3 x 8 inches.
Cheetah, 16 x 16 inches.
Nine Ten Eleven, 14.2 x 10.6 inches
A Tragic Princess
Like Rex Ray, Fred Otnes (1925-2015) started as a graphic designer and illustrator. Eventually he abandoned traditional illustration to develop his own distinctive mixed media techniques. These “collage paintings” included printmaking, photo-transfers, and the application of fabrics and papers. His unique style put him in high demand as an illustrator for clients such as National Geographic and the Saturday Evening Post, among many others. His “fine art” work is mysterious and lyrical; each layer seems imbued with subtle meaning.
Here is a beautifully written and interesting article about Otnes written by J. A. Dixon of The Collage Miniaturist blog, which I highly reccommend.
National Geographic illustration
One of my most favorite collage artists is Hollie Chastain of Chattenooga, TN. I find her nostalgic and unique collages touching in a way that’s both universal and yet quite personal. After School (right) feels almost like a memory from my own childhood. Her very recognizable style consists of vintage photos juxtaposed with shapes cut from colored paper. And, she shares my love of re-purposing old book covers as substrates.
In an interview with Niko Vartiainen of the art journal Toombes, Chastain states, “I love the versatility of the medium and the ability to build a semi permanent composition and consider for a bit and rearrange before I commit and glue everything down. Also the joy of finding 2 elements from completely different sources that pair beautifully is a thrill like a treasure hunt.”
Fusion Series #3310 ct14 2014
“These sub literal poems reduce the letters to geometric forms that are recombined into an archetypal composition that encourages a reading that is truly concrete, releasing the letters from their work of representing a complex linguistic network. This allows the viewer to enjoy the language without the burden of speech.” – from his website
Fusion Series 1305
Touchon is without a doubt one of the foremost contemporary masters of collage, but his importance to the genre doesn’t end there. He has dedicated his life to the promotion of collage as an art form in a multitude of ways. He is co-founder of the non-profit International Post-Dogmatist Group, and serves as the director of the group’s Ontological Museum. In addition, Touchon is the founder of the International Museum of Collage, Assemblage and Construction as well as founder of the International Society of Assemblage and Collage Artists, the Fluxmuseum, and more.
Santa Fe artist Cecil Touchon is probably best known for the collages he calls “typographic abstractions”. I’m drawn to these powerful compositions because of their combination of strength and lyricism. The adjacent quote is from his statement about these captivating works. I love the idea of “sub-literal poems”.
Fusion Series 3881ct18
Fusion Series 2174
Cecil Touchon at work in his studio.
Where does he find the time?
Here is a very in-depth and informative interview with Touchon. I found it fascinating and well worth reading.
I’ve been captivated by the work of Austin, Texas-based artist Lance Letscher for a long time. Originally trained as a printmaker, he spent the early part of his career making conceptual sculpture. In the mid 1990’s he began making collages from found materials such as old books and posters.
Mrs. White, 2007
A Word for You
These early pieces were quite abstract, with densely layered papers arranged in intricate patterns. With repetition of shape and color that create strong, quilt-like compositions, these are a delight to look at.
Gradually, Letscher began to include more representational elements in his collages. No longer purely abstract, his work has become increasingly narrative, symbolic, and profoundly personal.
The fascinating documentary film, The Secret Life of Lance Letscher, chronicles this transition.
“Told through memories of trauma and triumph, the film provides a doorway into Letscher’s profound insights on creativity, the subconscious, work ethic and spirituality.” (link above)
The “Big Eye” mural in Austin, Texas was documented in the film. I was amazed that Letscher actually used colored metal scraps and staples to create this.
Ultra Violet, 12 x 12 inches, 2015
Derek Gores was educated at the Rhode Island School of Design and now resides in Melbourne, Florida. He creates beautifully detailed portraits and other images from recycled magazines, maps, and other ephemera. I enjoy Gores’s collages because there is always more to look at than what first meets the eye.
“…where from afar a nearly photo-realistic image comes into focus. However, as the viewer gets near, the small scraps reveal themselves to be other pictures, song lyrics, charts, patterns and more, and sweep your attention away down a new rabbit hole.” (from his website biography)
Full Volume Tropical
Astronauts Report: It Feels Good
The subject matter of his work is based on popular culture and fashion, with a strong vintage twist. There’s definitely a mid-century aesthetic in these pieces that makes me think of ads from 1960’s fashion magazines.
There’s no denying the extraordinary level of his craft and skill, his spot-on use of color and composition, or the captivating beauty of his images. I get lost in the lush details, but am still searching for his central message. Here’s the only clue I found:
“Most of my pictures are of beauty, but beauty built of chaos and mess and discord.” ~ Derek Gores
Proper Good Time
Turn on the Catwalk
But wait! There’s more! Or, at least, there will be…
The hardest part of this post was deciding which collage artists I should include. There are so many good ones that even these two fairly extensive posts could not begin to cover them all. So I’ve decided to write more in the future, featuring only a few artists at a time. I can’t guarantee when these will appear, but here is a small teaser of some of the artists I would like to feature:
And SOOOOOOOO many more! So, stay tuned – or better yet, subscribe to my blog by email!
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