Monday, 21 January 2013

Collage Beginnings

The project Memory and Digital Bricolage originated in the adaptation of handmade collages to the digital world and the use of Photoshop to create collages/prints similar to handmade collages that I have been creating on and off for the past 20 years.  In a sense this project has brought me full circle back to the place I was on leaving art school with an interest in both printmaking and the more spontaneous work of creating collages out of a mass of materials I had and have been collecting.

While studying as a printmaker during my years in art school, I maintained a collage practice that was one of the ways of overcoming the monotony of edition printing and, like many printmakers, looked for ways to create more spontaneously amid the rigor of edition printing.

I was always a huge fan of artists within the modernist tradition of collage and what I consider the work of bricoleurs - artists who create new work by using and recombining discarded or found materials.  (see Claude Levi-Strauss' definition of bricoleur).  I love, first of all, the use of collage in early cubist work; the work of Kurt Schwitters, Hannah Hoch, and others of the Dada movement; the unique use of found materials in relation to ideas in the work of Marcel Duchamp; and the continuation of that modernist tradition in the combines and other work of Robert Rauschenberg among others.

My own 'archive' of materials for collages consists of materials (mostly paper scraps) that I have collected for the past 25 years including fragments of earlier prints on paper, found printed materials on paper of all kinds and paper mementos of my extensive travels in Europe, Africa and Asia (ticket stubs, maps etc.).  Taken together they form an odd sort of autobiography.

The first phase of the project and, in a sense, a preliminary phase to the project proper, has consisted of collecting about 55 of my best handmade collages, scanning them at high resolution and adapting them to prints which I can print at their original size on 8 1/2 X 11" paper or print large off rolls of 24" wide paper.  I have a new Epson 9900 Inkjet printer and use Somerset Velvet Fine Art paper which has been made especially for the Epson printers.  The results have been gratifying - the new printer prints fast and with exceptional color on the Velvet paper which is very similar to traditional pure cotton printmaking papers.  These are the types of prints I always wanted to make but either found too difficult to make by hand with separate color applications or previously too expensive to have printed at a commercial print shop. The 55 prints I have produced this way I am calling Volume One.

In the second phase of the project, and now more a part of the ultimate goal of the project,  I have had to learn how to use Photoshop to create collages digitally.  I have started from scratch, with no former Photoshop experience, and have had the guidance of Aryan Zahoorian, a Masters student in Computing Science, who gives me a weekly lesson.  I realized in retrospect that I hadn't counted on spending so much time just learning Photoshop, which is quite amazing and rewarding despite my novice skills, so I feel in a sense that I am behind schedule but making fruitful progress.  I also realized when I began making purely digital collages that I needed sources for the subject matter of the collages and found it more expedient to use the 55 collages that I had just scanned as an archive to use for the new collages before starting to use materials gathered from the web.  Of the roughly 50 digital collages I have created using Volume One as an archive, I find about 35 so far to be good.  In fact I like the second-phase prints more that the originals - with Photoshop I have been able to manipulate the scale of the selections and use the layer effects to create work that is more like the prints I have been wanting to make.  Volume Two prints, then, are created digitally from the archive created in Volume One.

The next phase of the project is to create digital collages using only materials that I have gleaned from the web itself.  This should be challenging - as most people are aware, the materials we find on the web are for the most part what we would call schlock.  If you google the word collage you won't get Kurt Schwitters or Hannah Hoch but most likely some lowest-common-denominator low-brow cultural bric-a-brac.  I'm told, however, that when I dig deeper I will find more interesting archival materials of larger size and resolution.

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