“Genesis: My Early Efforts in Collage” 1991-2003

My first efforts in collage (outside of whatever cut and paste projects I might have done as a child in art classes) must have been those that were the result of the various projects assigned to me in my college design classes.

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State Route 58 -1991

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Highway 9- 1991

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Adam and Eve- 1992

All of these works were clearly influenced by my exposure to the combines of Robert Rauschenberg. They also had a little of Joseph Cornell in them as well. Most important, however, was my interest… obsession with medieval art… especially the architecture and the reliquaries. None of these works still exist. They’re all out disintegrating in some landfill somewhere.

The first of my collage work that still exists… and the first collage efforts that were self-imposed… not the result of some assignment… were begun immediately after art school. After having graduated with a degree in painting, I began to question the very nature of painting. I had long been a self-admitted bibliophile and struggled with the idea of merging my love of books and writing with that of painting or imagery. At this time I came upon a solution, of sorts, to this problem. I began creating artistic collaged letters and postcards. By reassembling fragments of text with fragments of imagery I came up with something that in my naiveté I imagined to be an artistic equivalent to what T.S. Eliot had achieved in his Wasteland… one of my favorite works of Modernist poetry. Little did I know that there had long been an entire art form referrer to as “Mail Art”! Nevertheless… the results of this period were not without a few successes:

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The first of these were a series of postcards sent to a couple of college mates and girlfriends. Each card was based upon a single theme (the history of the cinema and astrology in the above examples) and each postcard came complete with “playing cards” stored in a pocket. Incredibly… they all made it through the mail to their intended recipient.

With time the works of “mail art” became increasingly complex:

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With a Christmas card sent to an artist friend living in Jersey City, New Jersey, the works began to combine collaged imagery with collaged poetry. In other words, the poetry was created from fragments of texts taken from a variety of sources: existing poems, art books, novels, magazines, etc…

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“who vanished into Nowhere Zen New Jersey
continually listening over
rooftops to the endless neon
nights of New York”

LA MUSIQUE DE LA CHRISTMAS

in the roaring winter dusks of
New York
a lost battalion of platonic conversationalists,
who talked continuously Yacketayyacking,
who sank all night in
wine drunkenness,
listening to the incomparable
dreams and shuddering,
like the ancient Saints
artists such as are not wanted anymore!
who floated seventy hours through
borroughs of the museums,
who ate fire
and drank turpentine,
who vanished into nowhere Zen New Jersey
leaving a trail of ambiguous picture postcards
memories
and broken hearts
Touch my soul!
“What an old maid I am getting to be, lacking the courage to be in love.”

Certainly schmaltzy… and the card itself was somewhat disjointed… but it was a starting point.

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Poète A La Postérité

My Dear Sister;
Thanks for the message. I forbid you not to touch me.
Dear Kelly;
I know you are my friend! and all I dare speak to my soul
that will I trust with thee.
My Dear, Dear Friend;
I have visions!
I dreamt I saw thee through the clouds robed in purple of a dazzling hue
and moving on luminous wings about the gothic arches of an Eastern City,
And I was a graveyard
of the hungry generations
And despair forbade my soul to climb
beyond the corpses
of an old passion
… a forgotten poison
tarnished…
yet charming still!
And I dreamt I saw thee
hollow-eyed and uplifted
floating through the starry dynamo
of these streets at dawn
with an ancient burning passion
that lifted this too frail heart
this too drained soul
My Dear, Dear Sister
My Friend;
Poets are damned
but they are not blind;
They see with the eyes of the angels.

Shortly after completing these two collages the perfect opportunity arose for the proper exposure of what I was doing. I was invited to contribute work to an exhibition of Valentine’s Day cards. The cards would be shown in an artist’s co-operative gallery in Jersey City. For this exhibition I created two cards:

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La Danse Erotique et le Cirque Olympique

It was like a winter night with such a fall of snow
as to smother the world for once and for all.
I was running through a buried garden
In search of HER, whom my soul loveth
But the drove me away…
Where was she? I wept, in my dazzling, monkish madness,
Her, with whom fantastic books I’d flung from factory windows
And I was like one standing before something great
Before love…

And I shuddered
and suddenly felt the great weight of my limbs
O Perhaps for me the silent soliloquy
of slow kisses…caresses…gestures…
Is extinct
But then with whom shall I dance this “Danse Erotique”?
And to whom shall I send this empty Valentine?

O, I turn to you, lost poets who see with the eyes of restless angels
You, stripped more naked than nakedness itself
You, who heard the holy sopranos uplifting the Jersey Turnpike
You, who shivered beneath its gleaming gothic arches
You, who listened with vague smiles to the sound of ecstasy slow ending
stupefied with warm perfumes and sweey intoxication
You, who headed out to howl in Time’s Square on New Year’s
But ended in dancing for hours with the true Bohemians
You, who kissed in the darkness… in obscure hispanic diners
While I grew old, and crawled off to weep over wineglasses
To YOU… this dance…
this funny Valentine
Who disappeared into Nowhere Zen New Jersey
Leaving a trail of ambiguous picture postcards
memories…
and broken hearts.

The second Valentine’s Day card was not quite as complex as I’d left the inside blank. In spite of the brevity in comparison to the others, it may have been the most successful… at least in terms of poetry:

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“Souvenirs?
More than if I had lived a thousand years.”
– Charles Baudelaire

Let music wander ’round my ears
Give me love-letters, wedding invitations, the scent of withered roses,
out of it leaps a returning memory
intoxicating…
eternal…
divine…
a thousand angels
laced with rose and gold
unfold their wings
and soar into the light;
among them one, whiter than a star, with pink robes hovers brightest
She
O brightest child!
my dearest Friend,
stirs and wakes
my beaten soul.

Shortly after these collages were completed I stopped my efforts in that direction altogether. I’m not exactly certain why… although I am certain as to what inspired my return to collage. Participating in an art teacher’s convention we were directed to bring some collage materials. I dug out the old stuff which i hadn’t thrown away. After a the lecture on collage… including a very brief overview of its history and techniques, we were goaded into producing our own collage. At that very moment I was without a working studio (long story…) and I found myself truly putting myself into the effort, The result was Sonnet for Emily (2001) which became the first in the body of collage work that I have continued to the present:

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Sonnet (for Emily)“, was imagined as an artistic nod to the poet, Emily Dickinson. Attempting to suggest something of Dickinson’s own mixture of the delicately emotional with the tightly structured, the most fragile of materials were organized with an almost mathematical rigor. The earthly, blanched palette was used to suggest the sparse Puritan sensibility, while the pentimenti and intimate materials were selected for their power to suggest the private act of writing.

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Arabesque

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Masque

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The Silken Ladder

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We Three Kings

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Warmed By Her Hand

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The Architecture of Speculation

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Elegy

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Al Alhambra

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Baghdad

In most of the above works the theme and the title evolved as the work began to suggest a certain mood or feeling. Thus the title, Arabesque evolved in response to the manner in which the tea bags evoked musical notation… which was echoed in the image of the Arabic musician. Masque suggested something of an 18th century fête… or a modern evocation of such ala the poetry of Paul Verlaine… who I was reading at the time. The title of The Silken Ladder came from the combination of the maps of the old “silk road” used in the collage and the vertical, ladder-like corrugated cardboard… that and the title of Rossini’s great opera. Baghdad clearly suggested something Middle-Eastern… but militaristic as well, and with the events in Iraq the title couldn’t be avoided. An even greater link was pointed out by a collector who noticed the head (decapitated) in the bag! In the summer of 2004 I exhibited about 15 of my collages starting with “Sonnet (to Emily)”. In spite of what I now see as weaknesses in many of these (does any artist like his or her earlier work?) I was pleasantly surprised when I sold 4 of these pieces… and for a rather handsome price at that.

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Shroud

With Shroud I found myself at the brink of a sudden change in direction. Much as I liked thinking of each collage as a unique entit, I found myself desiring something more grandiose. Looking at the dark image in this particular collage (drawn from Max Ernst’s collage suite, Une Semaine de Bonté, I began to toy with the idea of creating a suite of works with a single common unifying theme. My initial thoughts leaned toward 10-12 works. The result, which would become known as Lamentations, grew to be quite a bit larger than I had at fist envisioned.

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3 Comments

  1. Sandy L said,

    February 15, 2009 at 3:17 am

    Your collages are wonderful

  2. Marcia said,

    July 20, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    I found your blod thru Wet Canvas. I love yur early collages! I am a high school art teacher in mid-Illinois. May I quote you in a book I am writing? The quote I am interested in is The world is continually reborn anew. The lighting, the colors, the experiences and the predecessors under which we work are not the same as that of our artistic predecessors. How each of us sees the world is unique. Great art is that which gives form to this rather than merely attempting… however competently… to replicate how someone else saw the world. That is the goal of the craftsman and the restorer… not the artist.
    __________________
    I can simply cite your blog or I can use your name, etc. Please advise.
    Marcia Hirst

  3. stlukesguild said,

    July 24, 2009 at 2:22 am

    Marcia;

    Thanks for the kind comments. Certainly you may quote me. You may use my name for the quote. Good luck with your book.


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