The Process of Collage

Collage is a way of seeing. One of the great things in doing any visual art is to become familiar with the way in which you work, to be able to observe yourself working. The completed image is witness to the process of your attention.

Each medium has its own particular quality, a way in which it can be used, however variable that may be. The material I have explored in what I refer to as collage are the mass produced images of magazines. They are both anonymous, unlike personal photographs, and recognizable in that they represent a time and place we call our reality. For the most part we are bombarded with those images, on billboards, TV, video, advertising, newspapers and magazines. I think we develop a kind of numbness, a blindness to them as a kind of survival technique. In looking at those same images as raw material and a resource for something other we voluntarize our involvement with them and make use of them as a medium to create with. Technique is simply how we use or manipulate any given material.

Paint can be squeezed out of a tube, an opaque thick color. It can be pushed and pulled across a surface and moved and manipulated until it dries. A line drawn with graphite can continue indefinitely, the gesture need not run out. The medium of collage has different properties and therefore different possibilities. I think it begins with seeing ordinary things in an unordinary way. Looking at images which first appear recognizable as this or that, when dismantled become simply color, texture, a gesture of shadow or light. Those same images become a palette of unknown possibility when removed from their ‘known’ context.

So the first part of this process is one of collecting. Flipping through a magazine your eyes scan those images. Rip out what your eye is drawn to. Initially we identify what we recognize the image to be, very quickly assessing what it means, what it could be a metaphor for, it is perhaps the greatest challenge and discipline to simply ‘see’ color, texture, shape, shadow, light and enjoy the beauty of those. Watch what you choose, how you rip, cut, take apart an image. Collecting can be very seductive. You may find you have what seems to be hundreds of images before you decide you have enough to work with.

Whatever, few or many, at some point you will return to what you have collected. Can you get rid of what you don’t want? That could mean cutting away words or certain distractions to what you want to see more revealed. This is a distillation of sorts. Sometimes an image may appear very beautiful as a whole and it is difficult to imagine taking it apart. It is only an image on paper and chances are you will see something other in dismantling it. If you can suspend preconceived ideas about what you think you ‘should’ create then you can be present to watch what happens. You can be surprised by what appears.

Imagine looking out onto a backyard, standing at the open door. You see sky, the trees, a path. Going into the garden to weed you may see ants between the clods of earth, the space between the blades of grass, none of which was visible from the porch. It’s a change of focal length. To remove the familiar context of a magazine image you must make smaller your field of vision. The surprise is that in doing so you open up vast landscapes with depth and perspective. This is the palette you compose with. The board used to apply those fragments to is not merely a surface it is a space which is shaped by what is placed in or on it. You may cover the board or put one piece on it. The only rule I would make is that it is not done until you love it. What does that mean?

It is easy to puddle along, make something, ‘It’s OK.’ you say and throw it in the garbage on your way out. But if your commitment is to stay with it until you love it, then it becomes real work. What would it be to create something that you are deeply satisfied with. I think that happens when we have somehow revealed something we are longing to see. Throughout our lives we are constantly adapting to our environment. You have the opportunity to be in front of something perfectly resonant with you in this moment, why settle for anything less.

-deborah harris   from arcturus.ca