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Conversations of Collage and Assemblage

One of the most common things I am asked at the gallery is how to spot a 'good collage'. I am a firm believer that a 'good collage', aside from proper construction and use of materials, is any collage that speaks to you and creates an emotional response, appeals to you or that you find a connection with. It feels like it can talk to you.

The better question is: What has the artist done to start a conversation with the viewer and is it one you wish to continue?

A collage or assemblage that you can connect with is as varied as the people you meet each day; some are appealing to you and some are not. Let's look at some of the questions you can mull over when discovering why a collage or assemblage work requests your attention.

Can the collage or assemblage be categorized into a genre you enjoy?

You might be keen on portraits and a collage may feature a face or faces. Most of your artwork at home features landscapes and an assemblage may employ elements from the urban landscapes you enjoy. Daydreaming is more than a hobby for you and surrealist art allows you to escape for a bit and the collage with folks viewing space from their deck while a car travels to the moon gives you the same escapist vibes. Collage and assemblage can be filed under all genres including architectural, still life, fantasy and historical works. Knowing which genres are appealing to you can help you find the collages and assemblages that will make you swoon.

Collage and assemblage art often reuses objects and ephemera that may contain recognizable locations, symbols, logos, or objects. Do you recognize any of these elements in your new art interest?

Finding elements in a work of art that may feature in your memories or life story will often create a sense of comfort and familiarity. In the assemblage shown below by artist Gavin Snow, the electrical information from some electronic element is located in the bottom left corner. Any person who instantly recognizes that element will be drawn to look at this piece closer. It's akin to discovering the stranger next to you knows all the words to your favorite song playing on the radio. It gives you and the stranger something to talk about; it's a way to approach the artwork.

Upon finding a familiar element or something recognizable, assess whether the artist modified the element and what the modification, or lack thereof, makes you feel or how you interpret the artists modification.

If the artist uses a photograph of a family, similar to the ones most families have taken together at some point, it would be recognizable as such to most viewers. Now imagine the artist rubs charcoal over the surface of the photograph, distorting some of the faces. The key is to ask yourself, 'What does the modification or handling of the element (using black charcoal to distort some faces) mean to me in the greater context of the piece?' Depending on the viewer and their life experiences this could range from symbolizing death, rejection, broken relationships, deciding to move on, historical figures, finding peace, etc... What if the artist had chosen yellow pastel to distort the faces? What sort of interpretation would you give that use of materials? Regardless, it creates a dichotomy; those who are distorted and those who were left as is. It leaves room for discussion.

If none of the ephemera or elements used really have strong connections or connotations for the viewer, but the artist has strong intention for the piece, that could generate a healthy conversation between the viewer and the collage or assemblage.

Does it appear that the artist had a clear intention or not when placing elements of the collage or assemblage and do you relate or connect to the intention if there is one? Do you connect to what appears to be the organic creation of the work?

The collage shown , called 'Put a Ring

On It', by artist Paige Kurpjuweit has

clear intention. The artist wanted us to see a ring around a finger. It is a playful collage limited to two elements with adverse scale, expertly arranged to bring the message to the viewer as the artist desired. The title in this piece is really a third element narrowing the topic down. Analyzing the images, we see the children playing, no doubt chanting 'ring-around-the-rosie', which adds a jovial feeling. This can be seen as downplaying marriage and making it a game. While the finger breaking through the cobblestones may indicate an impatience and urgency to get that ring put on. The connection here may arise from either view. Given the pop culture reference to the song of the same title by Beyonce, it feels very tongue in cheek.

The layering of elements is a feature of collage and assemblage to pay attention to. What is in front and what was placed behind? Were cuts made to force an interaction between elements? The answers will help you understand the narrative of the piece.

Perhaps it appears the piece simply 'came together' and the bits and pieces chosen may seem to have no relation to each other. The collagist somehow collected these pieces and made the decision to place them together, and from my own experience, this can be a very intuitive process. So what you may be witnessing is a visual representation of a stream of thought the artist may not even comprehend. Have you ever been chatting with somebody and they say something profound, only for both of you to lose the words in the moment, yet the memory of their greatness remains? Sometimes collage and assemblage is like that.

Do you tend to prefer abstract art or representational art?

It is often thought that abstract collage lacks intention compared to representational collages. This is not necessarily true! Abstraction does not necessarily equal lack of intention by the artist. For example, the collage shown by artist Margaret Ryall is an abstract work that employs carefully chosen pieces of paper that represent the colors, textures and patterns found in homes in Newfoundland and worldwide, where families exist. They are placed in straight lines to represent structures, walls and surfaces, referencing the architectural forms of homes.

Recognizing the textures or the patterns that may be familiar within your own home or the home you grew up in and the nostalgia and connectedness with families worldwide created by that familiarity is Ryall's intention.

Abstract collage and assemblage does allow for greater interpretation however. It is like speaking in metaphor rather than to the point.

As with making friends and finding those people who you can speak to comfortably, it may require a little searching. So my recommendation is to visit the gallery or your favorite artist online and see if a piece or two whispers in your ear. Come have a chat!

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