Collage and Mixed Media Art:
"I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it."
Collage is the collation of different materials that are joined to form a new whole.The term derived from the French word," coller", which means to glue. Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque used this technique in their early modernist paintings at the turn of the 20th century. This method has gained broad influence during the last century. Collage has impacted the use of artistic materials, techniques and genres. Examples include wood, paper, fiber, photographs and found objects that have been taken out of context and used in pieces of art to satisfy formal aesthetics or to make social commentary. Printmaking, drawing, silkscreen, photo transfers and stitch have been combined to create a variety of patterns, textures and colors. Collage has also become part of the working language of architecture, music and literature. The mixed and multi media art we see today may owe its origins to the evolution of Cubist painting.
The use of collage was a turning point in modernist art. Both Picasso and Braque claim to have originated the technique. Their Cubist work from 1907 through 1914 was unsigned and undated so critics and historians can only theorize about it's exact origin. Neither artist was interested in explaining their motivation to adhere extraneous material to their paintings. Their intentions continued to be …"obtaining sculptural results by strictly non-sculptural means; that is, with finding for every aspect of three dimensional vision an explicitly two dimensional equivalent…".(Greenburg, Collage, 1959) This became an increasing challenge as the planes used by Picasso and Braque began to flatten the effect of cubism. Each plane within the composition was functioning autonomously with no gradation or adjoining relationships. The use of light was more of a design element than a tool used to create depth. " The main problem at this juncture became to keep the "inside" of the picture--it's content--from fusing with the "outside"--it's literal surface. Depicted flatness--that is, the facet -planes--had to be kept separate enough from literal flatness to permit a minimal illusion of three dimensional space to survive between the two." (Greenburg)
In order to solve this problem several stylistic changes were explored. Braque attempted to create the illusion of space by using trompe-l'oeil and imitation printing on the surface. Numbers and letters were painted to simulate stenciling and tassels and studs were rendered on the surface. The effect was confusing to the eye as it jumped around the surface of the canvas. It was at this point that Braque and Picasso began to mix foreign substances with paint to create texture. Braque also started to use a marbleizing and woodgrain effect in his work. This hyper-real technique released the stenciled numbers and text from the surface and began to create more space within the painting. There still continued to be a problem with the surface fusing with the painted illusions. More dimension needed to be created. In 1912 Braque began pasting pieces of wallpaper to a drawing instead of trying to simulate it with paint. Piccaso also started applying pieces of oil cloth to his canvases.
The reality of the affixed material created a kind of depth that the simulated painting techniques never achieved. This success however was short lived. The size of the pasted paper (or cloth) dominated the composition and spread the flatness. The surface of the painting and the ground became one. In an effort to rectify this Braque and Picasso began to draw and paint over the fused materials. This helped establish depth on top of the paper but there remained continued visual confusion. The wallpaper strips seemed to be applied with a sense of urgency and then shaded with charcoal to lessen the immediacy. The text, woodgraining, tromp-l'oel, and wallpaper created depth in relation to one another but not as a resolved whole.
In later work, both artists begin to use a variety of materials. The paintings combined overlapping forms that receded and came forward. "Planes defined as parallel to the surface also cut through it into real space, and a depth is suggested optically which is greater than that established pictorially"(Greenburg). Collaged planes took the works of these painters through various forms of dimension. What was constructed with paper deconstructed the dimension of one subject area while enhancing the integrity of another. A decision had to be made . Would the work be representational or abstract? Larger planes of paper became silhouettes and the small planes of analytical cubism became difficult to maintain. The silhouettes gave way to form and representation.
In 1912, Picasso cut and folded a piece of paper into a guitar. In doing this he created a new genre in sculpture that became known as "Construction". Picasso's friend Gonzalez referred to it as "drawing in space". Neither Picasso or Braque ever returned to collage after 1914. In the United States other artists began the practice. They included Robert Motherwell, Anne Ryan, and Robert Rauschenburg.
Robert Rauschenburg made art work that spanned every contemporary art movement from the 1950's until the year of his death in 2008. He was well known for reassembling found objects. Many of these combinations were remarkable in contrast and color. His eclectic palette of working materials created the notion that art could be made from anything. Rauschenburg eventually began creating work that incorporated both sculpture and painting. These pieces were referred to as Combines. Minutiae and an untitled "Red Painting" are two pieces that signify the beginning of Rauschenburg's Combines. There has been much dispute concerning which piece was the first Combine created. Minutiae is a prop from a set design. It is a free standing structure composed of three screens and made using oil paint, fabric, newsprint and wood. The "Red Painting" is part of a monochromatic series with complex surfaces that include wood, nails and newsprint. These pieces often include fragments of fabric embedded within the layers. Rauschenburg's creation of Combines began in 1954 and ended in 1962. This is only a scholarly timeline as Rauschenburg continued to use collage and assemblage throughout his career.
Wall Eyed Carp /Roci Japan (1987) was created as a part of the Rauschenburg Overseas Cultural Exchange. The program was largely funded by the artist and allowed him the opportunity to visit other countries and make art with it's citizens. Wall Eyed Carp was inspired by Rauschenburg's experience in Japan and hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. It is a large piece that measures 206.5x 621 centimeters. The focal point is an enormous fish kite that is plastered across the canvas. Bleeding, blotted and crackling paint is splashed upon the surface and pieces of what appears to be fabric from the American Southwest are collaged within the canvas. The application of the paint does not seem expressionistic but only an attempt to including the material on the surface. The collaged fish is applied with many ripples in the paper that has the effect of poor craft rather than spontaneous energy. Japanese aesthetics are in clashing opposition to Rauschenburg's inspiration. Transient stark beauty with profound grace and subtlety does not seem to have been translated anywhere in this work. The ROCI project was an interesting multicultural program but "Wall Eyed Carp" is not as intriguing.
Flirt, which hangs at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond is a silkscreen on paper made in 1979. It is part of a series done that includes images of popular culture that are veiled behind shades of red panels of silk organza. The transparency of the organza creates a muteness that dilutes the silk screened images without obliterating them. The effect is a subtlety that allows color and transparency to work reciprocally. The red panel informs the quality of the image rather than dominating it. The transparency allows the viewer a close look at the subject without being overwhelmed by the abrupt nature of popular culture. The monochromatic color scheme and collaged elements are reminiscent of his early Red Paintings. The difference being a greater sensitivity to materials that refines the pop message with more sensitivity.
Joan Schulze is a contemporary artist who makes prints, collages and quilts. She often uses multiple techniques in her textile pieces. Since 1970 she has created an enormous body of work. She is not a conventional quilter. Fabric is the base upon which she works a variety of transferred imagery, washes and painterly marks. Thread becomes line, dye becomes paint and transparent fabrics become glazes. Mediums are interchangeable and indistinguishable in their formal relationships.
Schulze's work communicates symmetry, line, form, and the juxtaposition of texture. Underneath the freedom that appears in her approach to materials lies skill and precision. Poetic License: A Joan Schulze Retrospective was exhibited at the San Hose Museum of Quilts and Textiles in 2010. The exhibit helped viewers blur the distinction between fine art and craft. Her work does not speak of quilts as much as it does abstraction, gesture and transparency. The substrate could be canvas or quilted fabric.
Artists working within the last 100 years have been given a freedom that began with the Cubist movement. The use of collage, montage and other mixed media techniques owe their origins to the Cubist painters who worked through aesthetic problem solving to find clarity with the addition of external materials. Robert Rauschenburg's use of found objects pushed the boundaries between painting and sculpture. Working on a quilt with oil and pencil continued to lessen the distinction between mediums. Traditional textile work started to become a means of artistic expression rather than utilitarian function. Interdisciplinary approaches in art have produced a freedom in art making that can have uniquely expressive results if used with skill and thoughtful consideration.