Kurt Schwitters

Kurt Schwitters

I have looked at a lot of this man’s work over the years. He may have been my original inspiration to do abstract collage. I was surprised to find this piece, one I cannot remember ever seeing, while rummaging through google this past week.

Initially I was just taken in by these blues. Then the drama of so much black. The pale lemony yellow as a complement to the blue… then just a touch of red to set the whole thing off. The blues and black seem to lead us is, the yellow defines a center of activity, and the red is spice. I admire his distribution of these colors, that he is juggling all their weights to get this dynamic balance rather than placing them evenly around his space.

What I admire even more, is that he has created this design almost entirely with rectangles. Straight cut edges. Solid color. It seems we always want to put some curves, some texture, into our compositions to soften this starkness. We want torn edges so that our shapes are not so severe. But he is very restrained with these solutions. Just a hint of curve and torn edge, and quietly so, using low contrast, translucent materials. The contrasts, or opposites, he emphasizes are color and value, scale, but not the character of shapes or edges. The shapes are boring, and very similar.

And yet, the choice to rotate these blocks of color is giving the piece such movement. They seem to be tumbling downward in an arc. The curves of this piece are not in the shapes but are implied through these orientation changes. They are curves of motion.

He begins in the upper left with a solid stack, bottom to top. Moving to the right, as we “read” the page, they begin to topple. I can imagine that he began with a more rectilinear composition and the rotations developed on subsequent layers when he felt it was too static. The strong diagonals that result create a much more dynamic space.

Interestingly, the structure does not completely fall down—- in the middle right he reasserts his foundation, solid blocks with rectilinear alignments. It is as if the storm has passed and we are on an even keel again. Balance has been restored. There is something very reassuring as we come to the end.

These are the possibilities of abstract composition in the hands of a master. You do not need every trick in the book, just focused interactions of your elements, both deliberate and a bit haphazard as well.

Isn’t it fun? Look up this man’s work this week. And if you are feeling adventurous, try a few of these.

To an adventurous week,

Melinda

The Workings Of A Book Collage

Collage allows you to use almost anything, so it can be a long process to discern what materials interest you the most.  The current day magazines were fantastic for exploring color and shape in abstract composition, but the material itself was not very satisfying to work with.

When I began to explore using old books as a collage material, I really hit a goldmine. There was a free bookstore, open only on weekends, where you could take up to 100 books at a time. Many people brought their old, unwanted books to this shop and volunteers would sort and rack them into a small library.  I spent hours sifting through the shelves, and yes, I often left with my full 100 books.

The raw material of old books is fun. Fabric covered hardbacks with thick, soft pages. Very scuffed and bent paperbacks with all that era-specific printing. Hidden treasures like the mull that glues the hardcover spine to the pages. 

Age Cage“, book parts, acrylic, tape transfer, thread, 2010

And since I was a student of the great Lisa Kokin at this time, I was learning about all the fun things that can be done with an awl, or sewing, or tape transfers. She also provided some interesting cast offs from her studio. She had been sawing books with a chop saw, and there was a bundle of perfectly cut rectangles from the pages of an old physics book. I peeled off any unnecessary words with scotch tape to simplify the graphics. Then, using a hardback cover as a substrate, I made a simple grid and set about embellishing it in every way I could think of: paint, punctures, sewing, etc. 

I still appreciate the playful, exploratory, character of this piece. It very accurately communicates how I was feeling at the time I made it. Not at first, of course. At first I was scared silly that I was about to make a disaster. But when Lisa came by and told me to extend my workings outside the little rectangular boundaries, then I saw how this could work— a tension between the strict order of the grid (and science) and non-sensical elements (of art) spilling into the aisles. This was my college training meeting my current day self, with current day coming through with a burst of sloppy sunshine. 

A drawing teacher once told us that every piece of art is really a self portrait. Can a science and math kid turn into an artist? Age Cage says yes, and happily so.

Have a great, creative week,

Melinda

Getting Started with Collage

Happy Summer everyone(!!!) and thank you for subscribing to my studio blog. It has been a while in the making, but hopefully we are ready to get rolling here.

Today I am thinking back to how I got started doing collage. It was 2010 and I was very keen to do Abstract Art, but I could not find any real instruction for this. Finally, one day, serendipity intervened. I was in the gift shop at SFMOMA and I ran across the work of Rex Ray, a graphic designer in San Francisco. Not only was there a bunch of his work there, but a book, which I immediately purchased. Here is what he had to say about his process:

“While I enjoyed the success of my graphic design business… I became frustrated by the commercial constraints, and wanted to return to the simple primal joy of the creative process. In an almost unconscious act of rebellion against graphic design and digital technology, I began cutting up magazines… and arranged them into positive, intuitive forms and compositions.”

-Rex Ray (1956-2015) 

I could certainly relate to that. I had been a digital artist for many years and was eager to do my own work. But how to get started? Well, he had carved out a way that I could understand, so I followed him. Armed with just magazines, scissors and a glue stick, I began to create abstract compositions in a journal. Now, I knew nothing about composition or color or any of that. I just picked images I liked, and used some of his oval shapes (which I also liked), and got moving.

Melinda Tidwell early work with magazines

Here are some selects from my journals. I have hundreds of these and some real lemons among them so I am only gonna show you the ones I like!

I worked from simpler and more sparse to denser and more complex. I am struck, now, by the rich color to be had in magazines! Wow. And the subtle variations in color to be found in color photography in general. I use mostly painted papers now so all this ready made color is kind of dazzling to me. And right at your fingertips!

These pieces were done in a Canson XL Mixed Media 7×10″ sketchbook. I used your basic Elmers glue stick but I have found that it does not stick THAT WELL. I recommend the Uhu gluestick (via Yum City residents). These pieces are in such good shape these 11 years later because they never see the sun, tucked away as they are in sketchbooks. How they would do as framed work under UV glazing I do not know.

Does this interest you? Give it a try! And share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

See you next week
Melinda