What is it that makes the destructive construction, reflected in the growing number of the art collage pieces, so appealing to a different number of authors today? The art of collage, rooted in European Dadaism in the first years of the 20th-century, became one of the important techniques of early modernism, which allowed painters to engage and use different materials, fusing anything from newspaper and magazines, to maps, tickets, propaganda posters, and photographs, text, and found objects for the creation of the visually stunning and thought-provoking images. Emerging as a reaction against the First World War and the need to connect with reality in the face of the growing abstractness of the Analytical Cubism, the term collage, from the French word coller, meaning to cut, was coined by the Cubism artists, Georges Braque, and Pablo Picasso. For these two authors, and Cubism movement as a whole, collage allowed for the exploration of painting’s illusion of three-dimensionality while exposing and using the flatness of the painted surface. These progressive ideas reflected the breaking from hundred years of Western painting tradition. In the words of the art critic, Clemente Greenberg, who in 1959 wrote an essay on Cubism, “collage was a major turning point in the evolution of Cubism and therefore a major turning point in the whole evolution of modernist art in this century”.
The European avant-garde artists after the First World War, the Dadaists, Early Abstract artists, the Surrealists and the artists during the postwar years, continued with the challenging spirit and the progressive ideas of the Cubism. The cut out paper, newspapers, found objects, and assemblage sculptures became some of the most influential pieces that helped shaped the art today. Reflecting the fighting and experimental nature of the artists, the art of collage, in the 20th-century art, reflected the need of different authors to appropriate diverse imagery and found materials into new compositions that exposed the advanced ideas of the time. Echoing these thoughts, the technique evolved from the simple method of cutting and gluing different pieces of paper to the method that merged into photography and use of different pictures, called photocollage, decorative cut-outs, decoupage, collages in paintings and on wood, and nowdays the use of technology and digital media.
Famous artists, like Jean Arp and Henri Matisse, saw in collage a potential for abstraction and simplification, using the glued pieces of colored paper in their compositions. The incorporation of the magazines and advertisement images, proved to be one of the favorite medium for artists of the Pop Art period, as Richard Hamilton, who, like so many other artists of that age, with the use of the art collage, disrupted the hierarchy of subject and materials, considered until then as serious art. The combination of different materials and their assemblage in the famous Combines paintings of Robert Rauschenberg, blurred the definitions between mediums, since the use of different objects found in daily life with different art materials, produced works with elements that burst out of the paintings, entering a zone of 3D sculpture works.
The ideas of 20th century art collage, focused on the juxtaposition of themes and images, challenge of the pre-existing hierarchy and values of subjects and materials used, appropriation of different pictures for the creation of a new context, are not as shocking as they were at the time of its birth, but are present in today’s art as well. The cutting of the material and the re-assembling to represent painter’s own views, exploring the notion of the passing of the time, and the modern day palimpsest, as is the case in the works of the French artist, Jacques Villeglé, or the need to bring to the surface the important social issues, as is the case with the work of Nancy Spero, whose interests with the political, social and cultural concerns are best explained in her collage pieces, are examples of the lingering influence of the major ideas of the past. Owing to that time, artists today know that any cut made, any piece of paper glued is, in fact, a political and rebellious act and the doing, which re-shape the world around us.
Today, the widespread use of the contemporary art term ‘ mixed-media’ has effectively replaced the word collage. Mixed-media works seem to dominate the global contemporary scene and streets of almost every city on the planet, showcasing the works of both urban and street artists that have perfected the practice of gathering and assembling. Both works on the streets and the contemporary mixed-media images, influenced by illustration, painting, and photography, play with elements of abstraction, constructivism, surrealism, and dada, and present a collection of the visual language and codes of communication today. Reflecting the spirit of today, the short-attention, mass media culture and mass image production, the rise of the mixed-media works should not be a surprise for us. The ability to cut and glue, and redo the process quickly and to instantly change or challenge the mood is one of the major reasons behind the popularity of this technique.
Editors’ Tip: The Age of Collage: Contemporary Collage in Modern Art
The Age of Collage is a striking documentation of current artworks that reflects the pre-occupation by contemporary artists for the technique, described as a deconstructive-constructivism. Beautifully illustrated, the book offers the reader a glimpse into some of the most contemporary pieces that reference the major influences of the past and pay homage to the heritage of dada, surrealism, and constructivism. With the behind-the –scene look at the works produce, the book offers its reader a better insight into the workings of the featured artists working with the interdisciplinary and cross-media approach.
All images used for illustrative purposes only. Featured image in slider: Richard Hamilton – Just What Was It that Made Yesterday’s Homes so Different so Appealing, detail. Image via Wikipedia.org