While I love exploring new media and techniques, I regularly circle back to my favourite: collage. Thinking about collage in terms of connections brings so much to mind.
Whether you consider yourself an artist or not, I suspect most of you have created a collage at some time in your life. Grab a pile of old magazines, a pair of scissors and a glue stick, and start cutting and pasting! This is a great way to connect with your subconscious mind as you select images and words that call to you and put them together. I still feel a sense of childlike delight and freedom when I start rifling through my (rather large) collection of collage materials.
I began using collage in my art almost 20 years ago. I’d been spending a lot of time reading and thinking about this technique and enjoying others’ work, but I kept hesitating to try it myself, unsure how to start. What helped me take the plunge was advice from my mentor, Alicia Popoff. Alicia recommended using inexpensive materials—tempera paint on cheap paper—so I’d feel free to experiment without stressing about “wasting” precious resources. I’ve been making collages ever since and often feel Alicia’s spirit in them (especially when I am holding myself back from trying something for fear of not being perfect).
Over the years I’ve started to use more “found” papers, in combination with those I’ve painted or printed—an even better art resource, since there is an abundance of interesting papers out there that deserve to be diverted from the recycling bin. Turning something that would otherwise be seen as garbage into art is really satisfying and connects me with the artists who popularised collage in the early 20th century, including Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Kurt Schwitters. And it connects to one of my core values: living lightly on the Earth.
Lately I’ve been expanding my “upcycling” approach. When the pandemic began, we had already printed invitations to our spring Artists’ Workshop show, which was, of course, cancelled. I decided to use the cards as the surface for a series of collaged “pandemic postcards.” With exhibitions on hold, creating these small artworks to share with friends felt more meaningful and relevant than painting larger pieces that would remain unseen. They became a way to stay connected with my dear ones, near and far. In our upcoming show (first one since 2019!!) I will be displaying some of these cards, which will always remind me to nurture and treasure my relationships with friends and family.
Finally, each element of my collages has its own little story connecting it to its source. Stamps from overseas letters, calendars filled with the year’s appointments and events, maps from my travels, experiments in printmaking and surface design, discarded library books, old wrapping paper and packaging…I remember where virtually every piece came from. As I sift through these fragments of paper, combining and arranging them into something completely new, I’m reminded of a quote from Steve Jobs: “Creativity is just connecting things.”
Maybe it’s time for you to get out your scissors and glue and find some new connections!