Thursday, 30 January 2014

Fragments against my ruin: the art of collage

I am becoming more and more convinced that the best aesthetic answer to the unfathomable chaos that is Life, the Universe and Everything is collage.

During a particularly troublesome week I found myself almost by accident at the Whitechapel Gallery  in East London, where, with 50 minutes to kill,  I cantered through an exhibition of photomontages by the Berlin Dada movement's Hannah Hoch - the first major show of her work in Britain. And, ironically given the medium, it all fell into place. This is what I love, and how I want my work to develop.

Credit Crunch (self portrait) 

I have long been a fan of collage art, and have made tentative forays using printed papers and textiles - see the three pictures above and my previous posts. And what else, after all, is patchwork, but a kind of controlled collage - putting one piece of fabric against another and seeing what conversation ensues? Now I realise what an amateur I am, and how tame my forays have been. Because what can be more disturbing and nightmarish than fractured images of the familiar - birds, flowers, human figures, animals, entrails, eyes and mouths - made monstrous through isolation, juxtaposition and shifts in scale? And how else to express the horror of everyday life turned upside down?

Detail of Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights 

Looking at Hoch's work I am reminded of Hieronymus Boch's visions of flesh-eating blossoms regurgitating upended torsos, of bulbous vegetation sprouting wings. And I want more.

I think someone at the Whitechapel must love collage too, because an exhibition there early last summer introduced me to the work of Gert and Uwe Tobias. More sparse and painterly and without the overt politics of Hoch, their collages nonetheless have a dark gothic unease - and  the scale of many of their works is that of a double bed quilt. Tate Modern promises more goodies with its Richard Hamilton exhibition next month.

Collage - like this blog, alas - is restricted by the laws of copyright, preventing the reproduction and use, or misuse, of many contemporary photographs and images, and as such it can easily slip into a cosy sepia montage of the past. I want to shake it up! A difficult challenge in textiles, but I guess that's me sorted out for the next few years...

For more of my favourite collage artists check out Amelia Critchlow and Miriam Wosk.

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