14 Aug Collage in London
Collage has been taken up by the masses in the digital age; if you use software to edit and rearrange images to produce new work you are likely to be collaging, and if you manipulate photographs you are likely to be producing photomontage* of a sort. But anyone who has used paper scissors and glue to cut up and play with the type of ephemera one keeps in a box under the bed knows what fun can be had with traditional collage. Mementoes and keepsakes for artistic displays include bus tickets, luggage labels, postcards, fabric scraps, pressed flower petals, gift labels, receipts, opera tickets… this list is limited only by your resourcefulness. Images and even text can be harvested from newspapers, magazines, books and printed journals.
In the last two months I’ve met two women artists whose imagination tests our perception of reality, Layla Curtis and Maya Mitten. The materials they use are quite different yet their subject matter similar. Both inject humour into their work and it happened that I met each of them in London.
I met Layla at an event at Kings College London where she talked about a project she completed for the London Thames Festival. It was a map collaged from many other maps, so many she couldn’t count them she told me. The final piece is in ten parts and follows the Thames for fifty miles. It is called, ‘The Thames (from London Bridge, Arizona to Sheerness, Canada)’. The title plays with place names, weaving them through the mind just as the Thames worms its way towards the sea. The collage spreads laterally and demands examination. You think you recognise it as an accurate representation of a familiar geography but look closer and you will find there are some strange and beautiful connections; Dog Islands instead of the Isle of Dogs, Canada Creek instead of Canada Water Station, Greenwich Village New York appears where Greenwich London ought to be. You can spend hours marvelling at the complexity of it.
Maya Mitten on the other hand has taken her art in a surrealist direction and her geography is based on the landscape image. As soon as I saw her work Salvador Dali sprang to mind but I’m sure she wouldn’t wish me to make such a comparison for Maya is more earth mother than flamboyant reactionary. Maya has music in her bones and works as a DJ accepting gigs all over Europe so it is no surprise that her collage art extends to record covers. There is something about collage that is magical; it transforms ordinary, perhaps unremarkable objects into an illustration or image that can grab your attention, inform, inspire, shock or prompt a chuckle. It was during one of Maya’s workshops at the Saatchi Gallery in London that I tried the technique myself. My rudimentary attempts appeared awkward against those of my fellow students but I am proud to say my finished piece was bright and cheerful. And the energy I gained from the day flowed long into the evening, I was experiencing the therapeutic effect of practicing a craft.
My first attempt at collage under Maya’s watchful gaze.
My finished piece: ‘Yellow bricks’.
From re-imagining the Thames to creating surreal new landscapes Layla and Maya have motivated me to allocate some leisure time to collage, you never know where it will lead.
*Photomontage is a process where two or more photographs have been cut and the pieces rearranged and glued to make a new photograph. German born Hannah Höch (1889 – 1978) was known for her work in this medium, indeed is considered one of its pioneers though like many other avant-garde artists her work wasn’t given the recognition it ought to have had at the time. Most of the images she used would be taken from newspapers and journals and her art often expressed opinions on women’s sexuality. Long before feminism became a term that every woman understood she was commenting on equality and gender roles. Considered troublesome to the establishment she kept a low profile in Berlin after World War II but she did gain accolades in her later years.
Images: top image courtesy Maya Mitten, others are my own.