What’s New With Collage?

A view of one of the walls of "All That Remains" (all photos by the author)

Curator Charles Wilkin has put together a show of collage, All That Remains, at Picture Farm in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The show, presented by Ugly Art Room, opened last Friday and made me wonder how the art form might be different today in contrast to its origins in the early 20th C. I spoke to the curator about contemporary collage.

Poster for "All That Remains" featuring a collage by Winkin titled "All That Remains" (2011).

Hrag Vartanian: What do you think is unique about collage today, if anything?

Charles Wilkin: One of the exciting things about collage is its primary use of discarded paper media which ultimately keeps it in motion, constantly changing like a chameleon. A quick look at the diversity of styles, concepts and technique found in contemporary collage proves it’s moved well beyond simply cut paper and glue.

I suspect many artists find it alluring for not only its immediacy but its unique and inherent nature to reinvent the familiar into something mysteriously new. Collage also has a long history of integrating itself in to political and cultural movements so it seems natural there’s a collage revival happening in these uncertain times. Which is why I believe many contemporary collages artists are focused on bold narratives rooted in some type of analysis, making All That Remains not only relevant now but also for the future.

HV: None of these images are digitial, correct? Well, what do you think is different about paper collage, compared to digital?

CW: Ninety percent of the show is paper collage done by hand however there are a few artists working digitally. I personally have done both mediums and in my mind they are equal in many respects. The overall techniques are completely different but the approach is often the same.

Ciara Phelan, "Birds Of Eden" (2011) (click to enlarge)

The challenge of paper collage is working with what you have on hand, the size of the images, the color and texture of the paper. It’s almost like trying to make something out of nothing really, this seems to be the draw for a lot of collage artists in general. Working digitally gives you the ability to manipulate every aspect of the collage, I personally have found working digitally creates too many possibilities. Up until recently there seemed to be a strong division among collage artists on the paper vs. digital topic but lately I’m seeing more and more artists mixing the two, which is great.

Collage has historically has been a medium that embraces technology, I mean where would those Punk Rock flyers of the 1970s and 1980s be without a Xerox machine? So from my perspective the blend of both hand work and digital technology seems like a natural evolution of the medium.

HV: Were there any overarching themes you were seeing in the collage work of artists today?

CW: Collage artists have always been fascinated with the idyllically mundane and the scraps of pop culture tossed aside. This seems to be a unifying theme that transcends collage beyond it’s stylistic roots to Dada, Pop Art and Surrealism. However, All That Remains is more than just a survey of contemporary collage but effectively a commentary on modern living, with its 24-hour news cycles and social media.

For me it’s fascinating to see how 25 international artists with completely different perspectives and cultural backgrounds can actually find a mysterious sense of commonality. Collage artists have the unique ability to transform the familiar, bridging the past with the present, into universal narratives and themes that reveal the things that make us all human. I truly believe this is what makes collage and this exhibition so amazing.

HV: Are all these north Brooklyn artists?

CW: Sadly, I’m the only North Brooklyn artist.

All That Remains is an international collage exhibition curated by Charles Wilkin at Picture Farm (338 Wythe) continues until November 19. For more images of some of the art in the show, please peruse their Flickr set.

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