Alexandra Sheldon

How do we put collages together?

Alexandra SheldonComment

This semester we made a lot of interesting papers....now to put them together. There is always the NO PLAN plan. I call this the WILDCARD. I sometimes work like this. I have no plan, I just grab something that catches my eye. It is usually a piece of painted paper and it is usually something that I feel a magnetic draw to. I throw it down and see what might look good next to it. Sometimes I go thru my piles of papers and see what I feel impelled to reach for. I will sit on the floor of my studio and go thru stacks of stuff. I find that if you can find one little thing that feels good and magical, then you can look thru your stacks and other things will surface to join that initial piece.

At other times, I need a system, a theme, a series to continue on. For me, it is often related to walking outdoors and to landscape. I like a grid to fit shapes into. I will spend days painting papers the colors I have seen on the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard and then spend days fitting these colors into abstract grids. I like to find a way to work that I can sometimes rest in. I change all the time. I might start my day working on a series of very tight gridlike collages and then feel like doing the NO PLAN pieces. I think creative people rebel against authority. So you may think you have finally found your system, your theme but then another part of you gets sick of that and turns around and does the opposite. We are complicated creatures. What I find especially delicious is what happens if I work a whole day in the studio: I get freer as the day goes on. My brain has completely given up trying to control what’s going on and my body is finally free to let loose. Philip Guston said that when he went into the studio he would ruminate on his life and think about everyone and then they would all leave and he would leave and then he would paint. I totally get that: there is an emptying out of self that can happen. I experience it if I put in a lot of studio time. I sometimes think that what I love about being an artist is this shedding of ego and mind that you can achieve while spending hours making stuff. I get the same thing from gardening, yoga, hot baths, long walks and being with animals ( to name a few). 

So how are you going to put collages together? 

Look at artists and observe their systems and themes. 

Jim Dine and Jasper Johns consistently use symbols (flags, numbers, hearts, targets,etc) in their paintings. 
Louise Nevelson used the grid to organise her blocks and balusters of wood.
Helen Frankenthaler did not use a grid at all but rather she poured paint and experimented with “being in tune with your feelings” as she so perfectly put it. Her system of working was more with an intuitive listening, to herself and to the materials. 

Matisse said that for him, color and light = emotion. That simple. ( And by the way, Matisse influenced a generation of artists like Lois Dodd and Louisa Matthiasdottir who aspire to this direct kind of painting - very unintellectual, where the painting is delicious and direct). It is interesting to note that Matisse also said that everything in front of him flattened like wallpaper. He would paint the woman and the doorway and the vase of flowers all in the same breathy and exuberant way. So what was his system? Painting from life, his own interpretation of it. Even in his late paper cut outs the shapes usually refer to something from his life like water, flowers, a woman’s body, etc. 

Looking at artists like Fred Otnes, Gerhard Richter and Mark Bradford you find a richness in atmosphere, light and pattern. Paintings and collages may not necessarily have a focal point but instead there is a sweep or rhythm. This kind of work relies on a mood, a feeling, an atmosphere. Color and light can reign supreme as it does in Mark Rothko. The paintings are meant to be experienced as physical emotions. He wanted people to stand in front of the canvases and to practically fall into the mood and feeling of them.