“[…] its contrast of structure and dimension, rough against smooth, aerial photograph against close-up, perspective against flat surface, the utmost technical flexibility and the most lucid formal dialectics are equally possible[….] The ability to manage the most striking contrasts, to the achievement of perfect states of equilibrium […] ensures the medium a long and richly productive span of life[…]” — Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971), “Definition of Photomontage,” quoted in Hans Richter, Dada Art and Anti-Art (Thames and Hudson: London, 1965), p.116.
From Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers Special #1 (October 1983), here’s the astonishing two-page “double splash” collage by Jack Kirby and company that brought the story — “COMPLETE IN THIS ISSUE!!!” — to a crashing conclusion:
“My interest in collage stems from a dissatisfaction with existing visual culture (advertising, propaganda, technical literature, even other art). I prefer ambiguity, humour, sublimity, or solace where before there was only crassness, pandering, offence, or mundanity. I have no preconceptions in mind when I sit down to work; I do have favorite themes and imagery, but I allow myself the freedom to make as many mistakes or false starts as I need to arrive at a finished image I find compelling. I hope others find the work interesting as well.”
I’ve been an admirer of the collage art of Jeffrey Meyer for a couple of years now, so a few weeks after I received notice from him that his professional website/portfolio was back online, after an absence of some months, I “suddenly” had the idea that a brief conversation with Jeffrey, conducted via email and rearranged/edited for publication here, not only might be an appropriate way for RCN to help draw attention to the artist’s new domain, new website design, and new work, but also would give me an excellent excuse to show off the four collages — God Speaks in Riddles, Hot & Cold Fusion, Seasons, and Toggle — that my wife and I purchased from him last summer. Jeffrey gamely agreed to participate, and this is the result:
RAGGED CLAWS NETWORK: In a 2011 interview with the Notpaper blog, Jeffrey, you lamented the substantial amount of time — “25 (mostly thankless) hrs a week” — you were spending “obnoxiously ‘promoting’ myself via online submissions to blogs, magazines, galleries, etc.” Within the past year, however, you have shut down your Society6, Twitter, Flickr, and Tumblr accounts (and possibly others I’m unaware of), reducing your online presence to your Facebook account and your website/portfolio. How is the new arrangement working for you so far?
JEFFREY MEYER: I used to send my site to maybe 10 various art/design sites a week, for about two solid years, to whomever I thought might be interested, or sites I thought I’d benefit from appearing on. It was largely a waste of time. Lots of mentions on blogs and tumblrs — which I sincerely appreciated — but no real traction. I felt spread a little too thin… I sold maybe one piece a month, had maybe three commissions a year, despite however many thousands of “likes” on various 16-yr-olds’ tumblrs. Completely ignored by the most well-known and trafficked art sites; I guess they’d rather highlight another phony “street” artist or the 10,000th someone who paints deer or birds or takes limp pastel snapshots of hipsters camping in the nude. (Really, when will that shit end?) Absolutely zero response from any galleries I submitted to.
I realized I’d rather have my work seen by ten people with money and connections than 100,000 people who can’t be bothered to give me a single penny. So that’s why I shut down all the sites you mentioned. Been sending my new site out now… people seem even less interested than before. I can only presume the new work is worse than the old, in their opinion. I dunno. Maybe my stuff just doesn’t fit anywhere so easily. Maybe I just suck; I consider that possibility every single day.
RCN: But let’s assume that you don’t suck. Is there any viable alternative to the grind of endless, intensive online self-promotion? Is an agent, for instance, a possibility, or is representation of any sort a luxury of the fortunate few?
JEFFREY MEYER: I don’t know anything about agents… seems like the kind of situation where you have to be popular or successful to begin with to get an agent. I tried that when I was doing comics and illustration a decade ago, and received zero response of any kind.
Honestly, at the risk of sounding arrogant or whiny, when I look at my work — the range of it, and the technical and conceptual qualities, the quantity — and then look at other collagists’ work, and see, for example, the number of Facebook fans they have or whatever, it just depresses me. Maybe I’m deluding myself, I can’t be sure. I don’t expect to be in the Whitney Biennial, for god’s sake, but some nice gallery representation would be beneficial at the very least. All I need is 10 grand a year and I can quit my day job, you know? That’s, what, $800 a month? Still below poverty level, still on food stamps, still an amount most people — artists included — would scoff at.
I sound like a crank here, and maybe even petty, mentioning specific figures and circumstances like this, but I hate that artists don’t talk about this stuff forthrightly. It’s not embarrassing or a big mystery — it’s a matter of survival. No one seems to talk about how living costs are the most important thing for an artist to take care of. All the various grants I look into cover “project costs,” etc., but simple food and rent is never mentioned, or the use of the grant monies to pay basic costs of living is outright prohibited. I don’t get that. It’s anti-artist. I don’t want something called a “residency” — I want my food and housing covered so I don’t need a day job, so I then have time to do more of my work. A lot of this seems to stem from the idea of “arts” rather than artists; anytime I hear the word “art” with an “s” after it, I know it’s nothing more than a pointless bureaucracy of money gatherers with no interest in helping individuals. So the city ballet, city symphony, maybe summer programs for kids, get funded, but not individual artists with years of disciplined work behind them.
RCN: A common criticism of a lot of contemporary collage is that it unthinkingly or joyfully or cynically trades in nostalgia, that too often artists and illustrators become enamoured with the imagery of certain historical time periods, or discover/notice that such imagery garners the most attention from casual admirers or art directors or design sites, and so end up producing a steady stream of pastiches, homages, and outright rip-offs for fun and/or profit. I don’t detect much of that sort of uncritical nostalgia in your work, Jeffrey, but what do you think? Is “the desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time” a particular problem for collage artists?
JEFFREY MEYER: I guess the medium does tend to lend itself to that approach, as it utilizes found, existing materials. Though most who use older imagery don’t really seem to develop any sort of thematically interesting ideas about aging or time, they just seem to like that look for its own sake. That approach bores me, no matter how decorative or lovely the imagery might be.
Then there’s work that uses older pictures in a condescending or ironic way, which is about 1% more thoughtful, but still very uninteresting to me — with the added bonus of being obnoxious. I’m guilty of this myself, more than I’d like to admit.
I’m very much obsessed with nostalgia, but also very aware of the quandaries of its use in art. My “Nostalgia” series was a conscious attempt to deal with that in an abstract way, with as little traditional imagery or “things” in the final pieces as possible. I wanted the feel of nostalgia without the specifics. Of course the feelings — lights, colors, shapes, textures — are still specific to my memories of the era I came from, and the source material, so the stuff could just be flat and boring, or indulgent, to everyone else, I dunno.
Boards of Canada‘s music might be a good reference point here, though I don’t think my work is in any way the equivalent of theirs in terms of quality.
“My ‘Nostalgia’ series was a conscious attempt to deal with that in an abstract way, with as little traditional imagery or ‘things’ in the final pieces as possible. I wanted the feel of nostalgia without the specifics.”
This relates… somehow, I guess… to how I absorb art or literature or film. I try to find the valuable or peculiar qualities in “bad” or neglected work and see if it somehow becomes meaningful to me. I think that’s a more challenging and more rewarding approach than, say, the whole MST3000 bullshit mockery, which I’ve always hated. I mean, apparently they did an episode with Phase IV, which, to me, is one of the best SF films of the 1970s. (I didn’t actually see that episode — it’s possible they say good things about it, despite their formula otherwise, but I doubt it.)
It’s hard to say if collage or any visual art can deal with the complexities of real nostalgia, though. I think it will always be more fully explored and conveyed via literature (Proust, Bradbury, etc.).
RCN: In an interview that appeared in The Ballast in 2011, you mention that you are “not really a huge fan of collage that looks like… collage… with 20 kinds of paper slapped together” and that you prefer “the finished product to have a little mystery about how it was created, to make the viewer wonder when and where it came from, or if it’s even collage at all.” Can you talk a bit about the part mystery plays in your work? Is it simply about creating a “seamless” montage via careful source selection and meticulous assemblage, or is there more to it than that?
JEFFREY MEYER: I guess I’d say I was referring, in that quote, maybe more to the mystery of the overall form and meaning, rather than any particular techniques. It’s not so much a cleanness or invisibility of technique that I want, but a strong, decisive clarity of image. I do like harmonious elements as they tend to convince the viewer that the picture is “right” — but even when there’s an obvious, intended juxtaposition I try to make the whole look… whole.
I think the best surrealism has that “ease” of viewing; the picture looks normal, even innocuous, but something is off. Hopefully some of my stuff shares that quality and encourages viewers to linger and study the work more than once. On the other hand, I have almost zero interest in looking at visual art, and spend micro-seconds at best absorbing paintings, etc., so maybe I’ve got it all wrong.
“I think the best surrealism has that ‘ease’ of viewing; the picture looks normal, even innocuous, but something is off. Hopefully some of my stuff shares that quality and encourages viewers to linger and study the work more than once.”
A lot of the collage work I refer to as “20 kinds of paper slapped together” is fine, but there’s no mystery to me about the artists’ intentions, nor generally about the content of the work, either. I think it also speaks to the amount of time someone is willing to spend searching for and assembling source material into something that is a little more beguiling than just old soup ads randomly slapped on a landscape, or Victorian dress patterns on wallpaper, or whatever. I realize that effort doesn’t always equal quality, but…
RCN: Given that pretty much all of your collage work is of the analog variety, where the tools are small utility knives, scissors, and glue sticks, and the source materials are images and shapes cut from old books and magazines, do you ever worry that your well-wrought compositions will lose the mystery of how they were created as the combination of the acid in the paper and environmental conditions cause your clippings to yellow at different rates and the glue to delaminate and bubble? Have you given any thought to the irony that the digital scans of the collages that you post online might become, sooner rather than later, a better representation of your intentions than the physical works themselves? Or to put it another way, why not just use digital imaging and editing from the get-go? Prints aren’t permanent either, but at least, with a print, the entire image ages at the same rate; and one can always produce new prints, of course.
JEFFREY MEYER: As for digital… I’m nearly inept with computers, more to the point I just fucking hate the things, though I have patched together a few collage illustrations in Photoshop. I like some digital collage, generally those that emphasize the tool (exaggerated pixels, etc. [which I realize kind of contradicts my own stated approach above]) but I think that device is most efficient and useful for commercial work, which usually doesn’t benefit from or encourage ambiguity.
I do worry about the archival qualities of my work. I’m sure the varied papers, cheap tape and glue, and exposure to light and environment won’t do the stuff any favors as it ages. But ultimately I couldn’t care less what happens to my work after I die, or even in a few decades (I doubt I have that many left); I want the goddamned money and attention now when it does me some good. If there’s a mob of disgruntled collectors (all six of them) who own work of mine which disassembles itself over time, I’ll deal with that then.
At any rate my “approach” isn’t a dogma or formula but just me trying to figure out the best way to “express myself” (ugh) and sort out the ideas in my eyes and head.
RCN: Following up on your reference to “the best surrealism” a couple of answers ago, one could make the case, I think, that your commitment to the ideal of “a strong, decisive clarity of image,” your drive to exhaust the possibilities of your favourite motifs and themes in a systematic way, and your preference for “ambiguity, humour, sublimity, or solace where before there was only crassness, pandering, offence, or mundanity,” all situate you pretty firmly in the current of surrealism that originates in the work of Rene Magritte, who famously said:
My painting is visible images which conceal nothing; they evoke mystery and, indeed, when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question, “What does that mean?” It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable.
Do you feel a special affinity for Magritte’s work or his ideas about art, or are there other surrealists who are more to your taste?
JEFFREY MEYER: Surrealism/collage mostly go hand in hand to my mind, though perhaps too obviously — which is why I’m working on more abstract imagery instead of odd juxtapositions.
And yes, Magritte is more my flavour. When I was a kid I loved Dali, but now I can hardly look at him. De Chirico and Ernst are also huge favourites. But — what I find most inspiring is the “unintentional” surrealism of, say, Silver Age Superman comics, or SF paperback covers (though the latter artists were certainly aware of and utilizing surrealism as soon as Richard Powers‘ work was seen, there were still so many examples where there’s a sort of naive, sincere oddness, better than any “high” art).
RCN: I never cared much for Dali when I was younger, but I began to appreciate him more when I discovered his book illustrations, suites of prints, drawings, and so on, which display an inventiveness and looseness of attack that make his meticulously wrought easel paintings seem turgid by comparison — although, I must admit, most of Dali’s late paintings are turgid, period — and although I didn’t expect to, I actually enjoy Dali’s writing. Diary of a Genius, for instance, is a very funny book — and intentionally so, which makes it all the more impressive. And so sometimes I find myself thinking, almost in spite of myself, maybe Dali WAS a genius…
JEFFREY MEYER: I wholly respect his talent, certainly. He’s one of those guys who can draw or paint anything in any style… though that facility is probably what repels me, too. I like the guys who either have to struggle (Albert Pinkham Ryder) or maybe don’t have to struggle but develop a unique idiom in relative indifference to general art “advances” (Grant Wood, George Tooker, Balthus, Charles Sheeler, Charles Burchfield).
RCN: You have produced a number of collages that incorporate images of naked women and — less often — men. Of course, it is easy enough to cut out images of beautiful bodies and place them in odd (or satirical) situations; however, in collages such as Black Genie, Deeper into Skin, Drapes, Escape Pod, Ghost Exit, Junkheap, Junk on a Tray, Landing the Sky, My Idea Is, Sleeping Angel, Space Ghost, Spinning Torso, Stretching, and Torque & Torso, you haven’t simply separated images of naked people from their original backgrounds with your knife and recontextualized them; rather, you have defamiliarized the bodies themselves — and sometimes desexualized them, although that turns out to be tough to do — by carving your source images into unusual shapes that have the effect of making human flesh appear as malleable as modelling clay.
What is your assessment of your work with the naked human figure, Jeffrey? Are any of the approaches that you have taken to the figure thus far novel or interesting enough in your own eyes to merit further exploration?
JEFFREY MEYER: You’ll note that almost none of those particular pieces are on my new site, as I felt they were all unsuccessful. I think I had the right idea there, but not the talent or patience to make it work. I have a huge pile of source material for similarly-minded collages which I’ll be trying to get to soon.
RCN: As a music fan, I feel I would be remiss if I did not ask you about your album-cover art, which has generally been quite strong, and at times — Deep Magic! — simply stunning. In 2011, your collages were featured on the covers of two albums, and in 2012, five more. Do you generally create the cover art for albums based on commissions from bands and/or record labels, or do those folks more often that not simply want to use images of yours that they have seen online or in print? Also, what is the relationship between your self-directed work and work you are commissioned to create?
JEFFREY MEYER: Most of the album covers have used existing images, which I prefer because I get paid for work already done, and the musicians know what they’re getting. I’ve done two or three covers (yet to appear) as assignments, which means I prepare about two-dozen Photoshop “sketches” from collage source material, from which the band then chooses a piece one or two they want me to make as finished pieces. That is an incredibly inefficient way to do illustration work, as far as time, resources, quality, and my payment are concerned, so I’ve been “discouraging” commissions of new work for album covers by either suggesting the use of an existing image or, if they insist on a new piece, requiring time and quantity limits, as well as a percentage of payment up front and then a kill fee once the sketches are done, should they decide not to utilize my services.
This is the sort of project where a more supple use of digital compositing would benefit me, no doubt, but I really have no interest in pursuing an illustration career. For the more high-profile of my recent assignments, I actually provided four images assembled entirely via Photoshop; I cut all the source material as if I was making a paper collage, but due to size and proportion discrepancies, etc. I had to make a bunch of adjustments digitally, which I was more or less happy with. They are mostly of-a-piece with my stuff, though a little “stabler” I guess, a bit less inspired.
RCN: Recently, in addition to paper collages, you have begun producing larger “mixed-media” pieces that, as you have written on Facebook, are “made with layers of collage, paint, grime, etc.” and take “several months to finish.” I haven’t seen any of the new work in person, but from what I can tell by the images on your website, it would seem that the difficulty of painting over slick magazine paper has caused you to embrace a rougher aesthetic than we’ve seen from you in the past. But how would you describe the difference between your collages — which have sometimes included pen lines and marks made with other materials, I know — and your new mixed-media experiments?
JEFFREY MEYER: The larger mixed-media stuff is deliberately rougher, yes, but I’m not a facile painter anyway, so… One reason the surfaces are rougher is that, working on board, I can’t as easily change the size of the overall piece. On the smaller paper work, I often have a completed section I like, cut it out, then I just tape it to a new section or a totally different background. With the mixed-media I end up having to simply cover over anything I dislike, so: board, paint, paper, gel medium, more paper, more paint, varnish, etc. until I call it done.
It’s a surprisingly different thought process for each approach. I feel more accomplished and fluid with the paper stuff. The mixed-media is a constant “starting over” as the layers of imagery and paint accumulate … though with each piece so far I always reach a tipping point when I can imagine the completed image and realize if it’s going to work or not.
I think the new abstract pieces — on paper — are my best work; try as I might I simply can’t do something like that in larger, mixed-media form. I suppose I could consider the paper pieces “sketches” and simply copy them as is, in larger paintings, but what’s the point of that? Maybe if I were guaranteed sales, but until then, no.
RCN: You’ve participated in a number of group shows in galleries, Jeffrey, and I assume one of your long-term goals is to have solo-shows of your work, so tell me, what have you learned from your experience so far? Does analog collage as a medium seem to you to have the respect of contemporary curators, dealers, and collectors? How difficult is it for collage artists who produce handmade work on an intimate scale to command attention in the massive white-walled arena of “fine art”?
JEFFREY MEYER: I wish I knew the answers here… Aside from being in a few group shows — maybe half of which were devoted exclusively to collage — I’m completely divorced from gallery art. I go to galleries when I can, more often museums, but I’d much rather read novels or watch film. I get the impression there’s a significant gap between the type of collage so prevalent online and the type of collage I see represented (infrequently) by serious galleries. That’s among the reasons I deleted so much of my online presence and redid my site in as professional a manner as I could manage (short of writing an atrocious “artist’s statement” with faux or contrived terminology and useless jargon) and why I chose which pieces I did to display online. It may not help, but I’d like to think my work benefits from the new presentation, without necessarily kowtowing to the obvious trends or unhealthy tendencies of the fine art world.
I am working with a curator on a solo show and representation in NYC, tentatively planned for this fall. He’s not a gallerist per se but a very well-known (and superb) architect/designer who has curated before and whose judgment I trust… and of course it’s a wonderful opportunity to get my work in front of people with money, frankly. But I’m very interested to see what — if any — response the work/venue will get from the fine art press/web, considering he’s not necessarily in the thick of that. I actually think it may work very much in my favour not just financially but also as regards reputation — I think it could potentially be more interesting and beneficial not to follow a well-trod path. I dunno, I know nothing about art!
Here’s a wry slice of autobiography from an interview with Jeffrey conducted by Brian Vu and originally published 04 October 2011 on the now defunct website of Rebel Magazine:
I grew up in Indiana in the 1970s, having what I imagine was a pretty typical American working class semi-suburban childhood: Star Wars, Estes model rockets, banana set bicycles, metal roller skates, Rubik’s Cubes, summer camp, weekly trips to the library and zoo, five TV channels, AM radio, car sickness, drinking beer at family picnics, boners in Math class, ritual Satanic sexual abuse, etc. Quite frankly I never wanted to be an adult; I knew then, with total conviction and understanding, that the first ten years of my life would be the best. Nothing since has changed my mind.
I used to draw — I wanted to be a cartoonist — but after a while the act began to feel like having your nervous system unspooled through your fingernails, boiled like spaghetti, and then fed to hyenas. I found the results were too wound up with my emotions, what I ate that day, how much sleep I had, which way the wind was blowing, etc. I think I draw pretty well, actually, but I still feel I have no conscious, consistent control over what my hands are doing when I’m drawing, which is a problem when you have to draw the same characters over and over, in the same style, for hundreds of pages. I think my rendering (particularly brush and pen work: line weights, textures, modelling, etc.) reached a professional level, but ultimately I never got past a sort of stiff uncomfortableness that was too discouraging and crippling for me to ignore. My cartooning just didn’t have the sort of “handwriting” personality that the best cartoonists display. And the stories I wanted to tell — and the affect I wanted them to have — were just too complex for me to draw with such limited skills.
I had always made collage on the side, so I shifted my focus to that. What a relief — I mean a palpable, physical, and psychological relief — not to have unmet expectations every time I sat down to work. With collage I could allow myself to add to, subtract from, or destroy any image I found or made; I could make many images into one, or many from one.
I have no real attachment to the medium itself. I look at collage a lot less than painting or cartooning, and I watch more movies and read more books more than I look at any visual art. Collage just happens to be the most immediately satisfying way for me to work right now.
Jeffrey Meyer | Notpaper — another interview, posted 01 June 2011
“Jeffrey Meyer,” Cutting Edges: Contemporary Collage, edited by Robert Klanten, Hendrik Hellige, and James Gallagher (Berlin: Gestalten, 2011), pp. 70-71 — two-page spread of five paper collages by Jeffrey from 2010 (Gray Penumbra, L’, The Language of Babies, Broken Dome, and Orthodoxic Art.
Heads Up: “Art” by Jeffrey Meyer | Ragged Claws Network — image gallery posted 12 July 2013 includes eight collages that the artist identified “successful, even pleasing,” back in 2011, along with three from 2013.
#jeffrey meyer | Tumblr — Jeffrey’s Tumblr account may be closed, but the reblogged images live on.
UNAUTHORIZED BONUS IMAGE:
I selected the first three of the four collages that my wife and I purchased from Jeffrey in 2012 not only because I thought they were strong as individual works of art but also because I imagined they would hang together beautifully as a kind of triptych. I was so taken with this idea at the time that, more than a month before I had the works in hand, I used the small JPEGS from Jeffrey’s site to create six different horizontal combinations of the collages in an attempt to determine the order in which we might hang them. And so it was that images began to take on an enigmatic but suggestive narrative quality for me, like a creation/destruction myth consisting of three key moments that could recur in any sequence: first Hot & Cold Fusion, then God Speaks in Riddles, then Seasons, or first God Speaks in Riddles, then Seasons, then Hot & Cold Fusion, or… well, you get the idea. Then I combined all of the three-panel sequences into an eighteen panel JPEG, so I could more easily compare them, one with another, while my wife and I waited for the real things to arrive… and my conclusion was… I’d definitely buy comics with imagery like this… and… I’m damn delighted to own these collages!
All of the images, links, and pull-quotes incorporated into the text posted above were selected and added by yours truly. Although Jeffrey did have an opportunity to review the entire layout before it was posted, he declined to exercise control over anything but his own words, thereby leaving RCN, for better or for worse, solely responsible for everything else, including, I might add, the final order of the questions and answers, which I have shuffled around several times over the past week or so in an attempt to turn the more than three dozen email messages that we sent back and forth into a coherent conversation.
On his new website, artist Jeffrey Meyer has sorted the collages in his online portfolio into a variety of different categories, including one called “Touching” that brings together a selection of works featuring one of his favourite motifs, the “big hand.” A few other big-hand compositions are included in other categories over there, but here, for your viewing enjoyment, are twelve additional variations that Jeffrey used to display on his old “goofbutton” site but hasn’t (yet) added to the mix on the new one:
Slightly less than a month ago, on 15 June 2013, artist Jeffrey Meyer sent out an email announcement to his friends, colleagues, and collectors to let them know that he has a new website featuring his collage work, “including about 300 new pieces, as well as some mixed-media/painting experiments.” All of the work on the site is for sale (except for the pieces that have been sold already, of course). If you are interested in purchasing a handmade original, simply contact Jeffrey for a price list or with whatever questions you have, and he will get back to you as soon as he is able.
My personal collection of original art includes four of Jeffrey’s collages, which I purchased last summer, and although I do plan to post images of my purchases in the near future, I thought it might be interesting right now to take a look back at some of Jeffrey’s older work.
Well, the next day I disdain them all… but I think a few are successful, even pleasing: “Broken Dome,” “Sugar Lights,” “Cave at the Edge of the Park,” “Blush,” “Easter,” “Borealis,” “Hair 4,” “Arcade Nebula.”
Notpaper posted eleven images with the interview. Not one of them, however, was an image that Jeffrey mentioned. But never fear, citizens, because here I am to save the day, a mere two years, one month, and twelve days after the fact:
[CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE]
The title, date, and size of each of the collages pictured above is in the file name, as usual, which means that the information will pop up if you hold your mouse pointer steady over an image for a moment or two.
I’ve been feeling really bogged down. It’s time, actually far past time, to move forward. So I’ve added all remaining art — Moby-Dick illustrations, first series of Heart of Darkness illustrations, miscellaneous monsters and other stuff — back to my Etsy shop one last time.
The art will remain available and for sale until the end of Sunday November 11, this year. After that, I will take what is left, give a few pieces to close personal friends and destroy the rest. I’ve done that in the past and that kind of creative destruction has always fuelled new avenues of creativity for me.
So that’s it. About two more weeks to get whatever pieces you may have had your eye on. Email me if you have any questions.
While I actually think Kish would be foolish to destroy his published artwork, especially if he intends to stick with illustration for the long haul, I have a feeling that, one way or the other, most of the unsold work will eventually find a home.
At the very least, I know I’ve been doing my part to save Kish’s originals from the fire. Let me explain…
As regular readers of RCN might remember, I bought a Moby-Dick collage from Matt Kish back in June of this year. At the time, because I admire Moby-Dick in Pictures as a whole, and the prices of the individual works of art were very reasonable, I considered buying more. Considered. But didn’t. For various reasons. And promptly moved on to other concerns. Until, that is, I read about Kish’s decision on his blog, at which point I scrambled back to the artist’s etsy shop and browsed through the remaining pieces, hoping that at least one or two of the originals that I had considered buying the first time around would still be available for purchase. Two were. So I bought them both.
And now I’m here for show and tell.
The first piece that I decided, this time around, to add to my wife’s and my collection of original art is Kish’s illustration in collage and ink, five inches wide by eight inches tall, for page 301 of the Signet Classic edition of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. Specifically, Kish’s image was inspired by the following passage: “…there, that blood-dripping head hung to the Pequod’s waist like the giant Holofernes’s from the girdle of Judith.” Melville’s description is obviously a play on the traditional metaphor of the ship as woman, so it’s no surprise that a woman — a curvaceous temptress clipped from a reproduction of Ingres’ The Turkish Bath (1862) — makes an appearance in Kish’s illustration, hovering at the top of the page like the Pequod bobbing on the ocean. Through the spatters of red and blue paint — blood and water — that connect the Pequod/Judith with the flabby, lifeless head of the whale/Holofernes, one notices the noun phrase “BURNING DAYLIGHT” imprinted on the “found paper” substrate. The phrase is there because the paper is the half title page — another (metaphorical) severed head — from an early edition of Jack London’s novel of the Yukon gold rush, Burning Daylight, but the words themselves also have symbolic significance (though I’m not going to work it out for you). Across the form of the head, the artist has scrawled in an elaborate script the letters “sphy,” followed by a period, which seems enigmatic until you realize that it is simply an abbreviation of the title of the chapter — “The Sphynx” (notice that the “nx” is stacked vertically after the period: cheeky!) — which, in turn, is a reference to how Captain Ahab views the whale’s severed head. In fact, on the very next page, Ahab himself gives us his thoughts on the matter in an amazing soliloquy:
It was a black and hooded head; and hanging there in the midst of so intense a calm, it seemed the Sphynx’s in the desert. “Speak, thou vast and venerable head,” muttered Ahab, “which, though ungarnished with a beard, yet here and there lookest hoary with mosses; speak, mighty head, and tell us the secret thing that is in thee. Of all divers, thou hast dived the deepest. That head upon which the upper sun now gleams, has moved amid this world’s foundations. Where unrecorded names and navies rust, and untold hopes and anchors rot; where in her murderous hold this frigate earth is ballasted with bones of millions of the drowned; there, in that awful water-land, there was thy most familiar home. Thou hast been where bell or diver never went; hast slept by many a sailor’s side, where sleepless mothers would give their lives to lay them down. Thou saw’st the locked lovers when leaping from their flaming ship; heart to heart they sank beneath the exulting wave; true to each other, when heaven seemed false to them. Thou saw’st the murdered mate when tossed by pirates from the midnight deck; for hours he fell into the deeper midnight of the insatiate maw; and his murderers still sailed on unharmed – while swift lightnings shivered the neighboring ship that would have borne a righteous husband to outstretched, longing arms. O head! thou hast seen enough to split the planets and make an infidel of Abraham, and not one syllable is thine!” [p. 302]
Anyway, I think that’s enough from me about the image. Take a look for yourself and see what you think:
The second piece that I selected is Kish’s illustration, eight inches wide by eleven inches high, for page 384 of Melville’s famous novel. As with the first piece, Kish was inspired by a specific passage — in this case, part of a speech delivered in a court of law by a famous defence counsellor, “the witty Erskine,” who attempts to use a dispute between a husband and the wife that he abandoned and later attempted, unsuccessfully, to reclaim (even though she had by then remarried), as precedent in support of his (Mr. Erskine’s) contention that property that was lost at sea in unusual circumstances by one whaling ship and then claimed as salvage by another ought not to be returned to the original owners but instead ought to be recognized as the legal property of the salvagers. The passage, which Melville clearly wrote with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek, reads as follows: “…though the gentleman had originally harpooned the lady, and had once had her fast, and only by reason of the great stress of her plunging viciousness, had at last abandoned her; yet abandon her he did, so that she became a loose-fish….” In Kish’s visual interpretation of the lawyer’s colourful analogy, the lady takes on a form that is part human being and part one-eyed, one-winged mythological beast, part woman and part white whale, part flame-haired seductress and part one-breasted Amazonian warrior:
In the uterus of the woman/whale/warrior — or is she a (fallen) angel? — visible right through the surface of her white dress/skin/armour, an ovum awaits the arrival of the several sperm that, presumably, will compete to fertilize it. What is the meaning of this? I could hazard a guess… but instead, I think I’ll just let you puzzle it out for yourself…
BONUS IMAGES (added 11 April 2013):
Just realized that I forgot to add two other Moby-Dick pictures by Matt Kish that my wife and I have in our art collection:
Although I had emailed Matt near the end of his art sale to inquire about the two paintings displayed above — they are paintings that I definitely thought should be preserved for posterity — I want to emphasize, without revealing too much, that the way that the artwork eventually ended up in our collection was totally unexpected and really rather heartwarming…
Have I mentioned that Matt Kish is a mensch? In another online context, I know I have, but it definitely bears repeating: Matt Kish is a mensch!
At one of the local Thrift Stores a few days ago, I came across a stack of back issues of The Photo from the 1980s. Although most of the information in The Photo is out of date for those of us who have embraced the digital age, I still managed to pick out five issues that had articles and other features of interest to me. In fact, the first issue I picked up, the one that was right at the top of the pile — The Photo #22 (1981) — included an article called “Simple Montages” that I thought would be perfect to share here on RCN. One thing I noticed right away about The Photo is that the magazine regularly featured articles about how to photograph the (female) nude, which very strongly indicated to me here in 2012 that the editors circa 1981 thought the magazine’s readership was mostly men! Another thing I noticed is that, although the covers of The Photo generally featured the usual shots of athletes in action, picturesque landscapes, wildlife hi-jinks, etc., every once in a while they would feature a subject that was a little more provocative. Think of it as “fan service” for photo buffs. Or casual sexism in the service of sales, if you prefer. Either way, enjoy!
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Now I don’t know about you, but whenever I see a photograph, painting, drawing, etc., of a naked woman, or even just an image of a beautiful woman period, I wonder how much of my response to the image, if my response is positive, is due to the presence of the naked and/or beautiful woman and how much is due to the formal qualities of the image…
Could a magazine sold in drugstores in 2012 get away with a cover image like the one featured on the front of The Photo #19 back in 1981? Somehow I doubt it…
Earlier today, Michael Dooley of Print Magazine’s Imprint blog posted his interview with artist and designer Graham Moore, entitled A Designer’s Midcentury-Mod Music-Graphics Mashups. It is Moore’s collage art that is the focus of the piece. If I could own one of the collages displayed along with the interview or on Moore’s website, it would be GrahamMoore_04.jpg/mo-dernes.jpg (see below), which I imagine to be an enigmatic glimpse of the 1960s through the lens of a parched but ultra-stylish future:
See also here and here on Moore’s site for more sketchbook variations on the silhouette theme.
Magritte did a lot with silhouettes. I’ll post some examples when I have a moment…
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Update (10 October 2012):
Just thought I would mention here that I contacted Graham Moore after I posted the above images and information and asked him if the mo-dernes collage was for sale — it was! — and even though his asking price was a little beyond what my meagre acquisitions budget can ordinarily sustain for a single work of art, Graham kindly made it possible for me to own the piece by allowing me to pay for it in affordable instalments spread out over about three months.
And as I told Graham by email when I finally had the artwork in hand, I’m very pleased with my purchase. Mo-dernes is a page cut from Graham’s sketchbook, and as such, I expected it to be smaller than it is. In fact, the piece is fairly large for an old-fashioned, hand-cut, magazine-image collage. And needless to say, aesthetically speaking, it really hits a sweet spot for me in terms of composition, colour, and content. I won’t torture you with a formal analysis of what you can see for yourself; however, I must say, this time around, with the actual artwork in front of me, I’m especially taken with the way that the physical texture of the orange paint that Graham has mopped and dragged across the grain of the paper echoes the virtual black-and-white texture visible most clearly in the skin of the models inside the silhouettes. Lovely!
Always on the online lookout for interesting but reasonably priced original art to add to our art collection and contemplate on our walls, I recently stumbled upon the etsy shop of self-taught artist Matt Kish, and noticed a handmade collage that seemed to be calling my name:
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The collage is one of a series of works inspired by Herman Melville’s Moby Dick that Kish produced from August 2009 to January 2011. The task Kish set for himself in the summer of 2009 was to produce one illustration for every page of the Signet Classic edition of Melville’s novel — 552 pages, 552 illustrations — and to share each one online as it was completed. Kish worked at the punishing rate of one illustration per day, and when he was done, all of the pages were assembled into a lavish slip-cased hardcover book, Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page, published by Tin House Books in late 2011.
“The artist has to be something like a whale swimming with his mouth wide open, absorbing everything until he has what he really needs.” — Romare Bearden
A seminal inspiration for Moby-Dick in Pictures was “Zak Smith’s Illustrations for Each Page of Gravity’s Rainbow” (2006). Casting around in the summer of 2009 for a project to focus his creative energies, Kish was greatly inspired by the fact that Smith began illustrating Thomas Pynchon’s acclaimed novel as a personal project, without any plans for publication or much else beyond a quixotic desire to test his limits by challenging himself to run a crazy creative marathon from start to finish. It took Smith nine months of obsessive work — he produced at least three pictures a day, most days, and oftentimes more — but when he was done, he had about 760 images in hand, and online, and was ready to make the most of the public attention his visual aubade to Pynchon’s masterpiece had begun to attract. And lo, less than a year later, it came to pass that all of the artwork Smith had produced was exhibited, as a group, at the Whitney Museum’s 2004 Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary Art and about a year and a half after that, the images were assembled into a fat art book entitled Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon’s Novel Gravity’s Rainbow. And what’s more, the entire series was purchased by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and currently resides in the Center’s permanent collection. But whereas Smith had attended art school and was already a working artist before he began his series, Kish was actually a librarian by vocation and an artist only by avocation — which is to say, he had a day job! So naturally, when he began his project to illustrate each page of Moby Dick, working at odd hours in the cramped confines of his closet studio, Kish hardly even dared to dream that eventually he and Smith would share the same publisher!
“I have never considered myself an artist. My undergraduate degree is in secondary education with a focus on English, and my master’s degree, earned over a decade later, is in library and information science. I have no MFA, or even a BFA, to bolster my credibility or lend authenticity to any ‘artist’s statements’ I might hope to one day display on a placard pasted to a wall next to where one of my illustrations hangs. And yet, in spite of this, I have been making pictures for my entire life.” — Matt Kish, “About this project, #1”
Completed on 13 November 2009, the collage from Moby-Dick in Pictures that my wife and I now own is the illustration for page 72 of the novel and is entitled “… the sight of many unclad, lovely island creatures, round the Horn….” The full paragraph of which the title is an excerpt reads as follows:
Like Captain Peleg, Captain Bildad was a well-to-do, retired whaleman. But unlike Captain Peleg — who cared not a rush for what are called serious things, and indeed deemed those selfsame serious things the veriest of all trifles — Captain Bildad had not only been originally educated according to the strictest sect of Nantucket Quakerism, but all his subsequent ocean life, and the sight of many unclad, lovely island creatures, round the Horn [emphasis added] — all that had not moved this native born Quaker one single jot, had not so much as altered one angle of his vest. Still, for all this immutableness, was there some lack of common consistency about worthy Captain Bildad. Though refusing, from conscientious scruples, to bear arms against land invaders, yet himself had illimitably invaded the Atlantic and Pacific; and though a sworn foe to human bloodshed, yet had he in his straight-bodied coat, spilled tuns upon tuns of leviathan gore. How now in the contemplative evening of his days, the pious Bildad reconciled these things in the reminiscence, I do not know; but it did not seem to concern him much, and very probably he had long since come to the sage and sensible conclusion that a man’s religion is one thing, and this practical world quite another. This world pays dividends. Rising from a little cabin-boy in short clothes of the drabbest drab, to a harpooneer in a broad shad-bellied waistcoat; from that becoming boat-header, chief-mate, and captain, and finally a ship owner; Bildad, as I hinted before, had concluded his adventurous career by wholly retiring from active life at the goodly age of sixty, and dedicating his remaining days to the quiet receiving of his well-earned income. [Herman Melville, Moby Dick (Signet Classics, 1998), p. 72.]
(The irony has not escaped me that, while Captain Bildad could effortlessly resist “the sight of many unclad, lovely island creatures, round the Horn,” I could not resist the mere image of one unclad, lovely island creature, posted online — although I would argue that there’s much more to Matt’s collage than that! But to offer further justification for my purchase would be to protest too much, right? Just you wait and see!)
The collage is 8.5 inches wide by 10.75 inches high, and the materials are listed on Kish’s website as “acrylic paint and collage on chip board.” Truth be told, I was initially confused by the term “chip board,” which here in Canada is used to refer to a type of engineered wood product that was developed years ago as a relatively inexpensive alternative to plywood. Which is to say, when I bought the collage, I actually thought it would arrive glued down to a piece of wood, but no, it turns out that chip board is simply an American term for a type of paperboard generally made from reclaimed paper stock. I’m not sure what the Canadian term is for American “chip board,” but…
… be that as it may, the day after I purchased Kish’s collage, I happened to find myself at the local Value Village, thumbing through the old record albums, of which there were many on display that day, when I noticed the following album, which I purchased post-haste so that I could scan the cover and share it with you, right here, right now:
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Of course, the similarity of the above album cover for Hawaii by “Johnny Pineapple and his Islanders” to Matt Kish’s collage is pure concidence, but the elements are all there — the intense blue background, the leaning/swaying palm trees, the naked woman, the strategically placed palm fronds — all, that is, except for the triangular symbolic mask (or surface pattern, if you prefer, or target… perhaps it’s an elaborate reticle in the eyepiece of a sighting device used by one of the sailors) that Kish has painted over the face and chest of the woman in his version of the scene (not to mention the angel/devil wing that juts from her back, somewhere behind her right shoulder). The album cover is mundane, an okay photograph of what is obviously a studio set-up of a subject intended to catch your eye in the record bin and let you know instantly that THIS is an LP of “Hawaiian” music, and nothing more. The collage, however, is something more, and it is the mask/pattern/target/reticle, combined with the collage technique itself, which possesses an intrinsic disruptive power, that makes it something more: something more provocative, something more mysterious, something more poetic.
And then — this post seems to be all about connections — a few weeks later, I happened to be browsing through an online gallery of collages by Jeffrey Meyer, when I noticed an image that I immediately thought would be the perfect companion for Matt Kish’s piece:
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For obvious reasons — at least, I think they’re obvious… opposites attract… for every yin, a yang — I really wanted to see Jeffrey Meyer‘s Fly in the Primordial Soup hanging on the wall in our home alongside Matt Kish’s “…the sight of many unclad, lovely island creatures, round the Horn….” But alas and alack, ’twas not to be. The collage had been sold. I was out of luck.
Well, not quite out of luck, because I have since made arrangements to buy three other collages from Jeffrey, and I have to say, even though I don’t have them in hand yet, I’m already having a lot of fun imagining how they will look, properly framed and sensitively displayed, as an informal triptych, in various sequences, in various locations, in our house. And yet I also feel confident that their incandescent reality will, in the fullness of time, effortlessly outshine my foolish flickering daydreams.
But that’s a show-and-tell for another day.
BONUS IMAGES & LINKS:
Since damn near every collage artist owes a debt to Max Ernst, here are a couple of (non-randomly selected) collages by the great man himself:
“Again, of all the things that come to us by nature we first acquire the potentiality and later exhibit the activity (this is plain in the case of the senses; for it was not by often seeing or often hearing that we got these senses, but on the contrary we had them before we used them, and did not come to have them by using them); but the virtues we get by first exercising them, as also happens in the case of the arts as well. For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them, e.g. men become builders by building and lyreplayers by playing the lyre; so too we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.” — Aristotle, Chapter I, Book II, The Nicomachean Ethics