Sunday, July 31, 2011

Collage Credit

Atlanta's High Museum of Art is currently exhibiting water colors by American John Marin, and sculptures by Atlanta resident Radcliffe Bailey.   Both use collage in their technique, but for different purposes.  One artist creates a collage from images of his own, as a way to capture an experience.  The other uses objects and images found to tell personal stories or insights.

I find, once again, that collage is a great technique for making interesting art out of mediocre pieces.  

M. Susan Rouse used a Warhol app. on me.

Marin's earliest works on exhibit include some images of scenes in Paris and Venice drawn with meticulous detail for sale to tourists, and they do their job without conjuring atmosphere or any feeling about the objects. More interesting were some experiments with perspective, where skyscrapers or trees seem to be leaning over the path ahead. Maybe it was new with Marin; it was a cliche by the time of Looney Tunes.  

Some of Marin's watercolors at the same time, around 1912, play with multiple perspectives, and these are much more interesting.  One view of Maine's sea coast (a favorite subject of his) is a mosaic of perspectives, dizzying and disorienting to look at:  not a bad thing for a depiction of roiling waves from above.   In another watercolor, the cables of the Brooklyn Bridge seem to cut our view of the city into strips, an interesting effect leaning towards collage.  He goes too far, or not far enough, with some other pictures in which different angles on a scene are drawn in blocks that jostled each other.  These looked crowded,  blocky,and, in color, a bit dreary.  I wonder what he would have thought of layouts of frames in comic books, which play even more with close ups and angles to create a sense of action?

Bailey's work is exhibited under the title "Memory as Medicine," a neat idea.   Some of the pieces were better in the explanation than in the viewing.  But Bailey uses a collage technique that he calls "medicine boxes" or "medicine cabinets."    These are rectangular frames several feet wide, inches deep, a window into scenes composed of transparent photographic images, hanging objects (such as little African - style scluptures), and oil-painted scenes.   These suggested a lot, and they were interesting in color and composition, and the collage technique was interesting in itself.  

One artist gave us his vision of scenes from several angles in one plane, each view juxtaposed almost as if it were a collage of palm-sized sketches.  The other artist framed found objects juxtaposed to make a personal statement that, at least in some cases, remained merely personal.  "You had to be there," or you had at least to read in the program about what that hat or those piano keys mean in Bailey's personal mythology.  That's okay --- Yeats, Eliot, some greats did the same.  

Bailey was at his best when the images carried meaning that didn't have to be footnoted.  One striking collage was a painted image of a slave ship on rough sea, its deck crowded with photographs of African sculptures of Africans.  

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