Collage as Puzzle

/Putting things together

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In a lot of ways, the simple act of making any type of collage is like assembling a puzzle where you decide what the pieces are and how they fit together.

But a few days ago BoingBoing shared the work of Tim Klein (who was inspired by Mel Andringa) and both of these artists take the concept of collage as puzzle to a whole new level.

I mean, holy shit, this stuff is awesome and looks like so much fun to do.


Tim Klein


Mel Andringa

Video Collage - Part 002

More cut-and-paste in motion/

I’m a sucker for a good video collage, and I’ve used this space to share some of my recent finds (here and here), but it’s been a while so I thought it time to share a few more.

1/ Menace Beach :: Animation by Sara Serna

The above video is a tripped-out black-and-white vid animated by Columbian artist Sara Serna and set to the driving rhythms of UK duo Menace Beach. Serna’s Vimeo page is worth a watch, too.

2/ Beck :: Animation by Antonio Vincentini

I admit, I haven’t listened to a lot of Beck’s newer stuff (I checked out after 2008’s Modern Guilt), but the dude knows how to write a catchy track … and though “Wow” might not be of the same caliber as his older stuff, paired with the vibrant animation of Brazilian artist (and skateboarder!) Antonio Vincentini it makes for a fun watch.

3/ RIVE :: Animation by Temple Caché

The trip-hop inspired tunes of Belgian band RIVE fit well with the over-saturated colors and vintage cutouts created by the French creative company Temple Caché, whose other work also incorporate quite a bit of collage elements. I especially dig the video they did for American-French cosmic-hop group FREEZ (below).

(H/T I came across several of these videos over on Toombes.com … which is an excellent collage-focused blog/journal curated by Finnish designer and collage artist Niko Vartiainen).

Something about taking a break/

Newsletter/

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Hey -

It's been a while. Too long really. 

When I first committed to writing these blog posts, I made a promise (mostly to myself) that I would post one every week and it's been ... [looks at watch] ... nearly two months since my last dispatch. Yikes. 

Sorry for the radio silence but the truth is ... I needed a break.

I burned myself out pulling together spec work for a big editorial illustration gig (that fell through) and taking on several freelance jobs (that are going well) and avoiding death by daily news (I'm still alive) and grinding at my day job (we're growing) and then deciding to have another kid (it's a boy!) and so on. 

You know, life stuff.

But I've missed sending this email, and I hope you've missed receiving it, and I woke up today and decided I needed to get this thing back on track. So here we are.

There will be other breaks in the future because sometimes—sometimes—you just need to step away.

If I had to guess, I'd say the next break will probably maybe definitely coincide with the arrival of baby #2 at the end of February. Until then, I'll be here. 

Works in progress/ Sure, I haven't been doing the email thing for the last few months, but that doesn't mean I haven't been in the studio (I have). Here's a sampling of some new work

Making things to someone else's spec/ A few thoughts on commissioned collaging, working with other people's inspiration, and the endless process of searching through scraps. 

The revenge of analog/ Season three of the always excellent Hurry Slowlypodcast started last week. My favorite episode from season two was with journalist David Sax who argues on behalf of the tactile. 

Some other things/ This music video collage tripped me out ... a publisher wisely collected the collage works of John Gall ... speaking of books, Craig Mod explores the importance of margins .... there is a reason Devo is the greatest band ever ... and the art direction at Sovrn Skateboards is on point.

- Stephen 

PS/ I'll let this quote by Charles Henri Ford speak for me.

Works in Progress

June - August 2018/

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For much of 2018, I've been burying black & white photos of mid-century business men beneath pinkish scraps of paper

Though I'm still not sure what the work is driving at (my daily mantra is often "What the fuck am I doing here?"), I'm just rolling with it. 

In a recent episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Dave Chappelle says something to Jerry Seinfeld about how the idea takes you where it wants to go.** And that's what I'm doing: letting the idea, the impulse that if I just keep doing iterations on this motif, I'll get to where I need to go.

And, ultimately, I don't think it matters what I think I'm doing. Or what I think I'm trying to say. It's not for me to decide anyway.

All that matters is that I make the work. 

There's an Andy Warhol quote that I'm reminded of: “Don't think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it's good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”

I also like to the think, along with deciding if the work is "good or bad, whether they love it or hate it," that everyone else should decide what it means, too. 

Onward.

** h/t Austin Kleon who breaks down the episode and the quote on his blog.

Editorial Illustration

/Part 2: Rejection & Inspiration

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A couple months back I mentioned I had an editorial illustration project in the works, and since then I spent much of June and most of July working on mockups to present the editor of the publication with the hope of landing the job (a serialized novel published in weekly segments in print and online). 

Well, I didn't land the gig, but I don't feel bad about having my work rejected. 

I don't feel rejected because I know I did my best and I believe the publisher when they say they liked the work but it was too much of a departure from their normal aesthetic and that they felt more comfortable going with an artist they'd worked with before. 

And even if that wasn't the whole truth, I'm grateful for the opportunity. I learned a lot and the process forced me out of my comfort zone, leading me to incorporate some digital tools into my work). What's more, the project was an excuse to do some research and discover some really awesome artists working in the field of editorial (and/or book cover) illustration who utilize collage techniques.

Here are a few favorites from my inspiration board (with each piece linking the corresponding artist's larger body of work). Enjoy. 

 

 

Commissions

/Creating work to someone else's spec

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I don't do commissions, well, ever. But recently a friend asked me to make her something specific.

The final piece is above, and I'm pleased with how it came out (and more importantly, so is she), but since I completed the work, I've been thinking about the process of making a collage — which usually involves at least some elements of randomness — to spec. 

It went something like this: 

After I agreed to make her a piece, she sent a ton of "inspiration" images. Photos of things she liked and said, "Like this." Most of the images were of Western landscapes at sunset with lots of dusty pinks and yellows, or vintage black and whites photos of cowboys and cowgirls. And then she said, "Horses. Make sure there are horses." And then she sent Hollywood production stills from 1960s Westerns. 

Her ask seemed easy enough. It was like she'd sent me a list of ingredients and then said, I don't care what the meal is but make sure you use these. Except that, well, I couldn't actually use the inspiration images she sent because I didn't actually have them (they were digital). 

And so it took me 3 months to make the piece. 

Most of that time was spent sorting through every scrap of paper and every book and magazine that I own. And when I found the pieces, the collage came together quickly. 

Which is always how it happens. All of the time is spent on the searching. 

All of this is to say, I guess I do commissions now. If you're interested in your own unique something, here's more info on pricing and process

Something about taking stock of the good things/

Newsletter/

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During times of uncertainty and overwhelm, I tend to take stock of the things that bring me joy. 

For example, sometime approximately, oh, 19 months ago, feeling very uncertain about what the future might hold, I made a list of my 100 all-time favorite albums.

This seemed like kind of pointless exercise, and yet I spent months working on the list, and this small act of building and organizing a list of things I knew I loved helped me regain a sense of control over my environment.

This same feeling is what drives me to collage, to cut up old magazines and glue their guts back together. There might be better forms of therapy, but this is what works for me.

Anyway... 

Here are those 100 all-time favorite albums/ According to me. Note: Only the top 30 are ranked in order; the rest are listed chronologically. 

A catalog of collage catalogs/ Again, recently feeling overwhelmed by current events, I decided to take stock of a few of my favorite books about my favorite subject.

Infinitely discardable/ A small bit of text from Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale caught my eye as I was re-reading the classic book. It's about the promise old magazines hold.  

Some other things/ My good friend's short story collection—All the Names They Used for God—got a killer write-up in the NY Times Book Review (which, as an added bonus, is accompanied by a stellar collage by John Gall; so win-win-win) ... two killer skate parts dropped on Thrasher this month: Zion Wright and Austyn Gillette ... and this supercut of dancing in movies is guaranteed to make you feel good. 

- Stephen

PS/ I'd love to know what albums would make your all-time list. 

Collage & Fragmented Attention

On finding order in the chaos/

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I think a lot about marketing and selling. Mostly because marketing is my day job, but also because, like most artists, I aim to make work with value.

And because I think about marketing, I think a lot about attention. How to get it. How to keep it.

But also, how to prevent others from stealing mine.

"Our life experience,” William James once said, “will equal what we have paid attention to, whether by choice or default.”

At times, it all feels like a losing battle. There are so many things vying for my attention — some good (work and art and family) and some not great (social media and the internet and the news) — I find it hard at times to focus on any one thing for a sustained amount of time.

Maybe the real breakdown is between analog and digital. Maybe smartphone/social media addiction is real. That the habit of sitting down at a computer, or checking a phone, and staring at a screen for hours is the new smoking.

Or maybe the war marketers are waging on our attention is real. 

"Most advertisers are trying to out-distract people from their distractions and even what they actually want to be doing. Often, you’re looking to capture the attention of someone who is either searching and being presented with multiple options (like in a search campaign), or they’re not searching at all (like in display and social advertising). To make matters worse, they’re probably multitasking, too. So, how do you win against those odds?"

- from Disruptive Advertising

So maybe that's why the tactile nature of analog collage, and the process of cutting and pasting, feels like therapy to me. 

Because it gets me away from the screen and "the feed," and the anxiety-inducing effects of both.  

"Everything had broken down ... and new things had to be made out of fragments."

- Kurt Schwitters

My studio is in my unfinished basement. There's not much down there besides laundry and storage and a dehumidifier. It's just me and pile of old books and magazines, some scissors and Xacto knives and glue.

It's a place for me to exercise control over the world itself, and to brush back the overwhelming digital crush of apps and push notifications and social media rants and constant news and updates and marketing messages and images upon images upon images.

"We become what we attend to — nothing more, nothing less. A steady and exclusive stream of reality TV, entertainment gossip, social media chatter, and 'breaking news' about the latest celebrity scandal or Trump’s most recent tweets — all endlessly cycling into each other — turns us into the bland clickbait of the attention harvesters. Yet, though we justifiably consider the enslavement of bodies a terrible wrong, we willingly surrender our minds for the profit of others. This new, almost hip, kind of slavery is sought, not fought."

- from LARB review of Tim Wu's The Attention Merchants

In the end, I believe collage to be a place for me to reclaim a small part of my pre-digital brain. 

It's a place to find connections. To people, to things, to ideas.

And connections between fragments of thoughts, to weave them together into a whole that makes sense, and that provides order to the chaos of my mind. 

Books about Contemporary Collage

And books by collage artists/

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I've been building my collection of collage/art books. So far, these are my favorites (with the most recent acquisitions listed first). 


And Another Thing...
Anthony Gerace 

Anthony Gerace is one of my favorite collage artists working today (he's also a killer designer/illustrator and amazing photographer). I especially love his series "There Must Be More to Life Than This."

This book, according to the closing essay by Laura May Todd, "is an ode to the delicacy of process." Which, it is. But it's also a collection of some insanely awesome work by an insanely talented artist.  

Published by Aint–Bad.


Misophonia: The Art of Jesse Draxler
Jesse Draxler 

I still remember the first time I encountered Jesse Draxler's work (it was this piece and it was waaaaay back in 2011 on Flickr when Flickr was still a thing).

Though his work has matured (and grown in scope), his style has always been unmistakable. Stark, black & white, deconstructed human forms. 100% disturbing and beautiful. 

Published by Sacred Bones.


The Age of Collage 2
Various Artists

Gestalten publishes some really well-curated art books, and they've done a few cataloging contemporary collage (two more are featured below).

The Age of Collage 2 features the work of 70+ artists, including collage-idols Ruth Van Beek, John Baldessari, James Gallagher, and John Stezaker.


The Age of Collage: Contemporary Collage in Modern Art
Various Artists 

Another one by Gestalten (though it's no longer available on their site, it is for sale on Amazon).

This one is from 2013, and it features a few of the same artists from Volume 1 (albeit different work), but also includes work from collage killers Office Supplies Incorporated, Johanna Goodman, Jesse Treece, Nicholas Lockyer, and John Gall.


Implications
John Hundt 

I can't remember where I first encountered this book or the work of John Hundt, but I'm thankful that I did.

This collection of his "Totems" (essentially, figures that are built up with a combination of human, machine, animal and object parts) are absurd, yet whimsical ... and totally rad. 

Published by Ampersand Gallery & Fine Books.


420 Characters: Stories
Lou Beach 

Lou Beach might be my favorite collage artist working today.

His style is completely distinctive and unlike anything else I've come across — and he's an amazing writer to boot. 420 Characters is really more about Lou's writing (flash fiction which began as Facebook status updates), but the short stories are punctuated periodically by his collages. 

In the words of Jonathan Lethem, "Holy shit! These are great!"

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.


Cutting Edges: Contemporary Collage
Varioius Artists

This was, I believe, the first book published by Gestalten about collage (and the first I bought), and like The Age of Collage 1, this one is no longer available on their website (but there are several third-party vendors hocking it on Amazon).

Like the other two Gestalten collections, this is an excellent introduction to a wide-variety of collage artists (though this one does seem to skew more toward digital collage than analog) including Julien Pacaud, Rodrigo de Filippis, and David Plunkert.


Something More About the Time It Takes

Newsletter/ 

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This week I had a small revelation.  

For years I had convinced myself that the total amount of time it took to make a collage was equal to the time it took to assemble a collage—essentially, the final gluing together. But that's definitely not the case. 

In fact, from the moment I cut up an image until one of its scraps find its way into a final work ... well, that process can take years. I don't know why it's taken me so long to realize this, but here are a few things that take no time at all to realize are awesome:

Living in a culture of images/ Collage idol John Stezaker on analog collage, the "universal amnesia of digital culture," and subtraction. (4 min video.)

Things that are part of the creative process that no one tells you/ This whole Twitter thread is worth reading, but this tweet was my fav. 

What I look like/ My three-year-old made paper-cut portraits of me and her mother. I dunno, I think she nailed it. 

Some other things/ I once subscribed to the Sunday print edition of the NY Times just for these illustrations by John Gall ... every month I make a playlist of good songs that I discover or rediscover (these are the tracks I found in May) ... and this ongoing project by designer Jenny Volvovski's to create new covers for books as she reads them is totally rad (and is something I've thought about doing myself). 

- Stephen

PS/ Why I collage

[Note: I send an email about cut-and-paste collage every third Friday. This is the June 8, 2018 edition.]

The Time It Takes

On the slow birth of each collage/

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This week, I was fortunate enough to sell three collages to a collector here in Pittsburgh. When I dropped off the work, the buyer made a comment about how long it must take to make each piece, that they must take a really really long time.  

Looking at the pieces he bought, which were mostly simple constructions—5 or fewer pieces of paper glued together—I realized that the actual assemblage of the pieces probably took less than an hour.

But I also realized that wasn’t completely accurate, that each piece had taken much much longer to come together, that each piece was probably years in the making.

Each piece is years in the making. 

I don’t know why this hadn’t occurred to me before, but I’m grateful for his observation because it jarred loose my brain enough to see that the trajectory of every collage—from conception to completion—actually looks like this:

  1. Find the source material (an old book, rescued from a junk shop, for example);
  2. Explore the source material (flip through the pages, again and again);
  3. Remove the images and pages from source material that “speak” to me;
  4. Add images and pages to piles of other images and pages removed from other source materials;
  5. Sort the through piles (a weekly ritual) and re-sort;
  6. Cut images and pages into pieces;
  7. Add these pieces to piles of other pieces;
  8. Cut these pieces into smaller and smaller pieces, and add these to piles of scraps;
  9. Sort through scraps (a daily ritual) and re-sort;
  10. Place scraps and images next to, and on top of, one another;
  11. Move scraps and images around until one or two or five begin to feel “right” together;
  12. Maneuver and juxtapose those one or two or five scraps and images until they finally, finally “fit” together;
  13. Glue; and
  14. Repeat

The realization I had is that sometimes, it can take years until a scrap of paper finds its way into a final collage—that I can look at the same image or scrap a hundred times before it finds its way into a collage (and if you take into account the age of the source material ... some of my collages were kind-of, sort-of, not really, but technically started 100 years ago when original image was first captured on film).

This process is not an exact science, and, in fact, it more closely resembles the Dada-esque concept of Chance Operations than anything else.  

I’ve written about this before (here and here, and you can watch a quick timelapse of the process here), and what I’ve always said is that, for me, collage is about feeling my way through each piece, about the simplicity of and a fascination of paper. It's about sorting through scraps and disparate pieces. It's about pushing on that feeling until something new takes shape.

Sometimes nothing feels right. Sometimes I don't find what I'm looking for (whatever that is). And other times I walk away from my work table with ten newly assembled pieces.

That, in the end, collage is about making connections.

Collage is about making connections: to thoughts and ideas and feelings. And even people. 

Usually, that means the connections between two disparate scraps of paper. But more often than not, it's about making deeper connections.

To thoughts or ideas. Or feelings.

Or people.

And that’s the other crazy part to this story. The guy who bought these three pieces, he first encountered them four years ago in a coffee shop that had let me hang my work.

At the time, he wasn’t in position to buy the work, but somewhere in the back of his mind, the work remained, and it was only after we random connected on Instagram that he reached out.

I think about that sometimes. That you never know when something good is going to happen. That even during the long stretches of not selling any work--that during those times when you’re questioning what you’re doing, the quality of the work, whether it’s worth the time, whether what you’re making is any good--that if you just keep showing up, keep doing the work, a connection with happen.

Sometimes it just takes a long time.

Upcoming Editorial Illustration Project

Ligon + Knezovich collaboration no.2/

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I'm about to embark on a year-long editorial illustration project with the always awesome fiction writer Samuel Ligon.

As a reminder, Sam and I collaborated a few years ago on a collection of 13 short stories entitled Wonderland (pictured above).

Wonderland was billed as:

"... a picture book for adults featuring tales as dark and absurd as they are poignant, playful, and true. ... containing thirteen subversive short stories full of love and ugliness, loss and beauty, donkeys and goats, baked goods and booze, country starlets and bearded ladies, domestic battles and corporate passions, sex and violence and sweet songs of sadness and heartache." 

I could not be more proud to have been a part of the project—the stories are funny and totally fucked up—and I'm excited to be working with Sam again. This time around, we will be tackling a much more ambitious collaborative project: a serialized novel!

The novel will be published in 50+ weekly installments in print edition of The Inlander, as well as on it's own website. Plus, Sam will be reading each installment on the radio, which will be turned into a downloadable podcast (I believe). I love the idea of combining an antiquated approach to publishing and storytelling (a la serialization and radio play) with the modern, digital elements of a website and podcast. 

The novel is not yet written (only the first few chapters are complete), so part of the challenge will be staying on track and keeping up with the publishing schedule without allowing the quality of the writing (or art) to suffer. 

I don't want to divulge too much about the book, but it's about American history and the American West, violence and travel, family and love and life and death and everything in between.

I'm still working out my approach to the illustrations, but I think I'm going to experiment with some different processes and forms. And I, too, may combine analog with digital. We'll see. 

Without question, though, I'll share more as the project evolves. For now, here are all 13 of the collages created for Wonderland

The Shapes We Make

Video collage built using Google Earth imagery/

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This experimental short video by artist Páraic McGloughlin blows my mind.

Entitled "Arena" and clocking in at a minute and half, it utilizes what must be hundreds (if not thousands) of still images pulled from Google Earth. The end result is both hypnotic and exhilarating. 

McGloughlin describes the work as "a brief look at the earth from above, based on the shapes we make, the game of life, our playing ground."

The video is below and is definitely worth watching (multiple times). 

Something about collaboration

Newsletter/ 

I'm about to begin work on a large editorial illustration project (a serialized novel!) with the always awesome fiction writer Samuel Ligon, and I can't wait to get to started. 

Sam and I did a collection of short stories a few years ago and the process was surprisingly collaborative—I assisted in the shaping and editing of several stories while Sam provided me with great feedback on the visual elements. I anticipate this go round will be just as collaborative. More details soon. In the meantime ...

Speaking of collaboration/ Collage is almost always a collaborative effort. Or, at least that's my working theory.

Black & white & pink all over/ My most recent work has taken off in an unexpected direction (featuring black and white photos of faceless midcentury businessmen hidden beneath scraps of pinkish paper). I'm not sure where this series is headed, but I'm gonna roll with it and see where it takes me.

Cut-and-paste in motion/ I compiled a small collection of (mostly music) videos which show the versatility of collage. 

Some other things/ The work of collage idols Lou Beach and Jesse Draxler could not be any more different yet equally rad ... I don't skateboard as much as I used to but goddamn this part by Louie Lopez is 100% stoke—power, speed, and style.... and I tore through the novel Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (if you're into dystopian speculative fiction with heart, I recommend it). 

- Stephen

PS/ This kind of blew my mind.

[Note: I send an email about cut-and-paste collage every third Friday. This is the May 18, 2018 edition.]

Collage as Collaboration

A working theory/

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I have a working theory that collage is always collaborative

By that I mean, as a starting point, you are always working with someone else's work: an old photograph or postcard or advertisement or book that someone else at some other time created.

Then, years later, someone like me comes along, cuts that artists original creation into pieces and then re-assembles the scraps (often combining the work of many disparate scraps) into a new whole.

I call this historical collaboration. 

But there is also contemporary collaboration, which is just a fancy way of describing two (or more) collage artists working together in the present moment to create a single piece of work. 

I guess this idea of collaboration is on my mind because I recently came across some work from 2014 that I did with Blake Mackowick—whose individual work is some seriously cool, seriously tripped out, seriously 80s inspired cut-and-paste.

Our process was pretty straightforward. We each created a stapled booklet and pasted a few random images on each page. Then we traded the booklets and used the starter images as the foundation for a finished collage. In the end, we each kept a finished book. 

It'd been a while since I'd looked at the work we made, and I was blown away by how fucking rad some of the pieces are, how they are such a perfect blend of our two aesthetics.

A small sampling of the pieces is below. 

Works in Progress

April - May 2018/

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Recently, I've found myself pairing black and white portraits of businessmen with cut scraps of pinkish papers.

I'm not sure what I'm searching for with these collages—there's something about the juxtaposition of the traditional images of masculinity with the soft, gentle pink tones (a color often utilized as a shorthand for femininity and/or seduction)—but, honestly, right now, I have no idea what I'm trying to say.

All I know is that it feels right, so I'm gonna keep plodding along in this direction until the 'why' materializes.

Until then, a  short collection of some of these pieces are below. 

Enjoy.  

Video Collage

Cut-and-paste in motion/

A friend of mine sent me a link to a music video today. She said she thought I'd like it. And she was right.

The video (above) is by collage artist Winston Hacking (who also does more traditional cut-and-paste ... and collage GIFs!) and is reminiscent of Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" stop-motion classic (which is reminiscent of Terry Gilliam's amazing Monty Python animations). 

And while I dig the Shauf music video, I really fucking dig the one Hacking did for Flying Lotus (below).

Watching these videos, I started thinking about other video collages I've stumbled across online recently. Specifically, the animated loop "Tango" by Polish artist Zbigniew Rybczyński from 1980 (via).

The Rybczyński video reminded me of the Bonobo music video "Cirrus" by animation artist Cyriak (who, btw, also did the opening sequence for w/ Bob & David (which is the follow up to the greatest sketch comedy show ever created, Mr. Show with Bob & David)).

I'm not sure if there's a larger point to this post other than to share all of these awesome videos and to say: Collage is amazing and versatile, and amazingly versatile. 

Cut. Paste. And repeat. 

Something else

Newsletter/

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Happy almost May! The weather here in Pittsburgh has finally (finally!) flipped from winter to spring, and in honor of all this fresh newness, I too, have some new things to share ... 

The old becomes new & then new again/ Yup, I re-redesigned my website (again). Sure, overhauling a website twice in one month is, admittedly, a little insane, but definitely worth it. This one is a keeper. Peep the site here (& let me know what you think).

Old things for new walls/ I'm making a lot of new work this year and need to clear space in my studio ... so you'll notice that some images on the site have a link saying "AVAILABLE." I've added a small shop to the site and these links will direct you to the product page for each corresponding piece. The shop landing page is not public, but this link with allow you to see all of the available work.

Three minutes of paper cuts/ In late 2017, I completed an 8-week fellowship with fifteen other artists (all working in different artistic mediums: dance, photography, writing, film, painting, and so on). As a final assignment, the organizers asked us to give a three minute presentation about our work. Some fellows performed, others utilized PowerPoint ... I made this short video showing my process. 

Some other things/ Hands-down, this guy is probably my favorite collage artist working today ... this modest guide to productivity by designer Frank Chimero is pretty rad ... this music video is (unironically) amazing ... and, finally, this video collage is totally mesmerizing. 

- Stephen

[Note: I send an email about cut-and-paste collage every third Friday. This is the April 27, 2018 edition.]

My Process

Three minutes of paper scrapping/

In late 2017, I completed an 8-week fellowship here in Pittsburgh with fifteen other artists (all working in different artistic mediums: dance, photography, writing, film, painting, and so on).

As a final assignment, the organizers asked us to give a three minute presentation about our work (this was a clever bookend to the fellowship which began with us giving a similar presentation on the very first day ... so this final presentation was meant to illustrate how much better we were are talking about our work, ourselves, our process, our vision, etc.).

Some fellows performed, others utilized PowerPoint ... I made the short video above which played behind me as I spoke about my process. The video doesn't have what I actually said (in fact, there's no sound), but I think, visually, it's holds its own.

Infinitely Discardable

Finding validation in The Handmaid's Tale/

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Recently, as I read Margaret Atwood's classic novel The Handmaid's Tale*, I came across the following passage where the protagonist, Offred, during a secret meeting with her master, comes into contact with a fashion magazine (which, in the world that this story takes place, were all supposedly destroyed ... the only reading that is permitted is from the Bible (of course), and only men are allowed to read from it):

"Staring at the magazine, as he dangled it before me like fish bait, I wanted it. I wanted it with a force that made the ends of my fingers ache. At the same time I saw this longing of mine as trivial and absurd, because I'd taken such magazine lightly enough once. I'd read them in dentists' offices, and sometimes on planes; I'd bought them to take to hotel rooms, a device to fill in empty time while I was waiting for Luke. After I'd leafed through them I would throw them away, for they were infinitely discardable, and a day or two later I wouldn't be able to remember what had been in them. 

"Though I remembered now. What was in them was promise. They dealt in transformations; they suggested an endless series of possibilities, extending like the reflections in two mirrors set facing one another, stretching on, replica after replica, to the vanishing point. They suggested one adventure after another, one man after another. They suggested rejuvenation, pain overcome and transcended, endless love. The real promise in them was immortality." 

When I read this, I thought, "Goddamn, I collect all of these old ass magazines—these ancient and forgotten relics from a bygone era—and in two paragraphs Atwood perfectly captures what these objects are to me, but also to others." 

To some, they are infinitely discardable. Content to be consumed and forgotten. Trash.

But to me, they are transcendent. They are immortal.


* Plot synopsis from Wikipedia: The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopian novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, originally published in 1985. It is set in a near-future New England, in a totalitarian, Christian theonomy that has overthrown the United States government. The novel focuses on the journey of the handmaid Offred. Her name derives from the possessive form "of Fred"; handmaids are forbidden to use their birth names and must echo the male, or master, whom they serve.