07 Jan 2021
Collage Art: The Second Generation
UNFRAME delves into the collage work of Pop artists in the 1960s, going on to explore feminist and politicised collage art.
The meticulous medium of collage art has remained firmly in many artists practices throughout art history. The term collage widely describes a method based on the cutting and pasting of paper, as well as this, textiles, photographs and other ephemera. Originally, collage was born from early paper making in Asia, eventually growing into a medium of great prestige.
Many of the Unframe artists work with collage, so we thought it would be a good moment to continue exploring the realms of collage art. We begin with 1960s, eventually moving on to more contemporary collage. Specifically, we will explore the rich history of collage within Pop art. As well as this, we will delve in to the work of Richard Hamilton, Peter Blake, Nancy Spero and Robert Rauschenberg, to name a few…
Pop art emerged in the 1950s, eventually, flourishing in the 1960s across Britain and the US. Subsequently, artists propelled the movement by taking inspiration from the popular and commercialised culture of the times. Altogether, they created an art form depicting the juxtaposition of existing traditions compared with the excitement of commercialisation and the new.
Predominantly, pop art depicts the revolt against traditional artistic dominance of the time. Pop artists felt disassociated with conventional teachings and views of what art should be within art school, eventually turning to popular culture for their ideas. Pop artists used advertisements, product designs and packaging, as well as, pop music, comics and hollywood movies or imagery in their work.
Pop collagist Richard Hamilton compiled a list naming the characteristics of pop art, important to note, in a letter to friends in 1957. “Pop Art is: Popular (designed for a mass audience), Transient (short-term solution), Expendable (easily forgotten), Low cost, Mass produced, Young (aimed at youth), Witty, Sexy, Gimmicky, Glamorous, Big business.”
Crucially, art critics at the time felt indifferent to Hamilton’s use of this subject matter, in essence, deeming it uncritical. In many ways, pop art rapidly developed into a fresh new outlook on art, to this end, making it one of the first manifestations of post modernism.
British pop collagist Richard Hamilton created eclectic work which readily embraced modern living, hand in hand with traditional methods of art-making. After all, these traditional values manifest in his use of perspective, line and form yet are completely transformed with the inclusion of pop culture imagery. In his ‘Interior’ series, Hamilton depicts various living spaces crowded with desirable objects of the time, such as TV sets and vacuum cleaners. In many ways, his consumerist collages act as catalogues which express the ambivalent spirit of the 1950s and 1960s. Often, he illustrates playful and well observed scenes in which magazine cut out figures are the protagonists.
All in all, Hamilton challenged the hierarchy of values held by the traditional art establishment, of which could be named as purist. Visibly, as an artist himself he respected the greats of the past whilst responding to the modern times. Without a doubt, Hamilton was consumed with obsession for modern living, technology, communications, processes but above all, modern attitudes.
“Pop Art should be popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and big business” Richard Hamilton
In a similar way to Hamilton, British artist Peter Blake meshes two worlds together in his diverse and often painterly collages. His apparent passion for popular culture is evident in every corner of his collage work, as shown above, a running theme amongst 1960s pop collagists. As well as this, Blake is widely known for creating the album cover of The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. This intricately detailed collage piece infuses recognisable pop culture faces of the time, simultaneously, with the lead singers. Blake is considered to be one of the most prominent figures in the pop art movement. Importantly, like Hamilton, his combined imagery from traditional visuals and popular culture form a modern portrayal of the world at the time.
His ability to create alternate and ethereal worlds, purely through combining imagery, sets him apart from much of the Pop art of the time. Unquestionably, he creates playfully colourful depictions, directly taking imagery from the world around him which was changing rapidly.
“I wanted to make an art that was the visual equivalent of pop music.” Peter Blake
Scottish artist Sir Eduardo Luigi Paolozzi, in a similar way, illustrated a love for juxtaposition and cross referencing in his prolific collage work. In contrast to the work of Hamilton and Blake, Paolozzi’s bold works are almost all collage, set on scrap book like pages. At a young age, Paolozzi began to collect images from popular American culture, including publications and newspapers. Initially, as a child he pasted them into scrap books, continuing to do so in his later life as an artist. Comparatively to those discussed, although his collage work began in the 1940s, the influences from Pablo Picasso’s synthetic Cubism are evident in his angular and considered compositions.
In Paolozzi’s piece ‘Dr Pepper’, he collages imagery of elated and healthy people paired with glittering machines and appliances. These objects act as icons prominent at the beginning of the 1950s, he uses what other artists didn’t think to use as material.
American feminist artist Nancy Spero created an array of collaged narratives during the 1980s and 1990s. Each collage piece depicts women suffering, taken from historical contexts, transforming them into powerful and independent protagonists. Importantly, Spero actively made the decision to only use woman as her subjects from 1976 onwards. The feminist artist made politically charged collage works, furthering the activism she had began to portray in her work at the time. For Spero, collage as a medium enables politicised statement within her artworks.
All in all, her utilisation of multiple materials in her making process makes the action of collaging important to the practice. Crucially, Spero uses words and titles from articles, often dictating the viewer’s reading of each piece. In contrast to collagists discussed so far, Spero uses collage art to not only repurpose imagery but to convey a message.
“I’ve always sought to express a tension in form and meaning in order to achieve a veracity. I have come to the conclusion that the art world has to join us, women artists, not we join it.” Nancy Spero
American artist Jasper Johns entwines a careful collaging process into his compelling paintings. Predominantly, Johns uses collage as the beginning of the work, eventually for him to paint onto, as seen in his 1954 bold painting ‘Flag’. Comparatively to those discussed, Johns seems to incorporate it as the basis in which to paint, rather than collagist’s common use of cultural phenomena.
In this example, the forty-eight stars and red and white stripes make up Johns’ American ‘Flag’. Initially, his use of such an unmistakable image takes the element of design out of the artwork, leaving only his use of material in focus. When looked at closely, the artwork actually is made up of combined panels and paint, surprisingly, with a base of collaged newspaper scraps. Importantly, the viewer is able to make out dates on the newspaper scraps, this locates this symbol of a flag with a particular time.
In this instance, Johns’ 1983 artwork ‘Racing Thoughts’ depicts a variety of objects, photographs and artworks, each were familiar objects in his studio and home. In this way, Johns uses collage to evoke a feeling of familiarity in his artwork, by bringing together elements personal to him. Still very much paintings, Johns creates multi-layered and painterly depictions that use collage to bring the outer world in.
Visibly, a sentiment is shared with the artist Robert Rauschenberg and the Pop collagists of the 60s, without a doubt, one of rebellion towards the restrictive traditions of the art world. In a similar way to the work of Johns, Rauschenberg’s artworks predominantly begin as collages yet in many ways, are intended to be paintings. Looking at Rauschenberg’s use of external material, photographs, newspaper cuttings and print, predominantly, he brings together fragments and draws them into his intended dialogue. Subsequently, he transforms traditional ideas of painting, challenging the boundaries by including the cultural world surrounding him.
In any case, Rauschenberg’s technique surpasses painting and collage art norms. He successfully creates textural works, simultaneously, whilst depicting layered surfaces that give context to the time they were created.
American & British Collage
Above all, there are many similarities between the collage art of Britain and America. Mostly, recognisable traits lie in their technique that visually remains true of classic scrap book collage. Both American and British collagists from the 1960s seem to share the common thread of culture references. Each of the collage artists we have discussed include references both personal to them and to the state of their country at the time, giving great historical weight to each artwork.
To conclude, many artists from the 1960s were enamoured with collage. Essentially, as a way to incorporate both personal life and popular culture of the time. As a medium, artists finally elevated it to a progressive and elevated art form. Simultaneously, newer collage held the same values as the very first pop artists; rebellion against tradition.
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