STATEMENT ON COLLAGE
There seem to me to be two quite different directions collage can go, represented in my mind by Max Ernst on the one hand and, on the other, by Kurt Schwitters. Ernst recombines old images, creating chimeric figures and events, and puts his creations into a new space — often a sinister or threatening space, a space congenial to archetypes, with a place for phantom desires and fairytale fears.
In Schwitters’ collages, the debris that he has assembled fills the frame — there is no additional space, no container. So there are few narrative possibilities as opposed to those of Ernst, which run to novel-like sequences. And since there is no situation for the elements to fit into — no story — the elements remain formally suspended, visually in place while in most other ways out of place.
My tendency, generally at least, is in the direction of Schwitters, eliminating space, but I merge the elements in a way he does not. Thus, when working with paper, my elements are usually torn rather than cut. A large proportion of the elements touch one or another edge, suggesting incompletion. There are tissues laid over some areas and in some cases I add paint or pencil. — All of which lessen the distinctness of one element from another.
I am not, of course, comparing my work to that of Ernst or Schwitters. Nor has either of them influenced me as much as, for instance, Paul Klee or Julius Bissier. The collage artist I have learned most from is Nelson Howe.
Collage is for me a way to explore, not necessarily the thing I am tearing up, but the the thing I am contriving to build out of torn pieces. To the extent that there is a purpose to what I do, its end is the “enjoyment of a composition” — a concern, as Whitehead notes, common to aesthetics and logic.
15 Dec 1993
First published in A Grammar of Collage, the catalogue of a 1994 exhibition at the
Providence Art Club, curated by François Hugot.