Collage as an art technique and craft might be ubiquitous today, but when Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque first began experimenting with incorporating found materials into their paintings in the early 1900s, it was a radical innovation. Art has never been the same since.
Take for example, Picasso’s 1912 “Still Life With Chair Caning,” one of the first works to employ collage. The painting is shaped in an oval framed by a piece of rope, and the bottom-left part of the painting is covered by an oil cloth, a cheap, patterned precursor to contact paper. By placing a commonly found object into the elitist, high-culture world of oil painting, Picasso essentially threw a wrench into the definition of art, prompting debate over whether technical skill was necessary for something to be considered art, and so forth.
These days, you see many artists using cheap materials, repurposing found and discarded objects. What was a radical practice in the days of the Cubists and, shortly after, the Dadaists, is now common practice. The current exhibition at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (BMoCA), Cut and Paste, showcases how far collage has come, a century after the format entered into the modern art conversation.
The work of Jesse Ash, Tyler Beard, Alicia Ordal, Stas Orlovski, Adam Parker Smith, Judy Pfaff, Jeff Raphael and Mario Zoots adorn the walls of the museum, and each use the technique in a radically different way.
Orlovski’s work merges collages with video, presenting a new approach to collage, says BMoCA Executive Director and Chief Curator David Dadone. The Moldova-born, California-based artist uses pages from centuries-old children’s books, and both hand drawn and transferred images to create complex, beautiful works, onto which he projects video. The effect is that his work feels alive, a departure from the static images associated with collage.
In the same room of the museum are two works by New York City artist Adam Parker Smith. One work is a giant, multi-panel collage of Superman, constructed with cutouts of the character from the comic books themselves. The vivid, busy work shows Superman in various poses, ranging from the majestic to the distraught. Parker Smith places the cutouts so that the character is engaged in an epic fight with himself, and in the bottom-right corner of the bottom-right panel, far from the tornado of Supermans fighting themselves, a single Superman cradles another Superman in his arms, trying to resuscitate him. Another of Parker Smith’s works is in the same gallery, but it is vastly different. Untitled, Dadone calls it “three-dimensional wallpaper” — an assortment of cheap, brightly colored objects arranged into aesthetically pleasing patterns on the wall of the museum.
Jeff Raphael's collages | Photo by Julia Vandenoever
The works of four artists — Tyler Beard, Alicia Ordal, Mario Zoots and Judy Pfaff — line the back gallery of BMoCA. Ordal’s work takes glamorous photos of women from fashion magazines and places other photos in thin strips over them, creating a cage of sorts around the figures. Zoots tore blackand-white photos of female nudes out of an old art book and cut out their eyes and obscured their faces, creating unsettling images of strange beauty. Pfaff ’s ornate, busy, colorful piece “Give The Duck a Bit of Bread” showcases her technical wizardry and eye for color, and it stands in contrast to the simple presentation of Beard’s work, which consists of nine plain, white frames forming a three-by-three cube, each containing a single landscape photo that has been cut into an abstract shape.
Go upstairs, and the chaotic work of Boulder-based artist Jeff Raphael — who drummed for San Francisco punk band The Nuns — is immediately visible. His work looks more like a traditional collage, with disparate images juxtaposed next to one another in order to create meaning. Standing across from his work is the simple, subtle work of Jesse Ash, who finds photos in newspapers and then reconstructs them using other images of the same hue from newspapers. In one piece, Ash takes a picture of a beach and glues photos of wooden beams onto it, creating the appearance of an actual photo rather than a collage.
Judy Pfaff's "Give the Duck a Bit of Bread" | Photo by Richard Peterson
The exhibition shows off the wide possibility of collage, highlighting artists both from Colorado and beyond. Dadone points out that because it is a simple medium — the materials and technique often don’t go beyond the title of the exhibition, Cut and Paste — many artists at some point in their career will turn to it. It is a technique rife with potential and history, and BMoCA’s sampling represents the many destinations collage has traveled to during the past century.
Cut and Paste runs at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art through Sept. 15. Jeff Raphael, whose works are on display at the exhibit, and Clay Hawkley will discuss collage at an event called "Collage and Cosmos," 6:30 p.m. Aug. 22 at the museum. 1750 13th St., Boulder, 303-443-2122.