What is collage?
Collage is an art form which is made up of overlapping pieces of material, such as photographs, fabric, coloured and textured paper and other types of mixed media. The process focuses on the act of selecting materials and cutting them into the desired shape, before arranging them and pasting them onto the chosen surface. Unlike other art forms that may rely on proficient technical skills which may require more time to master, such as painting and sculpture, the artistic expertise of collage lies in the choosing, arranging and affixing. As such, the term ‘collage’ comes from the French term coller, meaning ‘to glue’.
Who invented collage?
The term collage was coined around 1910 by the two pioneers of the Cubist movement, Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso. While exploring their new pictorial language, which sorts to fragment and distort their subject matters, Braque and Picasso began to experiment with assorted materials, such as printed oilcloth, newspaper cut-outs and patterned paper. By pasting these elements onto flat surfaces, they were able to evoke multiple dimensionality and further explore the fragmentation and destruction of objects.
One of the very first examples of collage is Picasso’s Still Life with Chair Caning (1912). In this collage, Picasso incorporated painted elements, oilcloth printed with a chair caning pattern, and a piece of rope as a frame. Using these everyday items in a work of art signalled a dramatic move away from the traditional confinements of fine art practice, towards the blurring of art and everyday culture. This move came to define the preceding avant-garde movements and in turn, transformed the art world.
What are the types of collage?
There are four other distinct art forms and techniques associated with collage. Despite their differences, a recurring theme runs through each style – anti-aestheticism and a sense of elevating the everyday into the realm of high art, which defined many avant-garde movements of the early 20th century. Collage, in all of its forms, acted as a revolutionary medium which defies high art standards and rejects bourgeoisie culture.
Papier collé translates as ‘pasted paper’ and refers to the exclusive use of paper stuck onto a flat surface, as opposed to collage, which employs different materials. Picasso and Braque were both making papiers collés at the end of 1912 and beginning of 1913, often incorporating newspaper clippings as a way of blurring the distinction between high art and the everyday.
Assemblages found objects in 3D compositions. This process was originally inspired by the Surrealists who made absurd objects based on Sigmund Freud’s writings on dreams and the unconscious. The first example of this method is Picasso’s Still Life, which extended the tradition of still life painting into 3D space. The method of assemblage went on to inspire Dada artists such as Kurt Schwitters, who created large-scale compositions out of found objects and materials in non-hierarchical and nonsensical arrangements.
Décollage is a French word meaning to unstick, which involves tearing away built-up advertisement posters to reveal images and words below. This term is largely associated with the nouveau réalisme movement founded in 1960.
Montage / Photomontage
The last two terms are montage and photomontage. Montage is the act of assembling images which are related to one another in a composition. Photomontage is the same process but with photographs. Photomontage can be a powerful tool for social commentary as artists manipulate and edit images from mass media to play with or recreate their meaning.
There are many accomplished collage artists working in the photomontage style. Benjamin West is inspired by the relationship between human activity and nature. He uses photomontages to demonstrate how natural and man-made elements interact and often juxtapose.
In West’s Processed series, he intersects natural elements such as a flower with mechanical or industrial parts. This process pays tribute to John Hartfield, a Berlin Dada artist who founded the photomontage process. Hartfield was nicknamed Dada Monteur – Dada Mechanic – to reflect his use of scissors and glue to create collage, assemblages and photomontages, instead of painting with brushes, as an act of rebellion.
Also not to be missed is the nostalgic work of Australian-born Kareem Rizk. Rizk is internationally recognised for his highly distinct style of collage as a mixed-media artist. Nostalgia plays a key role in his beautifully warm-toned works, which feature vintage materials, such as postcards and book clippings, to transport you back in time.