Tracing my love of collage

For this game, you have to think of a fun and creative thing you love doing! The next step may take a while. Trace it back through the years, right back to its genesis.

In tracing back, you might find the first time you ever did whatever it is. Don’t stop there.  Now look for it’s essence; when did that first appear in your life?

It’s a tricky game. I know how difficult it can be. The consequences may, or may not, be useful. They may even be a bit alarming.  Yet, for me, it has been a worthwhile pursuit … to find out how creativity adds to my life.

Tracing back my love of collage

One of the creative things I love doing is collage.  I love arranging photos and paper to make new patterns and images.

The first time most of us try collage is in our early school days. Did you have Construction Paper at your school? Bright colours that were a bit hideous, perhaps because of cheap printing processes for non-important school children.

For me, the next time was in an adult art class. It’s an efficient way of teaching beginners about colour. You mix the paint and paint some swatches. You cut up some swatches and arrange them, and re-arrange them. It’s efficient because there is little wastage, the swatches can be re-arranged time and again to try different effects. Eventually, glue is applied so you have something solid for your assignment.

Both those situations were rather technical in their focus. They were designed to teach. I love to learn, but that’s not where the essence of my current collage practice began.

When I was young, we had to wait patiently for the television broadcast to start. There was no such thing as 24/7 media. At some point in the afternoon, the test pattern changed to a pretty photo. This signalled that proper TV would start in 15 minutes. But until that singular point each afternoon, there were lots of hours to fill. Spending those early childhood years on a farm was a great help … a big outside world and a big farmhouse to run around in.  Jigsaws were one of the many time-filling activities we loved.

It wasn’t until I sat down to the latest jigsaw that the penny dropped.  I realised this was where my love of collage began.

Children’s jigsaw puzzles

There are a few reasons for giving children jigsaw puzzles. The puzzle process encourages brain development, problem solving, etc. It also demonstrates – physically – that it’s possible to make sense of the seemingly disconnected world in which they live.

It is a lie, of course. It is impossible to find all the pieces we need to make sense of the world. Every piece we find adds a little more clarity to the overall picture, but the world is too big. Sometimes, what a piece means is not clear until it’s placed into context. Sometimes, we place a piece, happily, until another comes along and we see how wrong we were.

I wonder, having placed the last piece, did that neurologically hardwire the now highly opinionated to believe they had everything under control? Perhaps jigsaw puzzles should be forever missing a piece or two.

Yet, we should give a child that sense of surety, even if only for a little while. “OK you’ve solved that one. Let’s put it back in the box. Now, here’s another jigsaw puzzle with a new picture to assemble.”

Collage without the mystery

Does knowing make any difference? Surprisingly … Yes. It’s that sensation of the fog lifting. Things seem clearer; less fuzzy, less muddy, less mystery.

And that last point points to a new problem. I’m not sure I like this feeling of less mystery. It was very appealing, the idea that my collages were somehow outside the rest of my life. I’d sit at the table with scattered pieces of paper or photos. Immerse myself in the colours and lines. Remove all sense of the three-dimensional world, perhaps even a sense of self. The process was a place into which I could withdraw, even hide.

Now I find it springs from experiences that date back to my early childhood. I don’t feel as if I’m escaping anymore.

All is not lost

I tried an internet search using two words – collage art. (Including art in the search criteria eliminated the photo collage software sites that topped the list!). I found an entry on the Museum of Modern Art’s website that was helpful …

“Despite occasional usage by earlier artists and wide informal use in popular art, collage is closely associated with 20th-century art, in which it has often served as a correlation with the pace and discontinuity of the modern world.”

I’m not interested in how the writer wants to distinguish high art from popular art.

I am interested in how the writer links collage to the “pace and discontinuity” of our lives.

Perhaps I was never escaping when I indulged in this playful art. Perhaps the world came with me, covertly. Perhaps I was responding to pace and discontinuity. I noticed, however, when I titled some of my pieces, that I felt terribly uncomfortable with this imposed and overt connection back to the world.


To make my collages, I must first destroy something – a magazine, a photo. This brought to mind deconstruction, and I searched out its meaning.

I found a useful definition at Oxford Dictionaries …

“Deconstruction focuses on a text, as such, rather than as an expression of the author’s intention, stressing the limitlessness (or impossibility) of interpretation and rejecting the Western philosophical tradition of seeking certainty through reasoning by privileging certain types of interpretation and repressing others.”

When I’m preparing the collage pieces, I have no interest in the photographer or artist’s intentions. Each discrete piece pulled from its context contains limitless possibilities and absolute uncertainty in what it will eventually become. It’s probably not what Derrida had in mind when he put forward his theories on deconstruction back in the 1960s, but it’ll do me.

It means that it doesn’t matter that some of the mystery has gone.  The process of creating the collages contains within it plenty of limitlessness and uncertainty into which I can still lose myself.

Collage Process 1

As an aside

I’ve been looking at this image. I created it to illustrate this post.  It could be argued that the image is not balanced – the cardboard templates on the right dominate and hold the eye.  Yet, I’m drawn to that pile of collage pieces that seem to be spilling past the left-hand frame. Occasionally, my eyes dart back to the potential piece at the centre of the template because the stack of shapes seem resolved, ordered, restful.

That got me wondering.  In which section of the photograph are you most comfortable?  The smorsgasboard of line and colour on the left, or the contained and hierarchical pile of shapes on the right?



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