An Exploration of Collage Through the Works of 8 Contemporary Artists
The term collage was coined in the early 20th century by Braque and Picasso. But collage as an art form existed long before that. In fact, the first use of collage can be traced back to as early as the invention of paper (circa 200 BC), debunking the theory that something has to be named in order to exist.
As an artistic technique, collage gained popularity in the first decade of the 20th century, championed by the aforementioned cubists. This form of art was the perfect fit for their predominant tendencies toward deconstruction. It represented a low-risk, cheap way of assembling disparate elements without losing the depth of the work itself. Through the use of materials like painted cut-outs, patterned paper and newsprints, the cubists remained true to their ideal of simplicity – an ideal later rejected by their successors. Devoid of logic and rationality and determined to sever all ties to their predecessors in art, the Dadaists created a fertile landscape in which collage could reach its full potential. When the Surrealists came onto the scene, they took this mature version of collage, filtered it through the subconscious, and then automatized it, creating a peculiar yet quintessentially surrealist paradox.
The digital age brought a lot of diversity in almost every field of art, including collage. The technique truly skyrocketed with the use of computers. There is virtually no limit to what you can assemble using photo editing, drawing, or animation software. Materials and elements you never dreamt of combining are now at your fingertips 24/7. Imagine a vibrant Indian truck stuck inside a transparent capsule, the latest model of Gucci glasses plastered across its windshield while it basks in the rays of an apocalyptic sun. With the right software, you can create that image in mere minutes. These days, a collage simply knows no bounds.
From the absurd, twisted and macabre, to the polished beauty of fashion models, cut up, and rearranged with exotic flora surrounding them, the use of digital collage is immense. It’s in fashion editorials, on websites, in packaging, poster design, animation, fine arts, etc. In this article, I’m going to take a look at 8 artists I consider the most creative, most inspiring, and most forceful proponents of contemporary collage.
You know that feeling when you’re lying in your bed, dead tired from what seemed like the longest day in the history of days? Your consciousness is desperately trying not to slip into the unconscious abyss, your body is becoming weightless, while random neurons bleep and you’re slowly entering the realm of haphazardness, where reason is not welcome. It’s like you’re in front of a giant TV watching the lucid dream of some too-complex-to-understand cosmic entity. That’s Cyriak for you.
Some of the most impressive usage of digital collage can be seen in animation, especially in the works of Cyriak. His art manages to amaze with its complexity and creative freedom. But it isn’t for everyone.
Most of his creations can be found on his YouTube channel. His work spans from random sketches to impressive music videos for artists such as Run the Jewels, Flying Lotus, Bloc Party, etc. A shining example of his work is the video for the song Cirrus that he animated for the British musician Simon Green (known by his stage name Bonobo). I dare you to check out his portfolio. Just a fair warning for the faint hearted: tread lightly and don’t take it too seriously.
2. Dewey Saunders
Imagine the perfect West Coast sunset. You’re sitting on the hood of your car, on the hill near a vast, empty beach saying goodnight to your workload. You hear music. You turn around to see where it’s coming from. You rub your eyes. Can this be?! A giant boom box is standing on a cliff, in front of a fire hydrant that’s spraying Mojitos and Kool-Aid instead of water. Under the hill there’s a vast field of various flowers, their petals carefully collected jukebox records. Suddenly, you’re transported into a desert. You think to yourself: “This must be heaven!”, You snap out of it only to see yourself staring at the cover art of a vinyl you waited for so long to buy.
If you’re into the neo-soul/hip-hop culture, you’ve probably heard the music of Anderson Paak. And if you did, you must’ve noticed the artworks of his full-length albums, Malibu in particular. The artist behind those covers is Dewey Saunders, based in LA, California. His artwork is an amazingly vibrant merge of hip-hop culture and playful pastel palette psychedelia, full of bizarre, surgically-composed juxtapositions.
3. James Dawe
Magenta pipes, heat and concrete, a bit of Massive Attack – Inertia Creeps in the background, 3D renders of peeps looking at artworks at an exhibition with puzzled expressions, screaming yellows, black gloss, a playground in the back, liquid shapes falling in and out of existence, messy desks with paper cats on top of everything… put all that together and you’ll get what resembles a city in the midst of rush hour seen from a multitude of perspectives.
You may think this is an exaggeration, but when it comes to the works of James Dawe, it really isn’t. This London-based commercial artist uses collage and photo manipulation like a true genius. His compositions are quite distinctive and filled with literally everything. And even though it looks pretty alternative, his art is simultaneously quite commercial.
Imagine an exuberant garden brimming with all sorts of colors. But this garden isn’t filled with plants. Instead, it contains an alien-like flora, adorned with details made of earth materials and with common patterns. There are glimpses of carbon-based life forms here and there. Everything is constantly on the move, lulling you into an everlasting, dreamlike dance of forms and textures. It’s never boring, it’s never too much, it’s perfectly balanced.
Coming from Novi Sad, deep in the lowlands of Vojvodina, Vesna Pesic aka ВЕСНА (aka BECNA BECNA) is such a mighty illustrator. She combines drawing, vivid color palettes, and mesmerizing cut-out shapes, with flora, fauna, and fashion elements to create collages brimming with life. Her unique approach to illustration has already caught the eye of many corporate giants such as Coca-Cola, Elle, Playboy, Universal Music, Emirates Airlines, Telenor, etc.
Many of us indulge in nostalgia. Actually, pretty much everyone does. Imagine turning that feeling into an animated gif, and putting it on a constant loop. And with each iteration, that gif looks more vivid than before, reminding you of feelings and things past. Now picture yourself walking through the city. Every screen you pass by (be it a TV screen, a mobile phone screen, a laptop or an iPad screen) keeps showing you that exact emotional longing for the past you’ve been hanging on to. Some of Sholim’s works have that effect on me. They transport me into a safety bubble, filled with feelings that are beyond the domain of mere words.
Before we leave the animation department, we’d like to present the art of the young Belgrade-based artist Milos Rajkovic aka Sholim. His work mainly consists of GIFs that masterfully combine surreal imagery with vintage-y vibes. There are many scenes cut from Yugoslavian films, a bunch of robotics-related material, Dali-esque compositions, all kinds of content from the Web, and a lot of cut-out faces. When you piece it all together, you get a recognizable, short, but contemplative piece of looped animation which won’t leave anyone indifferent.
6. Vasilis Marmatakis
Once, my friend was talking about how he rarely dreams, and that his dreams are often devoid of narrative and are pretty minimal in content. He told me how the dream he remembers most often consists of two objects only. A bouquet of black roses and a translucent box containing a squid, floating in space. That was it, no narrative, no dialogue, nothing but that bouquet and that squid, trapped together in his dreamscape.
I don’t quite know why, but I recalled that story when I first lay my eyes on a poster designed by Vasilis Marmatakis. This amazing artists is best known for the work he’s done for film director Yorgos Lanthimos, who hired his fellow countryman to create the posters for each of his cinematic masterpieces. Marmatakis’s pieces are essentially minimal, and perfectly encapsulate the impression Yorgos’s films leave on a viewer. The tingling dread in the background, the unsettling music, the reality that is almost like our own but just slightly removed. It’s quite amazing how sometimes little pieces of visual information can communicate with viewers in such an intense way.
7. Lola Dupre
What’s amazing about Lola Dupre is her unique approach to collage. I’ve actually never seen anyone use this medium in such manner. She photocopies a single photo in different sizes for God knows how many times, and then she uses only the elements from that single photo. She multiplies the elements, elongates them, and deforms them in such imaginative ways that the reality she ends up creating becomes more believable than our own. Who wouldn’t believe in a fashion model with 15 arms, and not-so-slightly elongated legs? All in all, I think it’s quite easy to be impressed by the patience she possesses, since the technique she’s using is quite delicate, and surely takes up quite a lot of her time. Kudos to that!
A collage artist from Scotland, Lola Dupre does her work the traditional way, with lots and lots of paper. But her technique, her unique approach to the art of collage is in no way traditional. Her work references both the Dada movement and contemporary digital manipulation techniques. Throughout her career, Lola has collaborated with the likes of Time magazine, Penguin Classics, Nike Basketball, and Atlantic Magazine.
8. Ernesto Artillo
Put a thick slice of butter into a pre-heated pan. Once the butter melts, drop a generous amount of Picasso in the pan and stir. While stirring, add a bucketful of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Blend it all together until a cohesive mass is formed. Let it sit for 10 minutes. Then, add a teaspoon of Frida Kahlo, a pinch of Paul Klee, and mix it again. Now leave it to rest for no more than 15 minutes. In the meantime, take out the fashion dough from the fridge. You know, the one you left to chill overnight. Spread it thin with a rolling pin, and then pour the mix from the pan into the dough. Roll it all together. Form a dough ball, and put it in the oven. Bake for at least 4 hours, and you’ll get yourself one delicious Ernesto Artillo.
Last but not least, the most fashionable example on this list has to be the Andalusian artist Ernesto Artillo. While the backbone of his work is studio photography, he mixes in a little bit of everything. He profusely uses digital manipulation, with smudges and textures, as well as a lot of traditional painting, inspired by Picasso and Basquiat. He’s quite prolific, with a pretty diverse approach, which you can easily notice in his work. Ernesto is an amazing addition to this list, and an indispensable member of today’s art and design community.
The Best Examples of Collage on the Web
Our passion for web design runs deep, so we’ve also gathered a few examples where web and collage collide in a stunning fashion. Ranging from kitsch, to more old school-ish, to bizarre and glitch-y, these websites represent the finest examples of the symbiosis of web and collage. We hope you’ll enjoy browsing them as much as we did when we were choosing them.
1. Gucci Décor
Full of punchy colors, cut-out, hand painted kitchen elements, furniture on a textured gradient background, and fashionable monkeys, the Gucci Décor website is quite kitsch. But that’s the look Gucci is famous for. Some may not like the aesthetics of the website, but the browsing experience it provides is nothing short of fun.
This Russian magazine has quite a newspaper-ish approach to their website. Batenka’s website looks very cool, with an old-school vibe. The posts are full of different kinds of illustrations and amazing collages. Overall, this is a pretty artsy and simple approach to a magazine website, with skillfully combined old-school aesthetics and modern ideas and elements.
Oranjebitter is the website for the Royal Day Festival in Rotterdam with hip-hop-ish, punchy aesthetics. There are kaleidoscopic forms of people that look as if they’re ready to come out of the screen. The site is divided in several sections, each with a different colored flat background and each carrying a specific message. This website surely is one of our coolest finds.
4. Purchase Design
The final website on our list also happens to be our favorite. The Purchase College website has a slightly offbeat feel to it, with loads of great-looking visuals, which include collaged photos, amazing typography, and a lot of crazy-looking designs that go way back to the beginnings of the Web. All of this is centered in the middle of the screen, resembling a digital book showcase. You can customize the site, change its background color, pattern, and even the logo, by clicking on the squares located in the lower left of the screen.
To Wrap Things up…
Collage is a remarkable creative outlet. If you’re not afraid to experiment with it, you can create arresting, imaginative, maybe even unexpected art pieces. In this digital era, there are virtually no limits to what you can do with it. We hope the works of these artist showed you that there’s no reason to refrain yourself from letting your imagination, no matter how wild, come to life.