How I came to use collage

Added on by Ann Marshall.

I grew up in suburban Atlanta. I always loved to draw and was good at it from a very early age. I watched Saturday morning cartoons and tried to copy the cartoon characters in between spoonfuls of Cinnamon Life. I had an old blue tool box full of crayons, and a black felt tip pen with a highlighter on the end which my father had brought me from his office (I never really used the highlighter, but liked that it was there). I made pages and pages of work.

After high school, I decided I wanted to become an illustrator, which seemed like a responsible compromise between a decent living and a creative life (this is sadly no longer the case).  Also, the fine art world seemed puzzling and nonsensical. To this day, I have never felt very at home there (though to be fair, I have never met an artist who does).

During college, while I was trying to knock out some credits over the summer, I took a class at GA State with Larry Walker (father of the brilliant Kara Walker). He taught me how to use matte medium as an adhesive for tissue paper collage. I did one project with it and forgot about it.

When I arrived at SVA, because of the art world's prejudice against representational work at the time, people interested in naturalistic painting became illustration majors rather than studying fine art. Teachers who worked as illustrators (often doing book covers, which was lucrative enough at the time), were also very devoted figure painters. Our training was very academic and always done from life. I was a hard worker, but wasn't  so great when I was in school. My teacher used to tell me he hoped I married rich. There was huge rivalry among the students as to who could paint the most realistically and that seemed to be the only goal anyone cared about. It was oppressive and dull and I felt like I was learning to be a trained monkey. I was not very happy, or doing very interesting work.

When I graduated, I tried and failed for the most part to find work as a children's book illustrator. I did however land one kid's book, and in my youthful hubris, I decided to do oil paintings. As anyone whoever worked in kid's books would tell you, this was a terrible idea: mostly because the pay scale just doesn't allow for that kind of time investment but also because any edits (and there will be edits) become hugely time consuming. I locked myself away in my tiny apartment and worked and worked. Even being very disciplined though, I just couldn't produce the pictures fast enough.

The most creative solutions to my work have often emerged out of need to find a way around my own shortcomings. I needed to speed things up, so I thought again about the collage lesson I had early on in college. I ended up collaging in a lot of the background and it was fairly successful, all things considered. It wasn't brilliant, but it did the job.

When I finished that project, I started experimenting with it in my personal work. I realized I had a horribly boring painting style (it was sort of accurate, but little else). I wasn't sure what to do about that though, so spent a lot of time just drawing subway riders. When an exhibit of contemporary Japanese artists opened my eyes to work being done abroad, my entire aesthetic shifted. I started experimenting with organic abstract shapes and backgrounds while keeping some of the qualities I liked about figurative work. I realized I wasn't that interested in directly capturing my environment (photography will always do it better), and began moving towards internal landscapes and formal design. It took years to pull it all together, but I finally began to find my voice. Collage allowed me to blend a lot of worlds and broken fragments, which is how most of us live these days. It can be a great big mess, until through a whole lot of effort, it isn't.