Following the recent Ballroom Studio Exhibition in Wem, I was interviewed by Mary Delany of the quarterly ‘Outsider Art’ magazine. Below is an extract and some images from the full interview that will appear in the Winter edition.
Mary Delany (MD hereafter): You had four collage pieces in the former ballroom in Wem: Trust, Throbbing Rituals, Do the Bump Bounce Boogie, and Social Rhythm Amalgamations. So, why collage?
Maintenantman (TE hereafter): Probably because I can’t draw or paint.
MD: (laughing) That’s a very good reason, but it’s not good enough! Why collage?
TE: I like the whole idea of making connections between apparently unrelated images and ideas. My mind just seems to work that way…”only connect” as E.M Forster said. Collage is a way of juxtaposing textures and visual stimuli in ways that create new meanings. I like the way that collage can be used for humour, and for subversion. Satire is a vital fibre in the world, and collage is a powerful satirical tool.
MD: You have used text on three of the four pieces, and text features on most of the other collages you have shown me today.
TE: Yes, that’s another good thing about the medium…visual imagery and the written word have rarely been mixed together in art. Collage opens up that possibility, and in doing so it can speak to people in very natural ways. Words and pictures are often inter-cut in human minds, so why not reflect that in art.
MD: Your Trust collage uses a cut-up version of a minimalist poem you wrote yourself…
TE: In pretty much every case I prefer to use ‘found’ text. With Trust I wanted to work on a big scale, both literally and in terms of the meaning in the piece. I used my poem as a source of speech bubbles. Some of the lines are clear and obvious, some are ambiguous or jokily enigmatic. I like the way that the Surrealists used collage, and it’s even more relevant today. The genuinely ‘surreal’ is a very rational and intelligent response to life in the 21st century!
MD: It is a very dense work, full of interesting detail, that requires more than a quick look.
TE: (laughing) I might not do such a large piece again. It’s hard to present it in a way that allows people to take it all in…but hopefully it’s worth the effort! The devil is definitely in the detail. Which is a very appropriate cliché!
MD: Throbbing Rituals attracted a lot of attention, perhaps because it is such a striking, immediate image of joyful dancing. It has real warmth and colour.
TE: Yes, it’s on my living-room wall now and it makes me feel good when I look at it. The base canvas is an old amateur oil painting of Table Mountain. The dancing figures are the cast of the Latino-Hispanic comics done in the 1980s by Los Bros Hernandez. Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez are brilliant draughtsmen and Throbbing Rituals is a heartfelt tribute to their Love and Rockets series. The text and title come from a 1960s women’s magazine, and then it was a simple step to add the Dansette and the musical notation.
MD: Hannah Hoch once wrote that “the key to collage is in the eye of the assembler, the creative principle lies in seeing the opportunity for subverted use of found materials”.
TE: Spot on! Along with Kurt Schwitters, Max Ernst and John Heartfield, she was one of the greatest collage artists of the 20th Century. Collage means having a living bank of ‘stuff’ that is logged somewhere in the mind as potentially usable, as in writing poetry.
MD: Some people say that the new digital age will see the end of collage as we have come to know it…that artists will just use digitally manipulated imagery and special effects in future.
TE: I disagree with that idea. If anything, collage using tactile materials and text ‘ripped’ from print sources will stand alongside digital works, both have their place. The texture, shading and layering of traditional materials is at the heart of the whole medium. Artists like John Stezaker, Serge Bloch, Sara Fanelli, Valerie Roybal and many others, are all taking collage into more and more challenging and productive areas.
MD: The other two pieces in the exhibition make use of the same black-and-white dance image.
TE: It’s an old Life Magazine photograph from the 1940s, a picture of a woman and a man doing a lindy-hop type jive. Do the Bump Bounce Boogie has no text and is just a playful arrangement of multiple copies of the photo. The title is from a song by a band called Asleep At the Wheel. Social Rhythm Amalgamations uses the same image, but with headings from a 1930s ballroom dancing manual scattered and linked. It was done at a workshop led by Emily Wilkinson, a collage artist herself, and Emily painted the orange backing sheet. I want to experiment more with paint and inks. I really liked the “social rhythm amalgamations” phrase in the old ballroom book…it is a great phrase to describe dancing, and it chimes with the associations between dance and sex.
(The two pictures here are in the correct order but there is no gap in the original).
MD: What next?
TE: I have enjoyed the dance theme, but I’m currently working on some political satire and some subversive Surrealist humour. I will add you to the Christmas card list…