©dilek birdinç kutzli 2012

The Origins of Collage

Collage has a long and distinguished history. No matter what you may do in collage, chances are it has been done before, but certainly not like you will do it. You can study early collages of the Japanese or Dutch, for example, and then revive an old idea with a new twist, giving a contemporary look and feel to an ancient technique.
The story begins with the invention of paper in China around 200 B.C., but the earliest examples of paper collage are the work of twelfth-century Japanese calligraphers, who prepared surfaces for their poems by gluing bits of paper and fabric to create a background for brushstrokes. Later, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in the Near East, craftsmen cut and pasted intricate designs and used marbled papers as part of the art of bookbinding. Today’s collage artists invent exciting variations of these ancient collage techniques.

Carlo Crivelli

Francesco Mancini

Artists in medieval times, beginning in the thirteenth century, often enhanced religious images with gemstones, elegant fibers, relics and precious metals. Later, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, nuns made bookmarks trimmed with cut and colored papers, which they carried in their prayer books. Frequently, the materials used were selected for their symbolism, a practice that continues in contemporary collage.
Renaissance artisans of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in western European countries pasted paper and fabric to decorate the backgrounds of coats of arms in genealogical records. Cut-paper silhouettes appeared in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century. Craftsmen in prehistoric and primitive societies in many parts of the world used seed, shell, straw, feathers and butterfly wings as collage material. Shamans and holy men in some societies secured these and other materials to masks used in sacred rituals. All of these materials appear occasionally in artists’ collages today.

Antiques and Uniques

During the nineteenth century collage developed as a popular art, more of a hobby than an art form. People pasted family photographs into arrangements and hung them on the walls, glued postage stamps into albums, and covered screens and lampshades with magazine illustrations and art reproductions. In antique shops today you can find nineteenth-century scrapbooks, photo albums,silhouettes













and lampshades made of assorted materials: paper, fabric, human or animal hair, and a variety of memorabilia. Most of these materials were mementos and family heirlooms, not art objects. Yesterday’s elaborate valentines provide inspiration for children’s craft projects today.
There were a few serous collage artists in the late nineteenth century, pasting intricate paper cutouts onto backgrounds. Hans Christian Andersen created illustrations for a book this way. Carl Spitzweg made collages for a collection of recipes with cutouts from woodcuts, which he colored by hand and pasted onto marbled papers. In the last decade of the nineteenth century, graphic artists arranged type and bold, cut-out shapes to create theater posters and illustrations. The introduction of photography led to photomontage, the combining of photographs into artistic arrangements. In time, the photos and posters themselves became collage material.

Collage as a Modern Art

The twentieth century shed an entirely new light on collage. Katherine Hoffman stated that “Collage may be seen as a quintessential twentieth-century art form with multiple layers and signposts pointing to the possibility or suggestion of countless new realities.” Art historians generally attribute the first use of collage in fine art to Pablo Picasso in 1912, when he glued a piece of patterned oilcloth to a cubist still life. Next, Georges Braques incorporated wallpaper into his artwork. The two artists experimented with papiers collés as an extension of cubist principles. Instead of creating an illusion of reality, they invented a new kind of reality, using textured and printed papers and simulated wood patterns on their drawings and paintings. Imagine the storm of controversy that followed these experiments. The use of foreign materials in paintings inflamed critics, adding more fuel to the creative fires of experimental artists.
The avant-garde adopted this new approach and quickly branched out. Cubists used mostly paper and paint, sometimes in a patchwork quilt fashion, with the occasional realistic object added to support a pictorial concept or philosophical viewpoint. Futurists incorporated typography for political commentary and added found objects to connect art with the real world. Dadaists found collage an ideal means of expressing anti-art nonsense, bringing together outrageous combination of materials for shock value. The new science of the mind, called psychology, led surrealists to see collage as a revelation of unconscious thoughts brought to the surface through the random selection and placement of materials.

(From Collage Techniques: a Guide for Artists and Illustrators, copyright 1994, by George F. Brommer)
Chapter 1



A Brief Look Back

The aesthetic act of pasting objects and papers to a surface has been practiced in various folk arts for centuries, including twelfth-century Japanese text-collages decorated with paper foils, African tribal emblems, fifteenth-century Persian and Turkish cut-paper designs, German weather charms and lace valentine greetings, as well as eighteenth-century butterfly-wing collages. Collage as a fine art medium, however, emerged with the cubist pasting and gluing experiments of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso in France in 1912. These cubist artists broke up space and shapes and often used torn, cut, and pasted papers as integral components of their designs. Newspaper headlines and typography were used for their graphic impact and textures, and were not intended to be read. The art of pasting papers to a support was called papiers collér, the French term for pasted paper.
While Picasso’s Still Life with Chair Caining (May 1912) is often considered the first modern collage, it is actually an assemblage of oil paint , oil cloth,

pasted paper, and rope, making it a low-relief, three-dimensional construction. The first collages constructed solely of paper, on the other hand, were made by Braque in the summer of 1912, when he incorporated wood-grained wallpaper into a series of charcoal drawings. Picasso’s Glass and Bottle of Suze, completed in November 1912 and one of the earliest paper collages, combines cut and pasted fragments of newspaper, wallpaper, and other papers to create abstract still life forms. The practice of collage as a fine art form was now well on its way. Braque and Picasso were promptly joined by the Spanish artist Juan Gris in making extensive use of collage techniques as they worked their respective ways through the cubist epoch.Around the start of World War I, several Italian futurists continued to work in and expand on the collage techniques introduced in France. The German and Russian expressionists then contributed technical developments, and the dadaists, in creating their nonsense art, found in the collage medium the perfect expression of their negative feelings toward traditional art forms and ideas.



Following a short lull in collage activity, the 1920s’ art scene witnessed the arrival of German dada artist Kurt Schwitters’s exciting array of personal expressions executed in collage and assemblage. He glued ordinary found papers and objects of all kinds to canvas, paper, and board supports, giving them a second and probably more distinguished life. Schwitters considered collage a major art medium, as well as his own primary means of expression. As a result, collage was no longer merely experimental art. Almost every major avant-garde artist of the 1920s and 1930s tried their hand at collage to a greater or lesser degree, primarily to further their graphic explorations. Surrealist artists such as Max Ernst, Jean (Hans) Arp, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Francis Picabia, Joan Miró, and Salvador Dali made extensive use of collaged papers, and some of these artists and others then expanded their personal directions to include assemblage pieces as well.
In the 1930s, Henri Matisse used cut-paper shapes as preparatory work for commissioned pieces to be executed in other media. But in 1947, he published a small portfolio of twenty color plates of his cutout designs. He considered the cutting process as “drawing with scissors,” and spoke often of “cutting directly into color.” His flat color shapes and extreme simplification of composition would forever change the structure of two-dimensional art.
Joseph Cornell’s work in stagelike boxed assemblages in the early 1940s began the abstract expressionists’ exploration of collage as and art form. Ad Reinhardt, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Romare Bearden each approached the collage medium differently. For example, Bearden worked in the collage medium almost exclusively, combining cut-photo images to create meaningful visual statements that are powerful in their social commentary. The cutting, tearing, layering, and pasting of materials reinforced the important concept of process that had been promoted in action painting.
The freedom of expression engendered through collage explorations led directly to the assemblages, constructions, and combine paintings of Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Jean Dubuffet, and Ellsworth Kelly, as well as to their experimental work in the 1950s and 1960s. And their work in turn created the climate for the installations, appropriations, environments, and new object works of the 1980s and 1990s.
Contemporary interest in collage was renewed through the formulation of new materials (polymer emulsions, acrylic gels, and various glues) and technical processes (color copying, image duplication, photography, printing, phototransferring, and computer-generated images). Technical advances often tend to push some collagists in innovative and invigorating directions. David Hockney’s fascinating use of photographs is an excellent illustration of the melding of technology and art in a collage format.
Today, two-dimensional paper collages are still a significant means of expression. Collage holds a permanent place in the lists of major media, along with drawing, painting, printmaking, and sculpture. While it is often used alone, collage is also combined with other media (painting, drawing, and printmaking) in various forms of individual communication. Collage is used to explore ideas, advocate concepts, and develop possible directions in which to work. But just as often it is the consummate means of personal visual expression and distinct vocabulary, as the works presented in this book emphasize.


(From Creative Collage Techniques, copyright 1994, by Nita Leland and Virginia Lee)
Chapter One
A brief history compiled by Susan Krieg - Collage Artist