Kurt Schwitters. Mz.601,1923.
The use of collage along with cut and torn paper has long had its place in creative circles. Kurt Schwitters was just one of many artists whose principle elements were found items: photos, print, metal, fabric and wood. With this disparate array of ingredients he expressed himself in a highly individual way, as in the above piece.
But how did it start? For that we need to wind back to 12th century Japan, where master calligraphers would prepare their paper backgrounds with fragments of patterns and textures to give depth and visual interest. Onto this they would add their expressive brush flourishes to make their poetic marks.
12th century Japanese calligraphy on collaged paper
These collage techniques developed in other cultures during the 15th and 16th centuries with the proliferation of bookbinding. They became some of the many tools used by the Renaissance artists and craftsmen to embellish their work.
With the advancements in print and publishing techniques during the Industrial Revolution, a culture of hobbyists was born. Photo albums were often decorated with many mass-produced scraps, along with family photos, postcards and postage stamps. The age of the scrapbook had begun and was to become part of family and school life.
But it wasn’t until the 20th century that collage became a catalyst for artistic expression during the dawn of modernism. In 1912, Braque and Picasso, whose infant cubist paintings already expressed a fragmented quality, trail-blazed the use of collaged elements directly into their painted canvases.
Georges Braque 1912
Pablo Picasso 1912
Pablo Picasso 1912
Pablo Picasso 1912
Juan Gris 1914
From that moment, the technique was officially ordained as a bona fide element
in the artist’s tool kit. There followed a stream of imitators and innovators
across the creative spectrum. Here are some examples broken down into their
Hannah Höch, the German Dadaist, produced this paper collage in 1919:
Hannah Höch 1919 Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the Beer-Belly of the Weimar Republic
Raoul Hausmann: ABCD, 1923 Acrylic Print By Granger
The very nature of film editing (or ‘montage’ in French) requires the piecing together of visual elements to create or enhance the mood of a story. Sergei Eisenstein became an early master of cinematic collage, most notably in Battleship Potemkin (1925).
And to greater shophistication in Ivan the Terrible, 1944:
And one of cinema’s most dramatic collaged sequences can be seen in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, 1960 storyboarded and supervised by Saul Bass:
Above: Saul Bass's storyboard
And Bass also used a torn paper technique in a number of his film title sequences, like this one for Bunny Lake Is Missing, 1965:
film Se7en, 1995, about a serial
killer who took pleasure in collaging details of his perverted mind and vision,
was also featured collage in the title sequence designed by Kyle Cooper:
The photographer William Klein experimented with fragmented block san serif type and recreated it in his painting experiments, inspiring many graphic designers.
The American artist Cecil Touchon in his studio, Touchon's visual poetry work from 2006 (above) echos that of William Klein from the 60's. Touchon also founded the International Society of Assemblage and Collage Artists
Comp0sites: Nude, negatives 1966, prints 1984 by photographer Ray K. Metzker
Photo-exposed montage by Francois Kollar Les Lumieres dans la ville, Paris 1932
Eduardo Paolozzi, Real Gold, 1949
Richard Hamilton, 1956, Just What Is It that Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?
Peter Blake, Girlie Door, 1959
Tom Wesselmann, Still Life # 20, 1962
Probably the most famous collage construction, Peter Blake's
1967, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club
Band album cover
Robert Rauschenberg, Retroactive, 1964
David Hockney, Pearblossom Highway, 1986 made using Polaroid snapshots
The bedridden Henri Matisse at work in the mid-1940's
When Henri Matisse picked up his scissors late in his life and created
his astonishing collages, with their vivid colours and graphic
simplicity, the graphic world got excited.
Matisse created book Jazz, 1947
Blue Nude 1952
The Snail, 1952-3
Matisse became a major inspiration for many graphic designers working in the 1950s and 60s. Over the decades they have continued to embrace collage as their own to great effect.
Saul Bass, 1955
Saul Bass, 1959
Book cover for Psycho, design by Tony Palladino, 1959
Above: Paul Rand, 1970
Alan Fletcher's last collage for Wallpaper cover, 2007
The late 1970s saw an anarchic reaction to an overblown, over-produced music industry in the shape of punk, the ultimate DIY. It was expressed in a very hand made way using the old faithful collage as its prime graphic vehicle...
Jamie Reid poster, 1976
Jamie Reid posters, 1977
Collage in the 21st century shows no sign of abating. The work below is from Lisbon based designer Cristiana Couceiro, who puts a new twist on the genre by cannibalising familiar 20th century graphics in her work, with lifts from Penguin book covers to Blue Note album sleeves and everything between.
In the 1980s the design collective Memphis produce a kind of collaged furniture.
Chair designed by Peter Shire in 1982 while with the Memphis group
One could say that post-modernist architecture is a form of collage, with its myriad of eclectic details bolted together.
Post-Modern architecture in downtown Tehran
Since the 1950s, experimenters in music and sound design have woven sonic
fragments together by cutting and looping recording tape to create a new world
in sound, and this has encroached upon almost every area of musical composition
and the use of sound.
John Heartfield used photomontage to great effect to lampoon the Nazi regime.
John Hartfield, 1932
And taking a more humorous approach, the playwright Joe Orton whiled away his non-writing days by defacing book jackets from the local library, for which he was later prosecuted.
Joe Orton 1962, in his Islington bedroom with a collaged wall backdrop, with images taken from books from his local library
Above: some examples of book jackets defaced by Joe Orton
So if you ever get bored well, the local library seem like a good place to unleash that creative spirit. Actually, on second thoughts, I didn't say that.