Tag Archives: Collage

Working With the Given: Student Responses


Originating in a discussion of Marcel Duchamp’s “ready-mades,” and taking inspiration from Alberto Burri and the Arte Povera movement in Italy, students foraged for found materials to provide a palette of possibilities for original designs.

The main problem inherent in working with “junk” is achieving a unity that somehow transcends the humble origin of its means. In other words, how do you make something that doesn’t look like a bunch of trash stuck to a background? Avoiding the “scrapbook effect” is paramount. The most successful solutions are those that manage to activate the ground, drawing it into the overall design so that it participates in the whole, even to the point of asserting a prominence that vies with the more obvious figural elements. In many cases the solution presents itself by adjusting the proportion of the ground, cutting it down to find the right balance with the materials, which is really just a way of enlarging the elements within the design. In other cases, designs cluttered with too many bits and pieces are improved by simplifying, allowing a few extraordinary forms, colors, or textures to breath and resonate.

Working with found material is a brilliant way to explore an alternative modality in design. Beginning artists often conceive of the process of designing as starting with an idea and working in stages to realize it. What many students come to appreciate is that the process of design can be as much a matter of finding a certain rightness, a logic, as it were, inherent in the materials and in their various relationships as we play with possibilities. It’s a bit like starting a fire with wet wood, trying to ignite a spark that continues to build. When it works, the results can be an epiphany. The often striking impact of the best pieces borders on the miraculous, not less so because of the sheer improbability of finding beauty in what most people regard as trash.


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Thoughts on the Process of Collage: Kevin Brady

“One day I came to work to find that part of a city block had been demolished. Hills of dirt were trucked away and plywood forms appeared. Foundations took shape, walls arose, and a new building began to emerge. Space, everyone’s space, was being reconfigured. The event of building reveals the essential plasticity of space: the way we divide it up, build structures into it, and sweep it clean again. Building and growth, demolition and decay are strangely commingled. Architecture, that most enduring of cultural forms, is reassigned to natural processes. You may try to expel nature with a pitchfork, said Horace, but it will come back running.


Like a building site, collage, for me, is exhilarating. It encourages swift, decisive modifications; it is constructive and destructive almost simultaneously. Structures come into being, and turn away from what they had been. Disparate spaces are sampled, juxtaposed, and reconfigured. Unlike working from plans, collage is open and improvisatory. It establishes a site for the reception of unforeseen changes. It invites and responds to the unplanned.

As an artist, I try to situate myself at the center of form- and meaning-complexes that seem most capable of producing these sorts of symbols: landscape, excavation, foundation, house, room, annex, well. A true symbol, C.G. Jung tells us, is inexhaustible; it is a living, regenerative thing. The generative activity of the studio is vital in this regard: the rhythmic, almost ritual process of collage, the surprise discoveries that occur when unlike pieces meet and mate. I seek a poetics of construction. I do so through an interplay of geometric structure and expressive abstraction, a syntax of interruption and relocation, and a language of color interaction and boundaries.

Like art itself, collage is a layered, cumulative thing, a site at which the boundary between cultural achievement and natural occurrence is sometimes, mysteriously, dissolved.”

Kevin Brady, 2006




What is given is incomparably richer than what we can invent.   

Aldous Huxley, “Variations on El Greco,” On Art and Artists

These fragments I have shored against my ruins.   

T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”

“I like the deliberative processes of collage – the heightened awareness of elements in play, and surprises that occur when unlike pieces meet and mate. Like drawing, collage is a very direct form of visualizing onto a surface. It is not just a language of accumulation – of stuff added to stuff – but a restless exchange of figure and ground. Structures come into being, and turn away from what they had been. Boundaries are fixed and erode. Identities appear and shift shape. A collage can go through hundreds of adjustments before it arrives at its final state, and even then, it is – to quote Wallace Stevens – “form gulping after formlessness.” The destructive and constructive principles exist side by side in the most intimate kinds of decisions here. Found materials, for me, impose a discipline of responding to what is given. To some extent, I have to resist the impulse to design and control, even as this may be what is most needed. In the end, the collages are aimed at producing a symbolic, if provisional, unity.”

Kevin Brady, December 2007



Kevin Brady’s website.

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“To Confront a Crazy World With Its Own Image”

Found Texture: Collage, Frottage, and Assemblage

“To confront a crazy world with its own image…” From Marjorie Perloff’s essay, Dada Without Duchamp/Duchamp Without Dada

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