Reflecting on the White Collage
Updated: Apr 27, 2020
I think we all look for some joy particularly during difficult times. After chasing artists’ opportunities to show work online, reviewing museum sites for online tours, and playing along with experiments by artists/teachers for materials and techniques to discover, I have found my greatest refuge with a group I only know peripherally and a project they took on for their March meeting. The group is #Philadelphia-CollageWorks. And in the words of another non-attending member, #Cathy-Gontarek, “Even though I've yet to attend a meeting, I have to tell you it's been a real treat to see the White Projects. They've been wonderful. So inspiring to receive these pieces of art in my email with everything else that's going on!”
#Annie-Stone is the founder of the group. Its first meeting was at her home and she continues to be a centralizing force. She is the contact person who has coordinated between the Da Vinci Art Alliance for an exhibition there, with Inliquid for virtual demonstrations and exhibitions, and is now laying plans for World Collage Day (May 9th). Not to mention the continuous threads of information shared amongst the group.
Exactlu White (pictured above) is the fitting title that #Annie-Stone gave to her collage. In it she blends her trademark interest in Nature with domestic life to create a room on the page. The narrow rectangles interweave throughout and connect recognizable items—a shirt, the letter “N”, an appliance, and even the bird from Twitter. I find myself marching along these paths like I’m in a waiting room. All this makes me think of a narrative where she (as represented by the shirt) is in a kitchen with a stove and daisies on a table.
Many of the artists of this group have contributed to its success. Like collage itself, this group welcomes the many talents who are part of its membership. For example, #Deena-Flanagan, a professional graphic designer, created the logo for the group. Her white collage contribution has circles imposed on and under an interrupted woven layer. In total, it is a square composition; some circles of a single piece reminding me of lace, and others constructed out of small pieces like a mosaic. Delicate, it also reminds me of a system of gears working together.
The “White Project” itself came out of meetings where attendees would work together with materials or make work inspired by the meeting at home. #Heather-Sandler, a healthcare worker and artist who has made white collages before, came up with the idea. Now, with the shutdown she writes through email, “Art making and conversation is always so therapeutic. I would love to get together virtually until we are able to meet in person again. I also really enjoy our challenges even if it means doing them individually and sending out pics to the group.” Her collage (pictured above), one of the few that incorporates text is like a meeting. Individual shapes layered over each other. The round ones make me think of people, the squares are their places, the swirling string and lines of text float around like bits of conversation or information, not quite enough to know what is being said exactly. The whole is alive with energy.
Many of the artists involved mentioned the difficulty of working with “white”. #Sandra-Benhaim noted that she used images from magazines that appeared to her to be of white objects. “But when placed on white paper or next to other white objects don’t truly appear white.” Her choices have led to her piece, Isolation (pictured above), featuring a ghostly room described by a window, melting wall, and a contrast of whites between the paper at the top and the bottom. It holds an empty chair that is either supported by two curved, lacy hands, or maybe this is a rug or a pool at the foot of the chair. In any case, between this ominous shape and the repeated, corrugated shape on the left, I feel infringed upon but stagnant. Precisely a feeling we can all appreciate right now.
#Rueben-Das, a painter, printmaker, and lately a mosaic artist, found that it was difficult to find what he would consider white. After going to the web for resources on white on white works, he produced one of the more hard-edged works. Called The Quarantine House (pictured above), it is as if a house shape has been dismantled and re-composed with overlaps of rectangles and triangles. The subtlety of the different whites and the way the glue causes texture in the large expanses adds interest and fragility.
#Florence-Weisz (collage pictured above), a self-proclaimed colorist, observed that she was frustrated with the “all white” directive. Finding some left-over asian papers that had become even more transparent, she made her beautiful collage by layering them over a darker blue, patterned paper so that the whites, patterns, and textures really pop. I first notice the space created by the contrasting ground of blue with white swilrs paper to the larger white swirls on the left. The top right papers have made the underlying blue swirl paper paler while the brighter lines of white in these papers act as lightning bolts adding even more drama to the piece. The bottom, right paper, with its "netting" design of dark on white, plays foil to the ground paper and sets a new kind of light-weight grid. On whole, a Formalist sensation!
#Linnie-Greenberg made this challenge into more than just an art exercise—talking about “running around her studio looking for white paper”. But all her efforts (shown in the collage pictured above) paid off in a richly varied piece that resembles fabric laid with embroidery and crewelwork. I think I even see traces of glitter. For me, Greenberg conjures an image of the sun coming over the rich and varying topography of the landscape of the earth. A celebration of white.
“No photographs for a change,” noted #Arlene-Solomon, a collage artist who incorporates the photos she has taken into her work. Instead she designed and constructed with the texture of the paper, on the paper, and by folding, bending, and mutilating the paper. “I even used dried up gel and matte medium.” A very technically creative and a very sumptuous work! (Pictured above.)
#Wendy-Raskas-Greenberg decided to play up the textures that she found in her studio materials. Her piece, Bland Bliss (picitured above), is one of the largest at 16 inches by 10 inches. And she did find a variety of textures that she deployed in a variety of line-ups, both vertical and horizontal. Not everything here is straight lines—circles and arcs punctuate the composition and a thread loops a path from top to bottom. It separates along a bump and comes together forming an eye-shapes or holes. I wonder if the path it makes resembles the path my eye takes when looking at this work or are there as holes in linear yet meandering, curving time. Anyway, it is the fluffy looking parts that really make me want to run my finger over this extremely varied work. An artpiece for both the eyes and the fingers.
I have left #Kara-Mshinda to the end as she has provided three white collages that seem to me related, and they are in a way I didn’t expect. The reason they seem related is that the first two are by Kara Mshinda while the third is by her 6-year-old daughter, Dhara Mshinda. This means these are an intergenerational collaboration! All are titled Untitled.
For her two , Kara Mshinda moves from a very recognizable face to a face that I can still see but with much more going on—like the face is in a crowded room of other faces or that the face is a mask in front of other thoughts and characters. (pictured on the top, right) Both are constructed by a series of papers cut into loops that intersect or are overlaid on each other. There are more pieces to the second work that makes it less clear to decipher, and hence more crowded. (Untitled 2, above)
So much of Kara Mshinda's work explores identity. In Untitled 1 (pictured above), I found it interesting that she has included a crown poised on top of the head . She has paid special attention to the eyes which are large and many ringed. The mouth is broad and open. And it is flanked underneath and to the left by other mouth-like shapes. I feel as if this person is talking to or singing at me. Which leads me to think that this is a self portrait, a portrait of realization, or a portrait of another-- like Beyonce, also known as "Queen B".
Dhara’s work (Untitled, pictured above) is set up like a portrait and there is something like a body here. The pieces are arranged to fill the whole paper with a majority in the center. Many of the pieces fit together to make interesting shapes out of the background and they produce a feeling of energy exploding off the page. Nice job, Dhara!
Finally, here are two collages by Heather Sandler, at left, and Annie Stone, below. Heather's is a work she did for this project and has subsequently destroyed?... rearranged?... reappropriated?... In any case, it can only be found in this picture. Not unusual for artists. Annie's piece called No Words, was in an exhibition at the Da Vinci Art Alliance and became a model for this project.
Philadelphia CollageWorks continues to communicate through email and meets via zoom. They are taking social distancing seriously while finding creative ways (is there nothing that artists cannot overcome with creativity?) to stay in touch with each other, push themselves and their artwork, and broaden the definition of what it is to be an artist and particularly a collage artist!.