Exercise: Identifying Tools and Materials

Collage practitioners (digital or not):

  • Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948)
  • Hannah Höch (1889-1978)
  • John Heartfield (1891-1968)
  • Nigel Henderson (1917-1985)
  • Fred Otnes (b1903)
  • Klaus Voormann (b1938)
  • Neil Leslie (b~1965)
  • Barry Martin (b~1943)
  • Dan Fern (b1945)
  • Lou Beach (b1947)
  • Charles Wilkin (b1969)
  • Herr Müller (b1977)
  • Eda Akaltun (b1985)

Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948)

1919 Bild mit heller Mitte [Picture with Light Centre]1938 Die Fruhlingstur [The Spring Door]1944 [Hitler Gang]Kurt Schwitters - Das Undbild


Schwitters used discarded objects and trash – part of the ‘Dada’ movement calling his version of it ‘Merz’ (a word he invented – no meaning prior to this use).

It seems to me that in using discarded items in this way, at this time, he is deliberately attempting to forward the ‘Dada’ movement’s ideal of creating new art by deliberately choosing to include items that were created for other than art purposes. I wonder, therefore, what his ‘plan’ was for each piece – did he deliberately set out to create certain atmospheres and select items that would contribute, or was the final composition, like the objects, ‘found’ during the process of creating each one.

It is clear that there are colour and shape sympathies in each of the works above but not clear if they came about as a result of the available items or if the items were collected in order to achieve the aimed-for mood.

Hannah Höch (1889-1978)

Cut with the kitchen knife... dada1 Der Vater 1920 Grotesque

Hannah Hoch  characteristically uses ‘Photomontage’, and often specifically imagery of people and faces. The characters are, or are representative of, real people and are used often to make statements about those celebrities or their professions and beliefs.

Compared to Schwitters there is more ‘meaning’ in Hoch’s collages that relates specifically to events in the world. She is famous for her visual commentary on the Weimar Republic and its demise. Her collages are challenging as they often contain faces looking out at the viewer.

Her materials have always been contemporary printed matter that is cut and re-assembled. The re-assembly results in strong overall composition indicating something of a pre-planned approach to placing the imagery, rather than building from a seed-beginning. I can only imagine that the message is the start point and pieces are chosen for their relevance and contribution, and that this must take a very long time.

John Heartfield (1891-1968)


Operating mainly in the photomontage format and with an unmistakeable anti-Hitler message (which made him the perfect choice for Kurt Tucholsky’s book cover).

Hi life is the stuff great movies are made of… http://www.johnheartfield.com/John-Heartfield-Exhibition/helmut-herzfeld-john-heartfield/biography-german-artist-heartfield

Humboldt University in East Berlin offered Heartfield the position of “Professorship of Satirical Graphics” in 1947.

His response was, “Do I have to be a professor?”

I’m unable to find mention of how he produced his illstrations but I’m going to assume that the images he used in his montage must have been re-sized by Heartfield. Perhaps he took existing photos and made new prints of them in order to fit it all together, otherwise I find it hard to imagine he could have succeeded so well in his work.

His visual critique of the 3rd reich was strong enough to have him chased by the SS when they came to power. He narrowly evaded capture, fleeing the country, but returning after the war.

Nigel Henderson (1917-1985)

4 panel collage

Henderson’s collage is a bit ellusive but I’ve found it… it’s at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, although I’m not sure it’s on show all of the time.

The write-up on their website:


…makes the work sound extraordinary… perhaps easily overlooked in the face of other practitioners who generate large quantities of more striking compositions. I’ve yet to ind the size of this work quoted but, judging/guessing from the hand print which might be directly on the work, it’s about 5 feet tall and 7 1/2 feet wide.

It was started in 1949 and was completed over 3 years using new and old elements that Henderson had been collecting for years.

Fred Otnes (b1903)

Klaus Voormann (b1938)


This application for the collage, and with this band on this album, is a far departure from many other collages here. It’s subject is very definite – it only depicts John, Paul George and Ringo… oh, and the artist himself is in there I’ve read… it’s in black and white, it’s not a protest or a juxtaposition or an abstract. But it’s more than just ‘functional’. It has a designed composition and is a challenging depiction of the band… challenging to connect this style and image with their music and its intent.

The majority of this image is drawn, the rest is photomontage. It is completely focussed on the band members which is a sign of the times of the “Fab Four”, and is celebratory and constructive. This is a difference in the mode of operation of the designer – it’s like it is a “peace time” mode – life is good. In contrast to the work done under the banner of the Dadists which was a rejection of the art that went before and was used as a critique of the culture of those times.

Neil Leslie (b Circa 1965)


There is a wide range of styles demonstrated by Leslie’s work over the time of his ongoing career since 1988 when he became freelance, starting in photography.

My internal debate about ‘what is a collage’ has partly been addressed through looking at Leslie’s work… which I am assuming makes extensive use of digital (eg: Photoshop) techniques. The key for me is that the viewer is intended to see the ‘joins’, whether that means literally seeing the edges of the elements or simply perceiving that the overall image is constructed from different image elements. These two examples make that clear:


The Romeo and Juliet poster clearly shows a number of elements like old photographs. There are clear drop shadows around some which allow the edges to be even more clear.

The second image, although not utilising the same skeuomorph characteristics as the old photos in the poster did, is still clearly made of ‘parts’ that are brought together to compose a whole.

After looking through Leslie’s work and seeing the changes in style over the years, and having been working through exercises in composition, I’ve come to see collage from a new perspective –  it is no different than painting or drawing in that a brush stroke is like a compositional element and the overall composition is considered in a similar way.

processpicLeslie describes his process and reveals the client visual and finished work for one piece side by side.

There are so many things that simply fall into place from the last part of the course by both seeing this and from my last tutor report… clearly shown here is the way that the concept has been communicated in the client visual but the details of the finished work have been added only after approval.

The two are recognisable as the same project but the final artwork adds a cigar, umbrella, and a hand; elaborates the background and brings the figure out of the circle.



The above three images are of a particular style that I found very interesting. They remind me… and given Leslie’s background in photography might be… overlapping transparencies or negatives from a medium format camera. The greens and reds in the first one evoke the experience of negatives where the colours are unnatural; the second utilises a sepia tone or faded colours and suggests something historic; the third in its cold blue tone brings a more contemporary feel and is less confined to the squares in composition.

I cannot guess how much of this is digital, the third one seems likely to be a computer composition, but the first two could have origins in the dark room.


This final work stood out for its demonstration of one thing… the non-collaged element. In this case the uneven vignetting around the whole piece which is not a cut-and-stuck item like most collage is thought of – it is a refinement using paint. I point this out because I do have trouble thinking of “Collage” as a very isolated format but it can be mixed with other techniques and still recognised as being in the ‘collage camp’ overall.

Barry Martin (b~1943)


this “Movement Collage” re-uses advertising and pop-art (www.tate.org.uk) to create a radiating dynamic which is stronger than the content of the elements at a certain distance. The elements are all 0f travel and surround a curiously empty blue space… does this represent our planet – a small blue-green spere? Sea or sky?

Dan Fern (b1945)

Lou Beach (b1947)

Charles Wilkin (b1969)


I’m looking at three developments of Wilkin’s work, each identified by era or as being ‘digital’. They reveal an evolving style.

Untitled (Father Figure)(1995)
Untitled (1995)
You can’t Let A Man Out Of Sight (1995)

These first three are the earliest and I could easily make links from these back to the Dadaists. The artist makes a statement which suggests that these are reflections of the contemporary world yet the image elements used also seem to date back a couple of decades or more in their style of print and illustration. Nonetheless the imminent deluge of computer generated information is evident and, certainly in the third, the ongoing examination of gender roles.

Although non-specific there is a strong sense that the printed word is a strong part of the visual message.

The Wish And The Well (2015)


A Presence (2015)
Resin (2015)


These are the latests works by Wilkin (all paper collages). The printed word has gone from the composition. The whole approach is more textured and literally ‘seamless’ as the joins melt into the compositions now. Perhaps there is a far greater abundance of more interesting textures available in print now with the proliferation of full colour newspapers and magazines, even in the time when we anticipate a shift to non-printed digital delivery at some volcanically-unexpected moment.

XX For An Oh (2011)
A Collector of Souls (2011)
The Unforgiven (2010)

These three works are still created on paper but are stated as being “Digital Collage on Paper” so I presume they are effectively prints of work created within software.

They are notable for the proliferation of colour and geometric marks, presumably created within the computer, together with imagery that is photographic in nature.

Herr Müller (b1977)

Eda Akaltun (b1985)

Akaltun’s work is both simple and complicated…


…the overall appearance is at first easy to resolve but then, looking closer, it’s not as you thought.


These are ‘Noir Characters’ which take on a super-human proportion in some cases where the outlines are solid and re-inforced – this contrasts with the detail given in the photomontaged heads. Putting these two things together – the photograph with its objective detail and the textures that deny realism in favour of flavour – makes the overall composition jump out further. It is a forma of contrast.


A simple composition… but refined to remain simple in spite of the jigsaw in the reflection that is understated but very busy when you focus upon it. There are two levels of looking at this image which I can switch between – see the figure or see the jigsaw.


The use of eyes in photomontage is often seen. This first image shows watchers in a city in the clouds; the second for a New Scientist article about quantum theory are maybe people glimpsing the quantum world… where perhaps they should not! (for an Article about loopholes in quantum theory).


Another example the use of contrast in photo and texture. Cigarette smoke would commonly be whispy and insubstantial but here, still recognisable by its shape and the texture added by the photos within, it is an effective collage element.




And another thing… while looking through Akaltun’s work I discovered the section of the website dedicated to showing her studio space – the desk where she works and the view from her window. I’ve become a little fond of the ‘meta’ and these insights are very interesting. I would refrain from drawing conclusions about the artist’s personality etc from these but it allows me to put myself at this desk and imagine what that feels like. Personally I think I’d mess it up! It would not remain as uncluttered or arranged as it seems in the photos. I still (even in this age of the e-reader) am drawn to the book case laden with large tomes (with many pictures!) and the window. Even an uban view like this one is far nicer than no view at all… perhaps better when there are people walking around.

Here’s my current workspace…


…it’s under the stairs. There’re no windows nearby.


I’m struggling already with the breadth of work that has been produced in collage but can’t not mention Synthetic Cubisim (as it is apparently known – I don not pretend to actually have grasped the cubism ‘movement’ more than surface-deep) as I have discovered that it and collage were made for each other.


These two works by Picasso from around 1912 utilise the textures of the elements which have been cut to the required shape. A lot of play is made from the fact of having one piece cut and placed separately on the page and, because the picture is constructed from the elements rather than the elements being the pictorial contribution, there is significance in the use of each piece for either foreground/subject or background.




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