Art class – University of Colorado – the sixties
The university fine art professor who first opened my eyes to the possibilities of collage art was an eccentric and gifted man, and mixed media collage was a relatively new concept in the sixties. I had signed up for his watercolor class, so imagine my surprise when he strode in one day carrying a pile of rubbish and flopped it down on the table. He announced that we would be learning the art of mixed media collage. We had no exotic papers imported from around the world available to us – we had no precedent to follow except his wild and confident direction. He had stopped in the restroom and grabbed some paper towels, he had crumpled newspapers, brown paper bags, candy wrappers, string and other trash. Our instructions were to begin layering paper with paint in a highly abstract sort of way. Watercolor was not well suited to this process at all, and we used the same kind of paste that kindergartners used. There were no other choices available to us at the time. Now there are industries built around supplies for mixed media artists – the alchemy has caught on and we MMC artists are on the map.
This charismatic and visionary professor taught us the value of texture, layering paint with paper and placing pattern on top of pattern. We learned that painting can become sculptural and sensual and tactile. We learned that exposed rough edges are good, wrinkles in the paper are just great, and paint applied the thickness of cupcake icing is fantastic. It was the beginning of my love affair with abstract mixed media collage. And look how far art has come! Look how free we are in our expression now!
If you are familiar with the art of Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008), Picasso, Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler and others then you know that these prominent artists and a long list of other innovators experimented with mixed media collage. The technique of adding paper, odd items and urban debris into painted art or constructed assemblages actually goes way back. I mean really, if you want to venture even farther back it is quite apparent in some pre-historic cave art where the person sketching with charcoal made the decision to stick on the cave wall with wet mud some grasses and weeds underneath the drawings of the animals. How cool is that? He/she must have been so proud of that creative addition. I read recently that children are probably responsible for much of the cave art since it was a way to pass the time while staying safe and dry as mom tended to other things. Some things don’t change.
This composition titled “24 HOURS” takes me right back to that precious time of art experimentation in my life when everything was fresh, improvisational and serendipitous – and it also signifies for me all that is basic, primitive, simple, raw and beautiful about merely existing on Planet Earth. The sun comes up and the sun goes down, the moon shines in between. People around the world do their thing, every 24 hours. And then they wake up to do it again, but knowing that if they are lucky something wondrous might happen.