On Friday, August 26, Mahtay Cafe held “Technique: After Paper, Before Poetry”, a gallery exhibiting the works of Emily Andrews and Jeffrey R. Rossetto. Each month, the cafe hangs a new collection by two local Niagara artists on its walls, and each month a gallery reception is held in order to promote and experience the art. There are musical guests, print sales and walls of art to explore. I was able to catch up with both artists to discuss their work, as well as the medium of collage in general. Although collage is woven into the undercurrents of many art revolutions in the twentieth century, the medium itself may not spring as aptly to the mind as painting or sculpture when discussing the visual arts.
Upon speaking with Emily Andrews and Jeffrey R. Rossetto, the variety of styles within the medium of collage became apparent. While Andrews’ collection showcased clean splicings of imagery together into a more or less cohesive image, Rossetto’s collection presented a chaotic multiplicity of loud imagery crowded together and sharing the same page. I was excited to understand each work and how each artist had arrived at their own personal style within the medium.
Andrews’ collection, titled “Far From Ordinary: A Series of Dreamscapes Made With Very Precise Slices”, displayed an array of surreal scenes. Each scene, as I later confirmed with her, made entirely of cut and paste images; despite this, each piece was seamless in its integration of said images. The artist herself has dabbled in the style since the age of 14, but really began to do something with it around 2011. Since then, she has developed a personal style of collage.
The first question to come to mind seemed the most obvious: Why collage?
“The thing about collage which is neat is that there are all these images that I see, already there,” Andrews responded. “They are already their own individual image, already created, and I have nothing to do with that. Where if I was painting or drawing I would be starting from the ground up.
“These images start as separate pictures, but then I get to put them all together into a scene that would never happen in real life. And that’s what I like to do, create surrealism. That’s why I call them dreamscapes, they’re like a dream but realistic. Because they’re already realistic photographs, once I splice them together the image all of a sudden looks like its scene happened, somehow that was a real scene, even though it obviously could not be.”
The title of the collection nods to daydreams and Andrews commented on them as inspirational for her. With collage, she is able to create scenes that don’t actually exist in our media, using the very media that lacks such imagery.
“I do actually think about why these surreal, ridiculous scenes might make sense, and am then able to tell that story with the scene,” Andrews noted. “There are stories to these pieces, but I don’t go into the process with that story planned. I go into it, trying to put things together that look cool, and then when I figure that out, I go ‘Ok, how can I make sense of this scene? What are these cutouts of people doing here?”
The creating and telling of stories in these pieces comes later in Andrews’ process, which she shared the details of further into our conversation. In a word, ‘tedious’.
“It’s a lot. Basically what I do is I have stacks and stacks of magazines, sources, old newspapers and the like. Then I go through everything; I find all the imagery that I like and I cut everything out, and then I categorize everything.
“So, I have a little baggie with dogs in it, one with people in it, with cars, with flowers; everything is categorized. When I want to make a collage, I also have a whole category of backgrounds – bigger, empty spaces whether they’re interior or exterior – and so I start with the background, and then I pull out all my little pieces and start to figure out what fits in and what would go where, and what kind of images I’m wanting in there, and as I start creating it, it kind of builds on itself.”
Upon being asked which pieces she loved, if not all, Andrews mentioned she only really began to love her own work in the past few years;
“That’s a whole thing.. I’ll say that I have only just started to like my work more. I spent so many years and by the end of seventy per cent of the stuff I did I wouldn’t like it, and it’s only been in the last fews years that it has somehow reversed. It’s not like I set out to make something I don’t like, but I go into it with a vision in mind and by the end of it things wouldn’t be how I wanted them to be. I wouldn’t hate it, but I wouldn’t really be happy with it, and more often than not that was my reaction to the work I’d done.”
After many years of heavy self criticism, Andrews feels so excited to finally produce work that she is happy with.
“It’s just cool because I spent so many years not feeling that way, so it feels good to finally say ‘wow I like my own work’. I am such a perfectionist; you’ll see with the way I cut my collages. It’s affirming to say ‘I like this’ because I spent years not being satisfied with my own work, so now I feel very satisfied.”
I was also able to catch up with the other artist of the night, Jeffrey R. Rossetto, and discuss his collection “Technique: After Paper, Before Poetry”. Rossetti, originally from Toronto, lived and breathed the St. Catharines art scene for sixteen years, moving to the Garden City with his liberal, open-minded family and making his mark.
“I was making visual art and music, I was writing poetry, I was running events, I volunteered for the arts organizations within the city, and I even got behind a lot of independent initiatives in order to do my own work and work with what I feel passionate about,” Jeffrey elaborated. “I’ve got very little training, in terms of academia, I’m only a guitar student of three years, everything else I learned experientially. Not just as an instrumentalist, but as a singer/songwriter as well.”
Again, the burgeoning question had to be asked: Why collage?
“The one thing I love about collage is that I’m taking images, fragments of ideas, or plain out ideas themselves, that are framed in a particular context, out of their original context and I’m combining them with all these other fragments of ideas, and the process hits a certain arch, where all these elements are rearranged into a new context, into the meaning of whatever the collage I’m making is about. The beautiful thing about the collage method is that new information arises, the person participating in that wouldn’t have been able to anticipate.
Collage is interesting for me because I grew up looking at paintings, like a lot of people, but I also grew up looking at collage as well. My godparents made a collage that they gifted to my parents shortly after I was born, and that was the first time I’d seen anything like that. It hung in the basement of my childhood home for years and years, and I kept staring at it as a child. 20 years later, I was friends with a DJ who was huge into collage; all he really did with art was visual collage. From being around him and looking into what he got into and his interests, and reading the books that he read, I learned about the medium, and I tried at it, and it was really something that I took to in terms of visual media. Collage was something I found really easy to use personally to express my ideas and my thoughts, my concerns, and anything else.”
Unlike Andrews, Rossetto’s work holds true to an image that may come to mind upon hearing the word ‘collage’. His art is a multiplicity of pop culture and new media imagery forced together, far from the exact splicing of Andrews’ dreamscapes. Still, Rossetto holds firm that his process is not at all about conforming to the traditional, but instead he focuses on the importance for an artist to explore the unknown.
“What I’ve learned from working in the medium of collage is that I’m not out to affirm or confirm things I already know. I’m out to discover something new in whatever it is I’m working on, in terms of the art. I do collage and I do visual art because I am looking for new information, to discover things, and not just to talk about things that I already know too much about. The one thing I think is certain is that all artists go into areas that are unknown. To then go and push into and explore those things is of value – other people can benefit from those types of discoveries, as well.”
Through the course of the night, I found that these discoveries in art are exactly that – opportunities for other people to benefit from. The exploration of art through collage in the two collections that hung along the walls of Mahtay were vastly different, but the artists themselves in turn echoed similar sentiments on the uniqueness of the medium. Rossetto spoke for himself and his own experiences, but by the end of our conversation he expressed a noteworthy idea to keep in mind when exploring any art.
“The art piece, ideas, can have a life of their own. When the idea has a life on its own, or when the idea is trying to say something to you, it’s a good thing to listen to it. An art piece can come out exactly as you want, or you can do something with an art piece that totally compromises your intentions. There’s a middle ground to find, where you are able to explore and discover, but also allow the idea to have its life.”
Shannon Parr, Arts & Culture Editor