Of Collage and black slabs

This week I carry on with developing the direction of my collage work – acknowledging the nagging need to “develop” my work by looking more deeply into one of the recurring themes in my collages – the black mass. If there is any consistency or theme to my collage, it is undeniably the prevalence of black shapes, obscuring, looming and ominous. Cutting through the hyper-colour of poorly registered 1970s four colour lithography with threatening overtones of dread, hinting at an otherworldly and malicious all-seeing eye.

Is it Kubrick’s monolith (probably), or the Eye of Sauron (nah), is it the obfuscated text in a redacted government document, a secret, a threat, censorship? The black has a weight, a power a frequency (the hum of the monolith again) that I feel powerlessly drawn to when creating a collage. My doubting self screams that I am being lazy and falling back on a trope, a lazy shorthand that negates the need to work anymore at the meat of the collage composition proper, yet again and again, when I look back through previous pieces, these are the ones that I find most satisfying, that feel right, unfussed and from me, natural, the collage version of automatic drawing.

And the print I decide to work on this week is perhaps a perfect distillation of this, a duotone seascape, almost entirely obscured by a monolithic black slab. Technically I’m satisfied by the work, the duotone is technically spot on, which is incredibly satisfying given my issues with registration last week. The slab of black sits on heavily and ominously on top, though it isn’t quite dense enough for the underlying inks not to bleed through.

Even though I am oddly satisfied when someone asks what I will be printing onto the slab (nothing) I find the final print oddly unsatisfying.  Perhaps because it does little to advance the work from the original collage, perhaps because as with all my collage work it doesn’t truly feel like mine, merely borrowed and re-appropriated, perhaps because I feel I am the only person in the studio who seems vaguely interested in this new avenue to my work.

At the end of the day I have the opportunity to catch up with Sarah for a tutorial, and much of the nagging doubt that I have felt over the past couple of weeks suddenly seems well founded. Not that the reaction to my collage work is negative, more that I am unable to justify its drive or the question at its heart. I love many of the images that I have created as part of this departure, they amuse and intrigue me, but they ultimately feel like sketches, doodles and distractions in the cold light of day.

I realise as I show Sarah some of the test prints from my Iceland photography, that I am probably turning my back on the natural progression of my work from the first year of the MA. Showing Sarah (and Steven Fowler who happens to be in the office during our chat) a selection of my Iceland test prints I sense an interest and excitement that wasn’t there for the collage. I realise I had sensed a similar disappointment from Jemma when I had shown her my collage portfolio earlier in the day. I realise that I have all but dismissed these prints, and my water tower collection, but that in reality this work is unfinished, and woefully unexplored.

Viewing them alongside each other it’s possible to see how both avenues of work are perhaps nagging at similar themes and emotions. Both present a view of the world that is slightly off kilter, dystopian and unsettling.

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