Collage and Assemblage: A September 10th Roundup

“Best of Chicago Art Magazine” series. Originally appeared on the site 10/01/2010

Robin Dluzen

About a year ago, a teacher I had insinuated to my painting class that we should be wary of collage on our paintings, saying something along the lines of “I’ve never really seen anyone do it well.” And this is one thing –out of all the talking and talking that was graduate school– that I couldn’t forget. Recently, in my own studio, I had stopped working on a something for a moment, stepped back to look at it, and wondered if it was indeed collage. It had crept up on me so discreetly. But I also felt very strongly that my collaging was not a bad formal solution, and that maybe collage wasn’t, in fact, something to be wary of, as my former teacher had warned.

Jang soon Im

Gallery hopping last Friday, September 10, I felt I was seeing collage over and over again. Though, what I was seeing not necessarily the traditional collage of cutting out found materials and gluing them down again, but assemblage, of taking disparate parts belonging to different source imagery, and re-representing them in a new whole.

Justin Henry Miller

One example of this practice is Jang soon Im in “Technically, It’s Art 2” at 23 East Madison. Though the artist is trained in painting, the work Im contributes to this group show is three short animations that run projected onto the wall of the Pop Up space. Aesthetically, the work is a sort of digital conglomeration of images of the artist dressed in his take on ancient Asian battle-garb. In Field Battle 1 and 2, and Naval Battle 1, armies of stop-motion Jang soon Ims battle each other until the end, when all the slain come back to life, and everybody has dance party, courtesy of the South Korean pop group, Wonder Girls. Assemblage in Im’s work is not just aesthetical; it is also illustrated through his juxtaposition of the contemporary and the historic. Addressing an age-old subject, Im intertwines the historic narrative with contemporary Asian pop culture, and captures it with a medium just as current.

Megan Greene

On the other hand, Justin Henry Miller, in “Remnants of a Radiant Tomorrow: New Works at Zg Gallery, does actually employ an inkling of the traditional sense of collage with found material: Mid-Western vintage photographs. Miller augments the black and white portraits by oil painting over the sitters’ heads such mutant accessories as monstrous single eyeballs, skulls, and brains floating in jars. But the assemblage features aren’t only to be found in his manipulated photographs; Miller’s paintings elaborate on this theme as well. In a Karl Wirsum-y aesthetic, the artist compiles the subjects of his compositions, combining futuristic mechanical parts with tentacles, amorphous sacs, and organic protuberances. Here, Miller challenges our traditional notions of what constitutes figures in painting and portraiture, offering us an assemblage of two extremes of human life: the visceral and the technological.

Jang soon Im

Megan Greene’s works on paper at Carrie Secrist fall more clearly within the genre of collage. “Built using Audubon bird prints,” the subjects of Greene’s works remain very much animal-like, though our anatomical expectations for her forms are shattered. Rather than piecing together new bodies from disparate parts (like Miller), the parts are occasionally all we have. In a few of Greene’s works, the animal is still visible amongst the collaged and drawn patterns and forms. Owls, sea birds, and swallows are mingled with areas of geometric abstraction and winding foliage formations in some, while in others a small patch of bodiless snakeskin or feather patterning is the only zoological evidence. Like Im and Miller, Greene assembles and collages, but in her practice, the formal exploration takes precedent in a body of work that is both visually rich and compellingly curious.