Fairview-based artist Connie Bostic has long turned to collage when she gets in a jam with her paintings.
“Whenever I’m stuck on something down here [in my studio], I go upstairs and make collages,” says Bostic, a force in the Asheville art scene for 30-plus years. “If you’ve got a pair of scissors and some glue, you’re set. And you can make little postcards to send to people — it makes it special.”
Bostic ramped up her mailings during the COVID-19 pandemic to help stay connected with friends. One of the recipients was Asheville-based sculptor Marya Roland, and her deliveries couldn’t have come at a better time.
“I was totally shut down and actually very depressed but didn’t know it,” Roland says. “[Bostic] kept sending me these collage postcards, and then I decided to send some back to [her].”
In addition to her postal correspondence with Bostic, Roland began a collage collaboration via mail with her longtime friend, the Hawaii-based artist Diane Nushida-Tokuno.
The pair, who attended graduate school together, were inspired by the Dada visual exercise of exquisite corpse, a method of collectively assembling an image. “We decided to exchange starter collages of a certain size to be finished — or not — by one another,” Roland says. “It was all in fun and without any great plan for the future of the pieces.”
But as Roland created more collages and discussed the work with Bostic, the two local artists began plotting a curated exhibit in Asheville — Cutting Edge: Art of Collage, which runs Friday, April 7-Sunday, May 7, at Pink Dog Gallery.
Between haiku and a ransom note
“We started out with some very humble ideas for this show,” Roland reveals. “It was going to be funky — the stuff that you just throw together.”
But when their initial host site fell through, giving the curators six additional months of planning, the focus and scope of the exhibit changed from a small collection of primarily Asheville-based artists to something far more ambitious.
“I started seeing collage everywhere,” Roland says. “It kind of got out of control because of that time we had.”
Buoyed by Bostic’s steady stream of collage work, Roland’s radar for such creations was on high alert. Whenever she glimpsed artist friends’ online posts that resembled collage, she’d reach out and inquire. When the answer was “yes,” she invited them to partake in Cutting Edge.
Except for Bostic, Roland and Terry Taylor — who uses clippings of dictionary illustrations and antique postcards in his collages — the participating artists live outside Asheville. And, in Roland’s words, the roster is “full of hot shots.” She notes that Steven Siegel is a well-known New York City-based sculptor who works with recycled materials; multidisciplinary artist Susan Amorde is “chugging along” in Los Angeles; and fellow New York-based artist Ruby Silvious currently has a solo show in Germany. Also participating is Judy Kleinberg, who’s done a collage every day for multiple years, giving her a series that currently numbers over 2,600 pieces.
“Judy was one of the people that was always on the list. I’ve seen her work for years, and she’s a friend of mine from when I lived in Seattle,” Roland says. “She does poetry with [clipped out] words — it’s the epitome of collage. She calls it a mix between haiku and a ransom note.”
None of the works were created specifically for the show. “I think they’re just stuff that people do,” Bostic says, prompting Roland to note that most of the pieces either haven’t been exhibited before — due to them falling outside the artist’s primary medium — or have been shown under “mixed media,” not collage.
“It’s my opinion that collage is not accepted by high art people because it’s associated with decoupage and scrapbooking,” Roland says.
While the battle over nomenclature is somewhat of a sore subject for the Cutting Edge curators, subtitling the exhibit “Art of Collage” serves as a bold step in championing the humble word. And though some of the participating artists continue to call their work “mixed media,” their artist statements reflect a love of the process, regardless of what name it goes by.
“The common thread [among the statements] is this is a delightful experience for the creator — and maybe that’s why it doesn’t get shown as much,” Roland says. “There’s no suffering involved.”
Bostic concurs: “It’s just fun.”
In addition to collage sustaining one’s artistic prowess, it’s also one of the rare mediums that keeps items out of landfills.
Roland notes that Siegel’s large-scale sculptures are consistently environmentally related, including “Some Cans,” a 2002 installation at Western Carolina University that consisted of recycled soda cans. His collage for Cutting Edge is made from parts of his sculptures.
“Everything is recycled [in collage],” Roland says. “Maybe what it’s mounted on is not recycled, but all the content is.”
Nearly as important as collage’s ecological impact is its democratic nature. The curators love that the medium encourages imagination from people for whom other art forms may feel inaccessible and that by partaking, individuals can experience the joys of creativity.
“You put somebody in front of a canvas with a bunch of very expensive oil paints and very expensive brushes and they’re going to be intimidated,” Bostic says. “But you can set them down at a table with a bunch of old magazines, scissors and glue, and they’re not intimidated. It’s a whole different feeling.”
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