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WNY Members of the National Collage Society at Meibohm Fine Arts Gallery


Collage, along with assemblage and other nuanced forms of organized arrangements of illusionistic space, is gradually making a stronger impact on the contemporary art world. Helped in no small part by graffiti, street art, and the recent assimilation of “outsider” art, collage is gaining wider appreciation within the mainstream of aesthetic pursuits. Contemporary clandestine artists like Britain’s Banksy have released the notion of appropriated space from its bureaucratic constrictions as well as conferred respectability on street artists. Spray-painting graphic images stenciled on public wall surfaces in a playfully coy kind of populism, Banksy’s merchandising marketability has reached wealthy patrons concerned with progressive issues making him, ironically, a highly visible artist.

In the late 19th century, collage was the parlor pastime of socially au courant Victorians, apolitical and a precisely, preciously controlled decorative pastiche. Labeled, if at all, as an adjunct to painting, collage was not given its own begrudging status in the art world until the Armory Show in 1914. Concurrently, Russian artists announcing the Communist Revolution used a bold graphic image and print style on banners and posters. Mixing these announcements with photogravure cutouts and reassembling them produced works of striking effect. Kurt Schwitters, Max Ernst, Francis Pacabia, and Joseph Cornell were all early 20th-century artists working in a kind of parallel trajectory with the Constructivist-Surrealist painters of their era. The experimental films of Man Ray, Luis Bunuel, and Jean Cocteau popularized the form with artists where altered context made every piece of pocket trash a potential ingredient for a cut-and-paste artwork. Collage was a natural fit for the helter-skelter sensibilities of the Surrealist, whose manic-depressive compositions were invested with bizarrely visual fantasies.

The mission of the National Collage Society, with its headquarters in Hudson, Ohio, is to further advance public awareness and acceptance of the medium. The Meibohm Fine Arts Gallery in East Aurora presents collage art by 10 regional members of the National Collage Society in a wide range of approaches to this most plastic of two dimensional media. Larger works show particular influence from what’s becoming a genre all its own: Characterized by snatches of bright billboard, distressed building facades, furtive figures in photorealistic renderings, these pieces give the impression of being seen from a passing car in a randomly funked-up urban environ. Currently in vogue, these images bring a sanitized slice of the inner city to collectors in gated communities presumably safe from home invasion.

Interstate and international travel is a favored theme in collage work; maps especially are interesting graphic formats for all manner of colorful accessorizing, as are music scores, various printing fonts, and vintage print or photographic images paired with text, memento mori evocations, all subject to the artist’s eye for composition, scale, sense of pattern, color—all the visual acuities present to translate an additive amalgamation of ad hoc materials to a sum greater than individual parts. Amateur collagists working full time and those who are blessedly retired and have time for their long-delayed artistic interest are unilaterally paired with professional working artists earning a living from their work. Significantly, one artist is included in the handsomely produced National Society catalog: Joyce Hill, who currently shows her work in Los Angeles.

The Meibohm Gallery exhibit runs through April 28.

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