Piece by Piece: Figurative Collage Artist Talk

The opening for my exhibition yesterday was a lot of fun. Below I’ve posted a bit of information about my art based on the artist talk I gave:

My work has evolved a lot before it became the body of work that it is today. I started making figurative collages when I was in high school, although back then the pieces were much simpler—I didn’t use as many pieces of paper layered on top of one another. I also used a lot of oil pastels with my work—although I later decided the oil pastels were covering up some of the interesting patterns and textures from the magazine strips.

In college, I studied Painting and Creative Writing, both of which have influenced the artwork for this show. With painting, I became familiar with great painters in art history and took a liking to impressionist and post-impressionist work. I liked working with distinct brushstrokes in my own work because I was more interested in shifts of color than blending colors. As a result, my technique translated well over to collage.

With a background in writing, I’ve always had an interest in stories and storytelling. I wanted to make these scenes look like snapshots from everyday life—like the viewer could eavesdrop on the lives of a few strangers. Also, by showing each scene as a snapshot, the viewers can have their own thoughts on what they think is going on in the collage—what the figures are doing, saying, or thinking.

The Bikers by collage artist Megan Coyle

To give you a brief idea of what my process is like, for each work of art I got started by making a quick sketch. For some pieces, like up-close portrait pieces, the sketch was more detailed since I was concerned with capturing a likeness of the sitter. With collages that show the figure from afar, I had a tendency of making a quick sketch so I’d have an idea of the overall layout.

I use photographs as references for my work—mainly because the collage process can take so long that I wouldn’t be able to catch the immediacy of these scenes if I worked from life. Next, I page through magazines and tear out pages that have the colors and textures that I want to use for a particular piece. Then I typically begin with the background as I cut out shapes of paper and glue them down. Thus the background of the collage is pushed back and really is the background.

By working strictly with magazines, I limit my palette to the colors, textures, and patterns I can find in magazines. I like how flexible the medium is – I wait to varnish my collages until they’re complete, that way I can move around the pieces of paper, pulling up pieces in areas that are overworked.

I really enjoy it when people tell me they think one of my pieces is a painting—that I’ve used acrylic or oil paint. One of the focuses of my work is to push the traditional ideas of what we think makes a painting a painting and a collage a collage by merging the idea of these two mediums together with a technique I call “painting with paper.”

My collage work has been inspired by Chuck Close, a photo realist painter. When you get up close to some of his work, you’ll noticed that he’s worked on a grid, using circles and squares of color that make the piece look like you’ve zoomed in to the pixels of a photograph. I like this concept of taking one medium and making it look like an entirely different medium.

With Gerhard Richter, a German painter, I was really taken by a series of paintings he did that look like photographs—he painted a series in such a way that they featured the imperfections of photographs, the glares and blurriness that the medium can capture. I like the idea of having viewers question the medium I use. I also, in general, like the notion of taking something ordinary, like a magazine, and taking it out of its context by turning it into a work of art.

The inspiration for this particular body of work came from looking back at my previous work and looking at the different directions I could go with it. Previously, I had worked on a series of portraits that had similar compositions—just up-close views of the sitter. With this new body of work, I was really interested in working on showing different angles and narrative scenes. Instead of focusing in on depicting a likeness of the sitters from up-close, I wanted to experiment more with the figures interacting with the environment around them.

In the future, I’d like to create a series that really captures my process. That would include having areas of the collage where the white of the paper shines through, sections of the under-drawing being revealed and overall the shapes of the magazine strips would be more isolated and noticeable. I’m also planning to work on a much larger scale and experiment with animating my collages.

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