Collage as a vibrant art form

Sydney Rose is a visual artist living and working in Sudbury, Ontario. A former facilitator in the Creative Kids program at the Art Gallery of Sudbury, Sydney is currently a mentor in the Design and Visual Arts program at Cambrian College. She has participated in a number of makers markets and events, has shown her work in solo and group exhibitions and her work has recently been featured as part of CBC Arts’ Exhibitionists series.  


1) You call yourself a collage artist. Please explain to our readers what this means, and how it is an unusual art form.

I am collage artist -it is only recently that I have actually felt comfortable putting a medium in front of the word ‘artist’ when describing to somebody what it is that I do. What this means is that as an artist, my weapons of choice are a pair of scissors and a glue stick. It wasn’t always this way. I spent a number of years infatuated with photography and pursued a bachelor of fine arts degree in the art form. I captured an abundance of digital images: macro photographs of plants and bugs, self portraits and shots of my explorations both in the city and in nature. However, as the weightless, ephemeral files piled up on my hard drive, my longing for tactility grew. I turned to collage to remedy this desire for a more hands-on art practice.

When I tell someone that I am an artist, the first follow up question is usually, “What do you paint?” There is this assumption that artists today are still striving to be like the old masters that you learn about in art history classes – that beautifully rendered, original portraits and landscapes are what art is for. Collage, on the other hand, can make people nervous as it challenges this assumption. The process is derivative, which means that it often makes use of existing images in the creation of new works. This can be scary for those who strive to protect their images from copyright infringement or appropriation. However, collage isn’t about taking the work of others and passing it off as your own. Successful collage honours the original images that are used and does not claim to have created the source material. Instead, elements are isolated and used in combination with other materials to tell new visual stories, translated by the artist. The trappings and history of the images’ original context are carried along through the work and become intermixed with the associations and connections made by the viewer and their interpretation of this new work. Now that I describe collage in this way, it sounds a bit like time travelling…

2) The surreal is a feature of your work. What draws you to surrealism in your art?

I have always been drawn to the surreal. There is freedom in toying with the boundaries of our defined reality. The same stories are told in many ways but the grey areas are what interest me most. I keep coming back to the big bang as an analogy for the surrealism in my work: I imagine all of existence expanding from a single point, each component moving in it’s own direction in a way that separates it from everything else. This separation is apparent in how we categorize, name and define every aspect of being human, from what we can perceive with our senses to what we can produce with our imaginations. I often think of what would happen if that momentum were to reverse and all of those bits and pieces were to change directions, colliding with one another and recombining to create new meanings and possibilities that would never seem plausible in their previous course. I am inspired by the variations in how people make sense of and find meaning in the world around them and I often find the ‘what if’s’ more interesting than what is experienced at face value. Through surrealism, I find myself able to communicate my feelings about, and understanding of, human nature – the positive and negative and everything in between and beyond, unbound by language.

3) What kind of material do you use to make your collages?

I consistently find myself drawn to using illustrations found in encyclopedias and reference books and there are many reasons for this. Some of them are based on aesthetics: the muted colours, the weight of the paper, the occasional misaligned print. There is a sensory experience as well – the texture of the pages and the musty smell. The sound of the heavy paper being torn or clipped. More importantly for me is the history behind these images. We have come a long way in a short time from relying on these books as the keepers of knowledge. What served as a source of truth and stability, in a way, has become obsolete in the face of the internet and global communication. Every day, veils are being lifted on our histories, definitions are being changed and new ideas are taking root. By isolating and removing these illustrations from their original context, I am able to use free association and lateral thinking to explore other options for these images. They become pieces to a puzzle that, guided by a combination of my subconscious and deliberate design choices, sorts itself out into a final image. While I choose the materials to work with, it is often the images themselves that guide the collage into it’s final form.

4) How possible is it for anyone who does not have an art background to do collage art? Where should they start?

I stand by collage as one of the most accessible forms of art. Most of our world lives in a culture that is image-heavy and there is no shortage of materials that are produced with the intent to discard: brightly coloured packaging, magazines, stickers, receipts, flyers, newspapers, pamphlets, tickets, brochures, tags, boxes, bags and envelopes – the list goes on. The detritus of convenience and progress that we cycle through in our daily lives is everywhere. Collage offers a way to reconcile our relationship with these materials while also providing an opportunity to create artwork for next to nothing. There is very little monetary cost in creating collage work. A nice pair of scissors or a blade is handy for detailed cutting, but collage can be done by ripping your materials by hand. Adhesives will keep your pieces in place but the same can be done with a needle and thread, staples, careful folds or by sandwiching your work between panes of glass. The possibilities for how to approach the medium are endless and it can be argued that one does not need any previous experience with art to have success in creating an impactful collage.

If you think about it, we all have some experience with collage – whether it is in assembling a photo album, scrapbook or journal, creating a vision board or display for a school project as children. Collage, at it’s core, is about taking disparate objects and arranging them in a way that will bring about a new meaning for the viewer. It’s about possibilities and play.

We are all creative beings and I think what holds people back from dabbling in visual arts is the starting point. With drawing and painting, the blank page can be terrifying. Collage differs in that the starting point can be as simple as flipping the pages of a book. Start by collecting any images that stand out to you in that moment. Make a little pile and then take some time to look at what you have selected. Why did you pick these images? What was the original purpose for each image in the book that you took them out of? How else could these images be interpreted? What do they make you think of? How can they relate to one another? Do you need the whole image or just a part of it? Start to break these images down even further. Cut the hairdo off of that person and replace it with those flowers that match her dress. Are her hands empty? What could she hold? What could she be looking at instead of her family? Have fun with it. The beauty in collage is that all of the pieces can be moved around, discarded and replaced endlessly until you find the combination that tells a story you feel is worth telling. Once it is all glued down, you can turn the page and start again. 

5) What is the current project you are working on?

      I always have multiple projects on the go and will usually document the process and/or share sneak peaks through my Instagram account: @sydneyroseart. Lately I have been working on putting together a collection of multi-dimensional collage works that will be on display for my solo exhibition at Artists on Elgin this coming August. The title of the show is “Alone/Together” and the work explores ideas of isolation and intimacy in various forms – from the solitude that comes with being a new mom to the one-sided sharing of one’s personal life through social media. The fear of missing out or settling. The desire to break free of social norms and live off the grid while being unable to leave the trappings of modern living behind. There are many ways that these two seemingly opposite states are experienced simultaneously and how we handle them can shape our perception of the human experience.


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