Some time ago I purchased a book entitled “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon. I found the title quite challenging, and I somewhat predicted the message of the book before reading it, but later I realised that the message was merely a confirmation of what I had always believed.
You see, I have always said that art comes from within, no matter what form it takes, and it is underpinned by a mixture of one’s beliefs, experiences and influences. The simplest of things can ignite a spark of creativity, and from that brilliant ideas can flow.
Also, I love the saying by Yogi Bhajan who said, “If you want to learn something, read about it. If you want to understand something, write about it. If you want to master something, teach it.” This series was birthed by a bit of all of the above.
The story began with a Fine Art photography class that I was teaching. I needed to present a workshop on photo collaging, which I had not really done before, so I decided to get some help and called a good friend, student and artist Sandy Mclea whose work I deeply admire, and sat in on his workshop that day.
He took out a whole lot of things from a box, things which had a vague connection to each other, and began putting them together in a loose collage. I remember sitting there thinking that this was going nowhere, but then near the end he pulled out some brushes and paint and began tying the visual elements together by painting over the unnecessary parts and only exposing what was important. He then added in some three-dimensional objects and connected the dots using paint and ink. Lastly, he took the art piece and photographed it using studio lighting. I felt both inspired and blown away by the whole concept.
About two months later another Fine Art workshop came around, this time with a new group of students. I picked up the phone to call Sandy, but then decided to rather try it myself. As I began preparing I very quickly realised that I needed a theme to make it work. Unlike Sandy, who was able to build a story from random items, I needed some kind of structure.
I cannot remember why, but Elvis Presley came to mind. I researched the life of Elvis and clipped out a number of interesting facts about him. I then collected some items around the house that would work with the theme. The workshop went better than I anticipated and by the end of the day a life journal of Elvis had been created. I have always warned against “emotional attachment” when it comes to liking one’s own photography or art, but in this case, probably because it was all so new, I really loved this piece.
Later I decided to continue with the “dead icon” theme, and with a new workshop tackled Michael Jackson. With this collage I photographed texture overlays that I included in the artwork. Concrete really worked well as a texture with the Jackson collage, and before I knew it my love affair with the Elvis attempt began wearing off. It was then that I decided to do a collection of five music icons and decided on the title “Three Kings and a Couple of Queens”. Freddie Mercury jumped out as a wonderful choice as one of the queens.
A few months later I wiped the first Elvis collage off the easel and re-did it using the Jailhouse Rock theme. Marilyn Monroe followed a few months later, and two years after the project began, John Lennon was crowned into my hall of fame.
What makes this body of work rather special is the intricate detail that can be enjoyed, especially when printed in large format. They are celebratory pieces, put together using recordings of time – little moments, quirks, and headlines that come together to give the viewer a brief snapshot into the life and times of these five icons who lived on planet earth and who were considered larger than life.
Technically, it is the camera that has had the largest influence on the artworks. Not only has it been used initially to document these iconic heroes, but also later in the re-photographing of the collages, where highlights and shadows were used to add depth and dimension and to bring them back to life.
I have always embraced the saying by the photographer Garry Winogrand who says, “I photograph (things) to find out what something will look like once photographed”. The experience of having been able to both create the collages and then photograph them was such an absolute joy. I hope you enjoy them too.