Collage artist Ellen Stein, outgoing president of the Atlanta Collage Society, mentored Terri Hitzig, the new president. Founded in 2006, the ACS has about 60 members and a regional presence. In addition to membership meetings, the group has four educational exhibits, a collage workshop, and an outreach project each year.
To understand collage, consider this quote by a mentor of the ACS, John Morse:
“The one element consistent in every collage is glue: something is glued to something else. After that, all bets are off.” Collage is the gluing of elements like paper or found objects on a substrate. Picasso and Braque introduced collage as a formal art element more than 100 years ago.
We asked Stein and Hitzig to share their fascination with the art form.
Stein considers herself a “mixed media” artist creating soft geometric abstracts, which means that she uses a variety of techniques to create lines, shapes, patterns, and textures. “It’s a gratifying way to construct and edit several layers of visual information.”
Stein uses papers that are paintings and drawings she has made. “First I create something on paper, then I cut or tear it up, and reassemble it. Not only does this system loosen me up, but also creates a fun jigsaw sequence to resolve,” she explained.
Walking through the High Museum of Art in 2007, she saw Romare Bearden’s painting “Noah’s Third Day.” “It was an epiphany for me, the precise moment that I decided to start taking art classes at age 60. The impact I felt was Bearden’s expressive simplification of shapes,” Stein said.
“I like the grid structure as an expression of order and organization, stability and clarity. My challenge has been to loosen my grids – to warp the framework, to energize edges, and to allow ambiguity.”
Akin to mahjong, I asked Stein if there was anything about collage that particularly appeals to the Jewish population. “Because artists tend to work in isolation, getting together as a group reconnects us through support and collaboration. The benefits are both educational and playful.
“Within our membership, I think there’s a representative percentage of Jewish artists.” She continued, “Making a collage is an intuitive conversation between the artist and the materials. What does my collage need? How can I make that happen? And, ultimately, a collage is finished when this unspoken dialogue stops. That process has an erratic rhythm of its own that can take hours or days.”
While Stein started collage late in life, Hitzig felt the pull to the art form in her early years.
As a young child, Hitzig started gluing and painting objects. Only in the last three years has she felt that her art has become more refined, leading to showing her pieces and learning the entire process, ending in framing. “I graduated from home craft to fine art. Collage can be expressed in as many forms as there are personalities. I work on 14-inch circles with strips of papers. Some cut, and some torn.”
She recently completed a self-imposed 30-day challenge, compelling herself to create one collage a day for a full month. “I made at least one collage a day and sometimes two or three.”
It was progression from simplicity to being freer and less regimented away from so much structure, explained the Art Institute of Atlanta graduate. “Before this, I would make myself crazy doing a grid and laying everything out.”
Much of the papers she uses are from her own abstract watercolor painting. “I use all the colors in the rainbow with a flourish of birds, butterflies, hearts (which can be secretly imbedded). Sometimes I have an idea in my head and start gluing spontaneously with Mod Podge onto a big white paper. I’m attracted to combinations of colors by going through fashion magazines and interpreting patterns.”
Recently she re-created several shades of scarlet and crimson then pasted down these tiny squares, topping off with paper doilies, which created texture and allowed the doilies to morph into layers.
“One could say I’m a combination of Peter Max and Jackson Pollock.”