Thursday, August 28, 2014

Early Masters of Collage: Ernst, Schwitters and Motherwell

Dada, Surrealism and beyond: Collage becomes a mature form

The first two acknowledged masters of collage were German artists Max Ernst and Kurt Schwitters. These two men were both associated with (but not really a part of) Dada; Ernst was later considered one of the major Surrealist artists. These artists took collage in different directions.; both were extremely explorative and inventive, developing most of the collage techniques still discussed today, and together creating a vast area for subsequent artists to continue to explore. Both artists are too diverse to represent with a few images, so I would suggest checking out some of the many books in the library on them if you are interested in learning more about them. 

Max Ernst
Max Ernst, from his surreal 1933 picture-novel titled "A Week of Kindness" (Une semaine de Bonté). Ernst's cuts are so precise that it is difficult to distinguish the different elements. This work is available in the library.
Max Ernst, another page from Une Semaine de Bonté
Max Ernst Oedipus Rex (1922). Ernst often based oil paintings like this one on his collages. As a Surrealist, his work is often related to the psychological ideas of Sigmund Freud such as the subconscious. The Oedipus complex was another idea written about by Freud that is likely related to this painting.
Max Ernst Two Children are Threatened by a Nightingale (1924). Ernst created paper collages, paintings from paper collages, as well as paintings that incorporated real world objects. These works pushed the boundary between painting and sculpture, and helped to inspire assemblage and "combine paintings." 
Max Ernst Red Forest (1970)
Kurt Schwitters

Kurt Schwitters Das Undbild (1919). Schwitters started out primarily making small collages from scraps of paper and other found or discarded objects with paint. Although he used junk as material, Schwitters had a tenuous relationship with Dada members because he created formal and aesthetically-pleasing compositions, which opposed the anti-art, anti-aesthetic spirit of their movement.
Kurt Schwitters. Merzpicture Thirty-One (1920). Schwitters fully embraced collage. After creating a collage with the letters MERZ (from the word Commerz), he began to call his collages like the one above Merz pictures. The term came to encompass all of his creative activity, which ranged from collage and assemblage, to poetry, to what today we would call installation. At one point, he wrote:
 "I'm not Schwitters I'm Merz."
Kurt Schwitters. Mz. 252 Colored Squares (1922)
Kurt Schwitters Anything with Stone (1941) on the left and Merz picture 46 A(1921) on the right.

Kurt Schwitters. Neues Merxbild (1931). An example of one of Schwitter's assemblages.
Kurt Schwitters' Merzbau (Merz house)  was a room in his house that he essentially turned into a large sculpture. It is considered a precendent to installation, and shows how collage came to encompass Schwitter's life (blending art with life). The original Merzbau was destroyed during WWII. 
Robert Motherwell 

Although known as an abstract expressionist painter, Robert Motherwell was also a master of collage. Unlike the Cubists, who only dabbled with collage for a few years, Motherwell spent four decades making collages. These collages show a strong appreciation for and interest in the physical qualities of paper, from wallpaper to Japanese rice paper. Motherwell helped to show that collage could be a mature art form and a rich ground for visual and physical formal abstraction.
Robert Motherwell. Pancho Villa, Dead or Alive (1943)
Robert Motherwell. U.S. Art, New York, NY (1962)

Robert Motherwell. Cafetiere Filtres (1963)
Robert Motherwell. Untitled (Blue Gauloises Collage) (1974) 
Robert Motherwell. Australia II (1983)