Collage Workshop Emphasizes Creative Freedom

Dylan Slonka, Staff Writer

The Collage Workshop was held March 25th within the Gallery 51 space on Main Street.

Master collage artists Todd Bartel and Niki Haynes oversaw the event, which kicked off with both artists discussing their own work in the gallery adjacent to the workshop space. Haynes told a large audience of MCLA art students and other interested parties about her childhood in New York City and subsequent move to a commune in Colorado which was a more naturalistic way of living for her and her family, without running water or electricity. This experience informed her work significantly. Inspired by other artists she admired; Haynes began creating her own pieces at a young age.

Her current collage exhibition proved to be the complete opposite of her communal roots, emphasizing themes of modern discourse, among them ATF (alcohol, tobacco and firearms), endless consumerism and the progression from earth-sourced ingredients to modern medicine. Each collage was composed of images sourced from magazines meticulously glued and placed onto the canvas. Haynes and her husband Steve Rein discussed the complex process and fielded audience questions. A multitude of images are needed to make the collages, which can take months or even years to complete. The white space untouched by the images also took the form of concentric circles and in one piece a large void formed out of the adjoining images.

“I always ask people ‘Do you feel like you’re falling into it, or do you feel like you’ve fallen through it’?” Haynes said.

The work is very easy to fall into, as the viewer is invited to gaze at the images and take in all their intricacies and arrangement in the larger whole. Haynes is planning to create a self-portrait collage in the near future, using images that have special significance to her to build the work out of. The beauty of the collages was bolstered by Haynes and Rein discussing how long and intensive their creative process is.

The second collagist was Todd Bartel, who told the crowd of his “love affair with collage” which began while he was in college in the early 80s. He became an art teacher and purposefully withheld himself from making collages for 15 years due to his desire to create material “with my own hands,” he said. His exhibited work was sourced from antique paper, etchings, engravings and other forms of sketch art found in catalogues, books and other such materials. Many of his works were based around themes that he exhaustively researched and discussed with the audience. His artistic process and his openness in talking about it made his work all the richer. During his talk he attuned the audience to a collage form he coined himself: the “un-collage”.

“This is collage, but it’s not glued, it’s brought in, it’s imported, but it’s undone, the record of it being a collage is undone by virtue of the surface that I’ve made it into one thing,” Bartel explained.

The “un-collage” played an important role in the workshop itself. Over the course of an hour Bartel demonstrated how to use collage in various ways. Each participant was allowed three pieces of paper with photocopied ink drawings on them. Through the use of a special marker and a burnishing tool, the participants were able to draw over the ink drawing with the marker and transpose the image onto a new piece of paper (an example being a lithograph copy of a landscape) by rubbing it with the burnisher.

By using this technique, the participants were able to create seamless collages photocopied onto thick, antique paper. This “un-collage” approach was brand new to everyone in the audience, creating a feeling of learning and enlightenment.

Participants were also encouraged to create trifold works exchanged with other participants in order to create “people” with three distinct styles: drawing, collage and the transposing of an image onto the paper. When all was said and done, each third of the “person” was made by a different participant with a different collaging style for variety. Most of the participants utilized collage in completely new ways. The lessons imparted by the master artists helped many participants to realize the limitless interpretations and creative freedoms that the medium has to offer.

Haynes and Bartel, along with several other artists, will be exhibiting their work at Gallery 51 on 51 Main Street, downtown North Adams, until April 7th.