Collage: Greater than the Sum of Its Parts
By Anita Sheih
There is beauty in diversity, in difference, and in the merging of disparate identities. In the world of art, this beauty is realized through collage. The term collage stems from the French word coller, which means “to paste,” “to stick,” or “to glue.” From its avant-garde beginnings in the early twentieth century, the form has flourished. Now, ranging from children’s daycare creations to fine art, collage is everywhere. A few artists, including Jesse Treece, Jessie Craig, and Elizabeth Zvonar utilize similar techniques of collage to drastically differing effects. But they have in common the fantastical ability to imagine entirely new worlds and create entirely original stories from preexisting elements, simply by pasting, sticking, and gluing.
In each of Jesse Treece’s works, he builds a world piece by piece. In Beach Daze, Treece combines a beach scene with a blue cosmos. A faded vintage wash that dulls the flare of light and the shadows of the walking bodies unite the composition in an ominous shroud, in an intriguing science-fiction narrative of three lost travelers stranded on this galactic beach. Perhaps this is the story behind Beach Daze, or it was simply a scene from a nonsensical dream of Treece’s—regardless, it opens a window into the world of his imagination, one where the viewer can delight in the apt combination of the unexpected.
In another fantastical world of Treece’s creation titled City of the Dead, a shattered skull topped with a semicircular golden halo looms over skyscrapers, embedded into and following the contours of the mountainside. At first glance, all the viewer may notice is the cohesive color palette of warm golds that complement the pastel sky. But looking closer, the contradicting perspectives and times of day featured within the single image reinforce the impossibility of the supernatural, revealing an afterlife that might not adhere to the rules, reason, and laws of the living. In each of his works, Jesse Treece finds either a narrative or aesthetic thread to weave throughout the composition of disparate elements. There is a logic to the worlds he creates, in which his intent to play with perspectives and scale and to experiment with worldbuilding becomes clear.
Another artist who communicates a sense of play through her collage is Jessie Craig. Craig’s collages only uses elements of her own photographs rather than found images and often feature female forms, sometimes those of celebrities. In one particular piece, Craig highlights three main components: actress Phoebe Fox reclining on a couch with her gaze directly pointed at the viewer, another Phoebe Fox lying above her with eyes peering curiously upwards, and a backdrop of pastel paints haphazardly spread in the fervor of an artistic process. In this piece, Craig shows her humor through the use of repetition with slight variation, and the light, muted hues within the work complement the relaxed and whimsical mood of the actress’s facial expressions. This collage feels like an exercise in the form, a pleasant union of art and play.
Another of Craig’s collages stars actress Sophie Turner in the role of sunflower. The most outstanding blossom in the field of yellow daffodils, the vibrant petals splayed out around Turner’s head burst forth off the page. The blue sky shines brightest behind Sophie’s petals, as if she is the sun. The precision of each component’s placement and the witty use of layering communicate a youthful spirit and lighthearted humor throughout the piece, which seems to celebrate the bright beauty and abounding life of nature.
Artist Elizabeth Zvonar also works with the female form in her collage practice. The Origin of the World (Peaches in Space), a collage that features a defiant woman whose face remains hidden, recalls French painter Gustave Courbet’s work titled L'Origine du monde. In a traditionally unfeminine pose with her knees angled outwards, the woman boasts a mid-section eclipsed by a pink galaxy in an organic, triangular shape. With a title like The Origin of the World, the viewer cannot help but make connections to birth, life, and creation, as Zvonar draws parallels between the making of our world to sparkly childbirth and a bright pink female reproductive system.
In another of Zvonar’s collages titled Face, she unites a milky-orange planet with a black-and-white headshot of a woman. The small, swirling planet lies where a brain would be, as if the woman’s mind is a world of her own. Drawn by the spot of light on the bottom curve of the planet, the viewer’s eye may travel down the black hole to find its source—only to discover a thin rip along the woman’s neck. This small disturbance in the otherwise balanced composition seems to suggest that the woman’s inner mind is leaking into the external world. As in The Origin of the World, the woman portrayed in Face ironically lacks a face, simultaneously granting the woman in the image a certain anonymity as an everywoman and the viewer the ability to assume her position within the frame.
Whether using crisply cut or roughly torn edges, many elements or only two, pastel or monochrome color palettes, these remarkable artists have created their own distinctive styles and visual languages within the tradition of collage. Jesse Treece, Jessie Craig, and Elizabeth Zvonar use their boundless imagination, childlike sense of play, and astute understanding of structure and theme to communicate their ideas through complex compositions. To differing degrees of realism, the worlds these artists create reveal the versatility of collage to deal with topics as various and broad as space, death, play, light, creation, and identity.
To see more of Jesse Treece’s work, please click here.
To see more of Jessie Craig’s work, please click here.
To see more of Elizabeth Zvonar’s work, please click here.