15 June – 29 September 2013
Pallant House Gallery, in Chichester, West Sussex, presents an exhibition exploring the role of collage in the trajectory of modern British art, through works in the Gallery’s own Collection. It includes collage, prints and paintings by artists such as John Piper, Ben Nicholson, Eileen Agar, Nigel Henderson, Richard Hamilton, Peter Blake and John Stezaeker.
Collage has been at the centre of artistic practice since the invention of papiers collés by Picasso at the beginning of the twentieth century. The technique of pasting everyday scraps of printed ephemera such as newspaper cuttings, stamps and commercial packaging introduced the real world into the picture plane for the first time. The fragmentary language of collage, whether pasted, painted, assembled or constructed, opened up new opportunity for subversive rupture and playful juxtaposition. Through Surrealism, Pop and Conceptual Art it has evolved from a marginal process to become an intrinsic part of the modern aesthetic.
The first group of works in the exhibition explore the way that the British avant-garde used collage as a means for developing their own variation on international modernism and abstraction. During the 1930s many artists employed the Surrealist method of isolating images from their usual context, making jarring often illogical combinations in order to express the incoherence of the modern world. By contrast Ben Nicholson, whose conception of modernist society was based upon cleanliness, clarity and good design, applied collage more vicariously as a way of negotiating the dynamic between colour and form in his still life paintings.
The exhibition also examines the perhaps surprising importance of collage to John Piper's artistic practice through a selection of works which demonstrate the versatility of his approach from Surrealism to Cubism and pure abstraction. Piper's small paper collage ‘Abstract', included in the show, builds upon the multiple perspectives of Cubist still lifes, while the use of tobacco packaging in ‘Three Bathers' demonstrates the symbolic placement of found objects in modern British art - also seen in another exhibit, William Scott's ‘Cup'.
Elsewhere is a selection of designs for the tapestry and copes for Chichester Cathedral by Piper and Ceri Richards. Richards' collages recall the experimental paper cut-outs created by Matisse for his Chapel in Vence and are, by their very nature, temporary and fragile.
During the post-war period collage underwent a new resurgence in Britain through the emergence of a younger generation of artists. The Independent Group demonstrated a continued interest in folk art and urban graffiti. Nigel Henderson in particular extended the Surrealist tradition of photomontage into new forms of technical photography such as microscopy and radiography, and the exhibition includes Henderson's four part collaged ‘Screen' created between 1949 and 1960, which exemplifies his incredibly diverse repertoire of imagery.
It also includes Eduardo Paolozzi's ‘I was a Rich Man's Plaything' from his seminal BUNK collages created for the inaugural meeting of the Independent Group at the ICA in 1952. Predominantly assembled from magazines given to him by American ex-servicemen, the collages made reference to fashion, car design, domestic goods, film and science fiction.A decade later the persuasive power of advertising was interrogated by Richard Hamilton in his painting and related screenprints for ‘Adonis in Y-Fronts' (also included in the show). The pasting together of disparate pictures and text was intended to emphasise the ubiquity of images in the mass media, as well as articulating the fraught nature of the human condition in the new consumer age.
The exhibition also includes examples of works by the next generation of Pop Artists who continued The Independent Group's interest in appropriating mass culture. Peter Blake had discovered collage through the German collagist Kurt Schwitters and used salvaged refuse and readymade objects in order to make three dimensional paintings and constructions. These drew comparison with the ‘combines' developed by Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns in America at the same time, yet independently, from British Pop.
Among the works by Blake are ‘E.L.' based upon an image of Elvis Presley taken from a magazine headshot. The inclusion of cut-out letters also references the prevalence of typography which was by that point well-established in collage. The same is true of Colin Self's ‘Self-portrait' which is made up of a handwritten letter and envelope.
The exhibition is bought into the present by a new acquisition for the collection created in 2012 by the conceptual artist John Stezaker. Originating from his celebrated ‘Dark Star' collages, the cut-up of Hollywood headshots in this print calls in to question the stereotypical gender roles promoted in American movies that were acknowledged by Pop artists during the fifties and sixties.
Notes to Editors:
Modern British Collage and its Legacy has been timed to coincide with Pallant House Gallery's major summer exhibition, Eduardo Paolozzi: Collaging Culture (6 July to 13 October 2013. Visit www.pallant.org.uk for more details.