Collage techniques, arguably, have been around since humans started drawing on paper, but the art form really took off in the early 20th century. Popular among the Russian constructivists, European surrealists and Dadaists, the collage enabled its exponents to make their point by recontextualising ‘real’ images. For some, the motivation was political; others just wanted to make an aesthetic statement.
Photoshop revolutionised collage and photomontage, and it’s easy to see why. “If it wasn’t for Photoshop I’d probably be doing collage on my studio floor,” says London-based Caroline Tomlinson. “Photoshop means I can create wherever I am.”
“You can take any image that you have, you can chop it up and put it back together, you can throw paint all over it and wipe it right off,” adds Rob Shields from Philadelphia. “Using Photoshop gives you a lot more freedom.”
Some artists see the wealth of filters in Photoshop as an excuse to indulge in ‘whizz-bang’ effects just because they’re there – but the best practitioners know it’s wise to use them in moderation. This doesn’t mean eschewing Photoshop’s tools, as the well-considered use of effects can enhance your composition even if you’re going for a hard cut-and-collage style.
The artists we’ve featured here take a number of different approaches to creative expression. Caroline’s approach is explicitly reminiscent of early 20th-century collage artists. The work of Gateshead-based Ian Keltie brings to mind the 1980s revival of Soviet collage. For some, including Andrew Williams from Toronto, photorealism is the order of the day, while others, such as Rob, create crafted, blended pieces.
Paris-based artist Brice Chaplet, better known as Mr Xerty, takes the best aspects of the absurdists to create finely blended work that demands wonder and a pinch of salt in equal measure. “I love textures, drips, scratches, vintage stuff, old sepia postcards,” says Brice. “With collage you can use all of these elements and mix it together.”
“You can bypass all the technical skills you need to be an artist,” adds Rob. “You don’t have to learn how to draw hands and feet, which is a really long process.”
The approaches are as different as the reasons for creating collages in the first place. To provide a snapshot, we’ve spoken to these innovators to find out what they do, and how.