I really like Nick Bantock’s art in the “Griffin and Sabine” series. Something I like about it is it seems so dreamy and ethereal. He uses bits of photographs and stamps and other ephemera in order to create his art. There is acrylic paint, certainly, and tissue paper as well. But the most important part to me is that he uses objects.
I read his book on how to create his style of art and he says to make color photocopies of everything you use. I felt cheated when I read that. I thought that everything he was using in his artwork was real. It gave it all a magical, totemic quality. Now, not so much. Sure, it is beautiful, but it isn’t the same.
I’ve been making collage art, inspired by him and others, and I’m torn as to whether to use copies or originals. I can see the points for both sides.
It might be easier to not use the real thing because then there’s not so much pressure. If I make a mistake with the real thing, I’m in trouble. There is no going back like with beads or with digital manipulation. Paint is permanent, and so are scissors. One wrong blob or cut and I’ll have to figure out a way around it or scrap the whole thing.
I could certainly play around with the fake version first before I get it figured out. Then I could make the final version with the real stuff. But I don’t really have time to make multiple versions of the same things, and I know from all my other forays into creating art that whatever I think it is going to be, it never is. So even if I get it “perfect” with the copied bits, it will look different when I use the real bits.
Plus, half of the reason I create is the discovery. It is nice to get what I see in my head, but it is also nice to be surprised when something works out better than I planned.
Well, I’ll be honest. It wasn’t nice at first. But I’ve learned to like it. At first I was pretty upset that what I was aiming for just wouldn’t materialize. I mean I had all the pieces – how come they won’t go together like I think they should? But they never do. And sometimes what results is far more interesting. Sometimes it isn’t, but then I just don’t tell people what I was aiming for. I act like I meant it to look like that. Even if it does look like what I was planning for, they don’t care anyway.
Using the real thing could certainly be really scary and it might make me not even start working on the piece at all. Sometimes when creating art you have to think about what will make the art happen. Sometimes having limits helps, and sometimes it hurts. Sometimes having limits on what tools or techniques you can use will actually make you more creative. Sometimes it might stop you before you even begin.
For now, I’m using the real thing, but doing it carefully. I’ll try out something with a real piece (like a stamp, or a foreign bank note, or a fortune from a cookie) but maybe it isn’t “the” piece. I’m learning how that kind of paper works with the glue and the paint I’m using. Then I can use that knowledge for when I make a “real” piece. I’m not making the same work of art, I’m just not making ones with the same focus.
I can see another advantage to using copies – the paper is always the same. So there is no adjustment to be made for different textures or absorption rates. If the materials are all the same, it frees you up to work on composition and style.
But I still feel like that is cheating the audience. I like the idea that what they are looking at can’t be replicated. If there are copies of the ephemera being used, then another copy of the artwork can be made. Sure, it won’t look the same – that is part of the nature of art in general and painting in specific, but it will be close. Part of what I like about creating artwork is that each piece is special and unique.
And a painting that has real things in it has an energy to it, like a shaman’s necklace. Each item has a story, a background, a history. Each piece adds to the song. They aren’t just images, but the actual thing. A picture of a shell isn’t the same as a shell itself. And just any old shell isn’t the same as a special one – say the one you found on your anniversary trip. It is that kind of energy that I’m talking about. You just can’t get that from a copy.