Monday, July 22, 2013

Leo, a portrait in mixed media

Last summer I decided to try mixed media at the Art Students League.

Given my figurative background, mixed media abstraction felt like a dark journey into the abyss. The instructor asked me to do a collage in black and white, and another in color. I could not resolve either piece since I found the process totally exhausting.

I've always admired artists who could combine painting, photography, and assemblage into compelling works of art. I was particularly inspired by Romare Bearden's centennial exhibit at the Met, and the Dancing Around the Bride show in Philadelphia, which traced the influence of Marcel Duchamp on the collaborations of John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg.

I've also been following the video generative work of Sergio Albiac and the paintings Njideka Akunyil who combines photo transfers with flat expanses of acrylic to explore the contradictions between her Nigenian heritage and married life in the United States.

So last week I decided to try mixed media again, this time with Leo, a new model at the National Academy. I was aiming for something expressionistic, something like a collage version of Antony Micallef's Becoming Animal series. I did a quick grisaille underpainting, mapping out Leo's features and facial planes, then started superimposing a collage made of cut up brochures that I found in my apartment.

I could only work on the project for an hour at a time since the visual overload was intense. But I learned a few things:

- less is more
- a simple silhouette works best
- value is more important than color


- vary the scale of the cutouts
- think before you cut
- and really think before you paste
- but don't overthink (spontaneity is important)
- and don't neglect pattern, repetition, and negative space

So anyway, I reached a point where I didn't know what else to add to the piece. I posted some photos online. The reactions were rather mixed on WetCanvas, positive on Flickr, and surprisingly enthusiastic on Tumblr, with over 200 likes and reposts, mainly from graphic design and fashion bloggers.

Best of all, both the model and my teacher were quite excited by it, so I think I'll declare the work finished. On to the next one.

Try mixed media if you haven't yet. It might drive you crazy but it's also a lot of  fun.

Dimensions: 11 x 14 inches
Medium: acrylic and collage on clayboard

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