Collage and Push-Pull
In my Abstract Sketch class at the Art Students League, Frank O’Cain talks a lot about push-pull, the often ambiguous attempt to create depth (but not too much) in an abstract painting on a 2-dimensional surface. He occasionally demos the use of collage to create that push-pull effect.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I decided to give it a go. Last time I tried collage (Feb. 2014), I took paintings which didn’t quite work, cut them up, rearranged the pieces and sometimes ended up with a collage that was stronger than the original painting.
This time in abstracting from the figure (we work from a model in the class) I wanted to create the collage from scratch, using whatever paper and colors I happened to have around.
In doing so, I discovered that it is easier to create that feeling of push-pull with collage than with watercolor. More than other mediums, watercolor requires that you plan in advance how to achieve whatever effect you desire. Causing something to visually go “behind” something else in an abstract painting requires thinking about opacity or transparency and how colors combine (because you will see through the top color to the one underneath), in addition to all the other factors that make up a painting. Warm colors come forward. Larger shapes tend to come forward. Drawing a line across a shape automatically pushes it back. Etc. Etc. Etc.
With collage, you don’t have to worry so much about those kinds of things.
Newspaper Man, 18 x 24, $1400
In Newspaper Man, the big green shape comes forward, except that I’ve put opaque black shapes on top as well as a black scribble, all of which push it back. And then the smaller top green shape actually lies on top of the big black curve, which in turn lies on top of the larger green shape. That black shape would still be pretty dominant were it not for the newspaper head coming over it, the scribbled line on it, and the little pieces of rust colored opaque construction paper which sit on top of the black and the green paper.
There’s a lot of push-pull going on in this collage. And the beauty of collage is that you don’t have to figure it all out in advance. You try it one way, and then you try it another. Sooner or later, you get something that works.