By Geoffrey Stein
I’ve been playing with collage since the late 1980s, when I tried, and failed, to make a grayscale with collaged newspaper type for a two-dimensional design class. As I continued drawing and then started painting, I was fascinated with the possibilities of “drawing” with scissors as I cut collage pieces. I even began using paper found in the studio to construct the rectangle I drew or painted on.
In my studio practice I use collage as a formal element. It provides a way of putting down a tone or a color, or of erasing previous marks. Collage allows me to put layers of images over the scaffolding of a drawing. There is a randomness in collage; the secondary meaning to the collage materials (text or images) becomes an important part of the finished works. Collage provides a method of capturing the fast-paced, often fragmented images of our 21st-century culture. It brings together multiple images and text from various sources into a final portrait.
I try to find collage materials appropriate to the subject I am painting. This is a modern take on the Renaissance trope of putting objects into a portrait to illustrate the attributes of the subject, for example books to show the subject was educated, a dog to show loyalty, or furs to show wealth. I have used the newspapers in a studio at the Slade School of Fine Art, London, for my Guardian Self-Portrait; real estate ads for Diane, the portrait of a broker; or for a portrait of my friend Katherine Bash, who is a conceptual artist, I used materials from her writings.
I use collage in my work much the way some academic drawings use value, starting with the darks, the shadows, before going on to mid-tones and then lights. I attempt to find tones in the collage text or images that provide a palette of values I can use to create the portrait. I also often manipulate the direction of text to delineate a plane in the subject’s face. Text turned upside down or sideways can be used to show the change in tone as a plane moves in space. I find there is a tonal difference to the same text oriented differently on the picture plane.
On Collage Adhesives: I use Golden matte medium as a glue in my collages. I apply it to the back of the piece being collaged, and once that piece is affixed to the work, I put another coat of matte medium over the front of the collaged piece to seal it. I’ve found matte medium to be a stable adhesive, unlike rubber cement, which does not age well.
Finally, I often go back and forth, putting acrylic paint over the collage and then collaging back over the painted areas. I like the push/pull in making collages. I sometimes sand my collages, to reveal prior layers, to unify the surface or to erase marks.
I find collage to be a slow, labor-intensive process involving finding the right collage material, cutting out the specific piece of collage material I want to use, and then adhering it to the work in progress. I’ve found it a challenge over the years to slow down my desire for the collage to get done faster, take a deep breath, and go with the process.
About the Artist:
Geoffrey Stein is a recovering lawyer, who has been painting full-time since 2000. He received a Certificate in Painting from the New York Studio School in 2004 and an MFA from the Slade School of Fine Art, London, in 2007. Stein lives and paints in New York City. He is represented by the Minster Gallery in the UK and online by Paraphe.art, SaatchiArt.com and UGallery.com.