Today, I am launching a new version of randsnell.com. This new website is devoted principally to my visual art, but retains links to performances of my vocal, instrumental and electronic music.
I never planned to become a visual artist. But over the last three years I’ve created several hundred drawings, montages and collages, many of which you will find here.
Collage has become my primary means of artistic expression, and every day I have ideas for more pieces.
You can find more about this evolution from composer to visual artist in the About section of my site. But here, in this initial blog post, I want to share a little about how I create my collage art.
The Raw Material for Collage
I’m always taking pictures with my iPhone. From my balcony, I can see past Saint Petersburg’s Dalí Museum toward a constant mix of land, sea and sky. A texture or color may catch my eye, shadows may fall a certain way, the light may shift into something I’ve never seen before, there may be a particularly striking sunrise. I photograph what catches my attention.
Or I may be flying an airplane and the earth and sky may juxtapose in a unique way, or rain may hit the cockpit canopy and run back in an interesting pattern. If anything catches my eye, I will take a quick picture of it with my iPhone in hopes it will turn into something pleasing.
Or I may noodle a design with markers on paper, or create a montage or collage with blocks of color in a new pattern, and get lost in the process. I photograph the result.
These photographs of original or found subjects are thematic material I can further explore and develop. The original must be interesting on its own, but it’s just the start of a journey that may end far from what I could have imagined when I start.
This way of working is very similar to the process of music composition, as composers often use a small piece of thematic material to create a large work. The most well-known example is Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
Igor Stravinsky allegedly said that “lesser artists borrow, great artists steal.” Literally, all his thematic material came from other sources: folk music, other classical compositions, songs of the day. But how he used that material, transformed it, juxtaposed it, made him one of the great composers of the 20th Century.
I believe what makes my art unique is this process, which I learned while studying music composition. It’s a transformation that frequently involves multiple versions of the same material, overlaid in blocks or strips, and sometimes at different scales.
Frequently there is a strong geometric component to the process, which conveys a sense of depth and movement.
Turning Raw Material into Collage Art
Catching, illustrates the process. I was fascinated by books of fabric samples in a furniture showroom. I took several pictures from different angles and once home, I made prints.
I tore up the prints and arranged the pieces in a variety of montages, which I then photographed again. The resulting prints form the background of the piece.
I had also photographed interesting shadows in the showroom, and a triangle of the shadows forms the heart of the piece. Lines radiating out from the triangle are overlaid with thinner lines expanding the triangle. Both create a sense of depth.
For Complexity, I started with a drawing and collage which I then photographed. I used four prints of the original material as background, then printed a larger scale version which I sliced and laid over the underlying material. The result is an interplay of the thematic material with itself, and I found the result to be more interesting and compelling than the original on its own.
As noted above, I often photograph from my balcony. In From My Balcony 1, I arranged strips of prints from one such session in a circular fashion, the sky at the center with land (and sea) radiating out from the central and elevated sky. The result is a tunnel pulling one toward the sky— an effect the pilot in me finds very compelling.
In the end, what matters is not the process but the result. Is it interesting to you? Is it something you want to have on your wall?
I just returned from Berlin and Frankfurt, and have lots of new material I will be working with in coming weeks. I look forward to sharing the results!
For more about collage, see Tate’s website.
You can see some well-known pieces at MoMA.