Tell us a story

Among the collages I make up are some of a particularly simple sort (I’ve posted many many examples of more complicated ones, some XXX-rated, some on academic topics, on AZBlogX and this blog): a background image (usually from professional photographers or from advertisements), a caption lifted from some source (mostly the New Yorker; for other collages, I write the captions myself — I view caption writing as a creative act on its own), and a sticker or two from a collection of stickers I’ve amassed over the years. Occasionally, these three components fit together nicely, but I’m fond of assembling “puzzle pictures”, which can be treated like the images in the projective tests devised by clinical psychologists (the Thematic Apperception Test, for instance).

Like the TAT images, my puzzle collages are intended to get people to tell a story about what they see — not, however, as a way of gaining insight into people’s inner mental lives, but as a spur to creativity. Each one can be seen as the basis for a short story, in which the elements of the collage are resolved into coherence, or serve as the springboard for magic-realist story-telling.

My older collages, from the 1990s, had components carefully cut out of their sources, aligned in complex ways, and affixed with rubber cement, but since my necrotizing fasciitis disaster of 2003 (which left my right hand significantly disabled), I’ve reserved this painstaking approach for a relatively small number of ambitious compositions and otherwise fallen back on cruder extraction and assembly of components, affixed with Scotch brand matte finish Magic™ Tape. I try to tell myself that there is a certain naive attractiveness in the approach. (A notable feature of these compositions is that you can see the edges of the tape; the process of assembly isn’t artfully concealed, but right there in your face. I have conflicting feelings about the effect.)

An example from this morning’s output (in a set of cards that will be sent to friends):

The background image is from male photographer Tom Bianchi (readers of my blogs will recognize that affection between men, and especially men kissing, is powerfully satisying to me); the text is a New Yorker caption (source not recorded; I’m not particularly good about recording where my materials come from); and the sticker is from Christopher Marley’s Incredible Insects sticker book, published by Pomegranate Press (it’s very rare indeed that I know where my stickers come from, but in this case the sticker book was a reward I gave myself for walking to the University Art Center in Palo Alto last week, in one of my early expeditions out on the street in my walker).

The exercise for the viewer is to knit together the two men, their relationship, the setting, the moth, and the caption into a story that answers the question, “What’s going on here?”

One Response to “Tell us a story”

  1. French infestations « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] the whole relationship problematic by stating a topic, thus making the collage into what I called (here) a puzzle […]

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