Collage Perspectives, a new exhibition on display at Swarthmore College’s List Gallery, curated by director Andrea Packard, brings together the work of five contemporary artists whose practices include the process of collage. Working at different scales and in diverse media, Njideka Akunyili, Chie Fueki, Ken Kewley, Arden Bendler Browning, and Elizabeth O’Reilly all construct images that use the inherently disruptive practice of collage to document, explore, and question aspects of the observable world. In their highly individual ways, the artists speak to the complexity of both sensory and cultural experience. In her introduction to a panel discussion organized at Swarthmore, Packard pointed to a unifying sense of personal vision or narrative among the five artists. Each work spoke to its maker’s specific way of looking at and being in the world around him or her.
Njideka Akunyili’s large-scale collages address the tension between her love for Nigeria, her country of birth, and her feelings of appreciation for Western culture. During the panel Akunyili spoke about Homi Bhabha’s notions of hybridity and the ‘third space,’ in which cultures come together to create a new hybrid social space. Collage, Njideka pointed out, is a medium particularly well-suited to operate within this space of cultural hybridity.
Chie Fueki’s mixed media and acrylic collages also give the feeling of a complex cultural experience. Fueki, born in Japan and raised in Brazil, creates brilliantly colored scenes of people and spaces she knows. Her works integrate a sculptural, isometric understanding of space with a sense of personal, felt experience. During the panel Fueki talked about each different paper she uses in a piece as a vehicle for a different ‘language,’ coming together to make a kind of mixed-language painting.
Ken Kewley talks about collage as a way of working that can give new energy or free up his painting process. His small collages of figures and environments vibrate with the energy of surprising, decisive juxtapositions of color and shape. These images simplify, clarify, abstract, and break up the process of vision, drawing viewers’ attention to the process of seeing itself.
Arden Bendler Browning uses collage as a means of reorganizing, mixing up, or shifting around her paintings. She sometimes introduces one part of a painting into another or removes and reworks specific areas to capture the overlapping, dynamic layers of the urban environment. Her complex works communicate the feeling of moving through the city with its shifting extremes of sensory density and sprawling space.
Elizabeth O’Reilly collages small, intimate images of the canal, rooftops, and streets of Gowanus, the area of Brooklyn where her studio is located. O’Reilly cuts out pieces of colored paper that she has painted with watercolor and fits them together to make simplified, yet densely rich images of her immediate urban environment. Born in Ireland, O’Reilly talks about collage as a parallel practice to her primary work as a plein air painter, in which she can be free to play in the quiet, uninterrupted space of her studio.