The art practice of collage derives its name from the French verb coller, meaning “to glue.” Art is created by gluing found components such as magazine clippings, newspapers, portions of other artwork or texts, photographs, fabrics and other objects to one common surface. When all of the elements have been stabilized, they create a concise and thematic work of art. Collage work can be traced back hundreds of years, however it came to prominence in the early 20th century. Contemporary graphic design can be considered a descendant of collage, as designers prior to computers would handset typography, images and color elements to make cohesive compositions in publications and advertisements.
Jacksonville artist Eric Gillyard has chosen this medium as his primary practice in creating his works. I visited his studio in Murray Hill recently and was able to talk with him about his practice. Gillyard’s work walks the line of surreal retro imagery, in which he constructs these types of dreamscapes with futuristic and apocalyptic narratives.
Why did you choose collage?
My living quarters didn’t really call for paint; it would turn into such a mess. Working in collage, enables me to keep a fairly clean space … with the exception of the excess scraps of cutaways. Growing up, dad was a billboard painter. Even though he was working with paint constantly, my mom didn’t let me use paint because she didn’t want me to make a mess in the house. Since I wasn’t painting, I started looking at the objects around me and what they could be turned into. That was the point in which I started working on assemblages. Collage and mixed media has always just been my medium of choice.
Where do you source most of your materials?
Old anatomy books, movie posters, magazines. Yard sales, eBay, thrift stores. I spend a lot of my time in search of these pieces to create them into new pieces that I have a vision for. I also look for unique period frames, mostly pre-1950s in style.
Your pieces have a very surreal element to them, some futuristic and some apocalyptic. How do you come up with these scenarios?
I generally start with these super cheesy landscapes (sifts through a pile of pre-collaged landscapes on his work table) that I find at thrift stores or garage sales. Then I try to just translate my thoughts and visions through the old magazines, movie posters and album covers that I have collected over time. Many of my newer pieces focus on the femme-fatal or the heroine struggling to overcome an opposing element.
Why have you chosen that subject matter?
It’s really a matter of materials that I have come across recently; maybe I have subconsciously been looking for them though. That also plays a lot into my process as well. When I sit down to work, which usually tends to be late at night, I get into almost this trance as I look through all of these books and scraps. It’s almost like day dreaming, except I’m actually creating visual narratives and scenarios. Sometimes it turns into two or three pieces at one time. I will start with the most basic components, like color and shape, then build a composition from there. As I work through them, nothing gets glued down immediately – they generally sit for a few days – that way I can come back and either build more onto it, or completely trash one if it’s not working the way I want it to.
Do you ever go back and rework pieces that already exist and are in frames?
Yeah actually, I tend to cannibalize and appropriate my own pieces quite frequently. Sometimes, I’ll be working on a piece and I will look to my other works that are in progress and see the smallest element in them that I feel is essential to the current piece I am working on and I will take it right out, because it feels more appropriate.
Do you generate specific story lines or statements for the viewers of your work?
No, not really. I specifically like to leave it very open, with a loose narrative, so that the viewers can take from it their own perception and ideas. There will be an underlying theme behind the work or series, but on the individual piece, I try to leave it a bit more open for the viewer’s interpretation.
Collage works are traditionally small, the pieces you’re working on in your studio now are rather large. Is that generally the scale that you prefer to work in?
Well, this current body of work is about 40”x30”, but I haven’t always worked in that size. For some time, I was working with Polaroids, opening the photos and removing parts of the image that I had shot and replacing them with smaller collage elements. I have about 200 of them that have never been exhibited and only seen by a few people. So really the scale varies on the materials that I have available in the studio to work with.
Do you have any upcoming shows that you are working on?
Nothing is set in stone at the moment. I’m really concentrating this year on building up this current series to about 25 – 30 really strong pieces that would be show-worthy. I want to make sure that they are tight and flawless.