Whenever people talk to me about my drawings, the same questions come up again and again. At art shows, in classrooms, and in general conversation, folks are curious about the unusual approach I take to art, and how I came about drawing in this manner. From time to time I will try and offer explanations and excuses regarding my choices of style, media, and subject. Consider this my first installment.
Did you invent this approach to art?
No, I did not invent this stuff. Artists have been juxtaposing images for centuries, for their own entertainment, for practical communication, and sometimes even for pay. For example, Aztec writers often drew separate pictographs together, combining the names of those objects to make new words. (I can only imagine what the cave paintings at Lascaux or the Anasazi petroglyphs would say if we knew the languages of the artists who made them.)
Many artists have embraced this idea of drawing lots of pictures inside a larger one. Most attempt this as a harmless diversion, an innocent experiment in design and technique. The results usually sit quietly in their portfolios while the artists murmur ‘Look what I got away with’, and vow never to do such things again. Having successfully completed one of these projects, few of us are misled sufficiently to repeat the error. Fewer still are foolish enough to try and make a career out of it.
What do you call this style of art?
What style is it? Beats me. If this approach to picture-making has a widely accepted name, I haven’t heard it. That’s probably because there aren’t enough artists doing it to constitute a Movement, or even to catch the attention of the people who decide on things like art trends and style names. (If you know any of these people, please invite them to visit our studio, or at least the web site.)
Perhaps the most famous artist to create these complex images is Giuseppe Arcimboldo, who painted in this style (above) back in the late 1500’s. Some historians have lumped Arcimboldo’s brand of art into a larger group called Mannerism. Dali considered him the first Surrealist, even though similar designs were created before his time. Contemporary artist Octavio Campo refers to his version of this kind of painting as “Metamorphic”. Other observers add these designs to the broad categories of Puzzle Pictures, Optical Illusions, or even Trompe l’oeil. They could just as easily and accurately be called Still Life. The designs that include double meanings or other elements of wordplay are Visual Puns.
Aren’t these just collages?
Somewhat surprisingly, my pictures are not collages. Collage is a physical assemblage of paper, photographs, news clippings and the like, all glued together to make a design. (No scissors for me, thank you. The temptation to run with them is overwhelming.)
I assemble my designs in my head and directly on paper, first in pencil, then in ballpoint ink. For lack of a better term, I call my art works Composite Drawings, Composite Images, or just Big Pictures Made Out Of Little Pictures. If you can think of a more interesting descriptive phrase, I’d be delighted to hear it.