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Half a Face, Collage

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The Short Image is where I’ll offer each Thursday a few words on art, culture, and elsewhere. This week, What’s up, collage [my métier]? 

Half a Face, Collage

It’s a thing that happens all over collage. The half hidden face. Or fully hidden. Or just the eyes, masked. Some element—black band, colorful sticker, the jet of a Central Park fountain—obscuring the features of the human face.

It’s so prevalent—you’ll see it a hundred, two hundred times in collage groups on flickr or Facebook—that it’s really easy to dismiss as cliché. It is a cliché, like putting a bird on, or the dying grandmother poem. Things we know are already overdone.

But as simple as it is to scoff at, this “move in contemporary collage” (hat tip Elissa Gabbert/Mike Young), at some point you have to wonder, what the heck? Why’s the move so damn compelling?

It makes the human face strong, is what. It really does. It gives us humans a magic, a potency, an atavistic strength we don’t normally posses. We’re so banal, especially the us of old advertisements and Life magazines that are favored by collagists, and we want to put some violence into our nature. Not the everyday violence of each street, all over town, but a powerful violence, Dracula and Mumbo Jumbo and voodoo. And to hide us and our stupid faces, it imparts a force, mystery, like the man behind the curtain.

So there it is, going back to the collage work of Baldessari and before, this particular intersection of magic and the trite. And it sure is trite, a ridiculous cliché. Think harder, you fellow collage makers!

We’re going to see it though, a thousand times more. It’s an archetype of types now, a cultural marker, and if you think about it that’s pretty powerful.

Joseph Young

Joseph Young

Joseph Young lives in Baltimore. He has written about art for many magazines, newspapers, and websites, and his book of very short stories, Easter Rabbit (Publishing Genius), was released in 2009. His art has been seen in galleries and other venues in Baltimore and beyond. Check out his digital collage series, Newer Comics.
Joseph Young

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About The Author

Joseph Young

Joseph Young lives in Baltimore. He has written about art for many magazines, newspapers, and websites, and his book of very short stories, Easter Rabbit (Publishing Genius), was released in 2009. His art has been seen in galleries and other venues in Baltimore and beyond. Check out his digital collage series, Newer Comics.

  • i remember talking to you about this in baltimore, joe!! the faceless collages in the facebook era. it reminds me of levinas’s face to face encounter, of course, and barthes talking about the grain of the voice, the “certainty of the body” (www.gregsandow.com/BookBlog/grain_of_the_voice.pdf)

    what i like is a really good 4D collage, a collage that is 3D but changes over time into a different collage

    • that was a fun conversation, mike. we were talking about your soon to be new awesome book cover too. going to read that linked essay when i get some free minutes.

      • which book cover?

        • sprezzatura! you were there, sitting in a lawn chair, me and mike on the porch couch. although you might of been in your computers.

          • well i do remember talking about that cover, and looking at the artwork, and the couch.

  • Linda Franklin

    I’ve not made a study of collages, but am drawn often to oddities, and the split faces seem to be part of that…split anythings, pair a car with an elephant. Could-have-beens often seem like should-have-beens. I have two places your readers might like: Michael Church’s collages https://www.facebook.com/mikechurch63 and also the story of Anna Coleman Ladd, artist and founder of Tin Noses, to help make masks which men with severe facial injuries in WWI could wear. Here’s one link: http://www.npr.org/2014/09/25/351441401/one-sculptors-answer-to-wwi-wounds-plaster-copper-and-paint

  • RM O’Brien

    I wonder if, too, it’s the quickest way to change the premise of the original picture. Like, if there are a bunch of people staring at a person, and now they’re all staring at a being with a crab leg for a head, well, that changes everything, now doesn’t it?

    Like, maybe it’s that the human face IS strong, and all our friends are lucky we put on our benign face faces and not our field-drum faces.

    • yeah, i like that, that we’re lucky, and that it changes everything. it does. and maybe it’s the ‘quickest way’ that sometimes bugs me. ie, maybe work for it a bit more, see what else might be else.

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