with found photographs
André Schulze scours dusty thrift store bins and private advertisements for vintage paintings and photographs created in the first half of the 20th Century. The German artist restores the found artworks and then dramatically alters them by working directly on the canvas, layering each rendering with boldly new scenes: a stodgy bookworm finds himself in a sea of fish, an elderly woman peers out her window only to see a neighboring home ablaze, and a vintage portrait is transformed into a feathered hybrid creature. The surreal additions are steeped in the artist’s distinct wit and humor that expand the decades-old narratives or that shape a rich and complex account within his original non-vintage pieces.
Schulze’s whimsical paintings are included in Salvage, a group exhibition curated by Colossal’s Founder and Editor-in-Chief Christopher Jobson at Paradigm Gallery + Studio in Philadelphia. Examining how artists are revitalizing fragments of tradition and culture that were destined to be lost, relegated to the periphery, or buried forever, Salvage opens on January 22 with a live talk with Jobson, Schulze, Debra Broz (previously), and Yurim Gough—tickets are available on Eventbrite—and runs through February 20.
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Overflowing with Flora and Fauna, Collaged Paper Installations Comment on Earth's Dwindling Biodiversity
Sprawling across paint-chipped walls and tiny alcoves, the collaged installations of artist Clare Börsch mimic overgrown jungles and whimsical forest scenes. Layers of flora, fauna, and the occasional gemstone or human figure comprise the amorphous paper artworks as they transform spaces into fantastical ecosystems.
In a note to Colossal, Börsch shares that she began her artistic practice as a way to translate her dreams, which are often lucid and informed by memories and a strong tie to nature, into physical objects that others could immerse themselves in. “Growing up in Brazil, I had the ocean, rivers, and jungles that always existed in stark contrast to the industrial cities (I lived in Sao Paulo). So my earliest and most formative memories are of lush, humming tropical ecosystems —and the encroaching industrial landscapes of Brazil’s cities,” she says.
The Berlin-based American artist sources her many of the vintage photographs from open source archives, including the Biodiversity Heritage Library (previously), Pixabay, and Unsplash. Some of the botanical elements she draws or photographs herself before cutting around the organic elements and assembling them in new, sometimes bizarre, compositions.
Despite the vibrancy and lively qualities of the three-dimensional collages, Börsch uses her artworks to reflect on the ongoing climate crisis and destruction of biodiversity, commentary that’s laced with themes of decay and death. She explains:
This came into focus for me when I made a series of collages and then later realized that many of the species in the vintage illustrations had already gone extinct. Humanity has wiped out 68% of all our planet’s biodiversity since 1970, so working with vintage illustrations can be very heartbreaking as much of the diversity in these gorgeous old naturalist prints has been wiped out by human activity.
Since then, Börsch has been collaborating with scientist Louisa Durkin, of the Nordic Academy of Biodiversity and Systematics Studies, to identify ways the artworks can spark awareness and dialogue about environmental issues. “I often say that I do not want my art to be a funerary dirge for everything we could have saved,” she says.
In recent months, Börsch has been working on a commissioned series that will culminate in a forthcoming book, titled Why Do Tigers Have Whiskers? And Other Cool Things About Animals, which is scheduled for release by Thames & Hudson in May 2021. Follow the artist on Instagram to see her latest projects, including an immersive installation commenting on regenerative approaches to tackling problems of biodiversity, which she plans to unveil in early November. (thnx, Elsie!)
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The anonymous pair behind Frank Moth (previously) characterize their layered digital collages as “nostalgic postcards from the future.” Using vintage photographs, the artistic duo merges retro visuals with natural elements like botanics and outer space to create playful composites that range from futuristic to romantic. “Our work almost always revolves around introspection, soul searching, and universal themes like eternity and human vices,” they share with Colossal.
Based in Veria, Greece, the pair sources images of tropical plants and starry expanses from a variety of sources, including library and museum databases and other photograph-centered websites that offer copyright-free works. “We still have our own huge inventory of images that we have been growing and expanding for many years, after endless digging and searching in databases of very old photos and scanned clippings of old magazines from the 60s and 70s,” they say.
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Colorful, Geometric Stitches Embolden Black-and-White Photographs of Historical Figures and Cultural Icons
When Victoria Villasana (previously) lays a long stitch on a vintage photograph, she’s connecting the pattern or geometric shape to a piece of history, culture, or philosophy. The Mexican artist transforms found black-and-white images of cultural icons and historical figures through vibrant embroideries. Turquoise fibers radiate from Nelson Mandela’s fist, a gold, chevron collar lines Chadwick Boseman’s shirt, and Yayoi Kusma sports a multicolor garment with varying dots and stripes. Emboldened by stitches that often breach the photograph’s edges, the multi-media artworks exude power, strength, and beauty.
Villasana sources many of the images from the public domain, although she sometimes collaborates with photographers, as well. “I think color helps us to connect emotionally and I like to look at the past and merge tradition and vanguard. I’m also interested in symbolism and geometry in art as a way to communicate deeper meanings with each other,” she shares with Colossal.
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Through densely laid cross-stitches and whorls of thread, Han Cao revitalizes discarded photographs and postcards. Similar to the artist’s previous projects, her latest series New Nostalgia strikes a balance between the original subjects and the fiber-based additions. Sometimes covering faces with sparse dandelion puffs or confetti-like burst, Cao redefines the vintage pieces and explores how narratives linger as she stitches plumes of train steam that trail beyond the initial photograph’s edges.
Based in Palm Springs, the artist shares glimpses into her process on Instagram, and if you’re in Philadelphia, check out her embroidered pieces that are on view through August 22 at Paradigm Gallery. Cao also sells some of her mixed-media works in her shop.
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Paper artist and illustrator Hollie Chastain clips, layers, and stitches found photographs and scraps of paper ephemera to create her mixed-media collages. The Chattanooga, Tennessee-based artist repurposes old narratives and images—in one piece, tuba players pop out of a library card pocket, and in another, two men tug on a string woven through a handwritten note—providing a new story for each regenerated work.
Chastain tells Colossal she began working with the medium in 2008. “Vintage book covers became a favorite substrate,” she says. “I fell in love with the scribbles, stamps, library and school identification, water and ink marks and all the other visual history and how that added to and sometimes altered the composition of the piece. ” Today, she often cuts images from National Geographic copies printed in the 1960s and 70s, gravitating toward “strong characters and people in action.”
To share her appreciation of the versatile medium, Chastain published an instructional book detailing various techniques and methods. “What I adore about collage as a medium is the complete versatility and the allowances that it gives first time creators to play around with color and texture and composition without any ‘but I can’t draw’ and ‘I’m not an artist’ hang-ups,” she says. If you want to join Chastain and start your own textured project, order a copy of If You Can Cut, You Can Collage. Otherwise, check out her shop and follow her on Instagram.
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Editor's Picks: Design
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.