Exactly how I managed to be unaware until today that John Ashbery is an accomplished collage artist is something of a mystery, but now that a blog post over at The Paris Review has alerted me of the situation I’ve spent a pleasurable morning rectifying this situation.
According to the press release put out by New York City’s Tibor de Nagy Gallery, Ashbery has made collages ever since he was an undergraduate student at Harvard in the 1940’s, and goes on to note that Ashbery’s “approach to poetry and collage is very much the same.” I admittedly have little experience with Ashbery’s prolific body of work, but this observation certainly applies to my memories of reading Flow Chart (1991), which remains my most sustained interaction with Ashbery to date (which reminds me, I really, really must take on Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror one of these days).
This is the fourth exhibition of Ashbery’s collage work, and in 2008 when he exhibited his visual art for the first time at the age of 81, the New York Times ran a nice overview by Holland Cotter of this branch of the poet’s career. Reportedly friend and New York City School associate Joe Brainard encouraged Ashbery’s interest in collage work, and the piece includes a lovely anecdote about Ashbery visiting Brainard in Vermont in the 1970’s, and that “after dinner[they] got in the habit of sitting around and cutting up old magazines and making collages.”
Regarding Ashbery’s collage work in general, Cotter states:
“One thing he obviously values in collage is its implied anyone-can-do-it modesty, its lack of high-artiness, its resistance to monumentality. His own collages have this character. They’re light and slight. They feel more like keepsakes than like art objects, souvenirs of a life and career that gain interest primarily — some might say entirely — within the context of that life and career.”
I like that a lot, and at this point I’ll just let the images themselves speak for themselves. The Tibor’s current show is a joint exhibition of recent collage work by Ashbery and Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin, an honorary queer artist if there ever was one (if you haven’t experienced the surreal pleasures of Sissy Boy Slap Party, do yourself the favor–it’s four minutes well spent). Maddin’s collage work is wonderful too, and well worth checking out. Several more images from the current exhibit, which runs through July 31, 2015:
Collage work featured in previous exhibitions at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, via the New York Times: