Click image to enlarge:
Notes on this collage:
- This is one of those pieces that I started to assemble many months ago. Probably six months or more. In many ways it could have been an elegant image with just the woman against the green paper backdrop, but I wanted to mess around with it just a little more. I wanted to find something else for her to be stepping into. Maybe a flying saucer, doughnut, or fancy ring.
- The two guys in the collage are from a story about American hot rod culture in the 1950s. In the original image, they’re both leaning out their car windows while cruising, probably trying to get the attention of young women.
- The woman and the green backdrop are from an old high school yearbook (early 1970s). One of my favorite revelations from the past year has been the discovery of old high school yearbooks. I often find them for sale at vintage stores, usually for less than ten dollars. If you take magazines and high school yearbooks from the same year, I will often find more honest, more interesting and unique photographs from the yearbooks.
- I love this quote from recently passed jazz legend Ornette Coleman: “It was when I found out I could make mistakes that I knew I was on to something.” I’ve been trying to apply that philosophy to my collage making lately.
- I recently had some new collages (made from old book covers) on the website Ohio Edit.
- While I was looking for interview subjects for this month’s column, I found this collage workshop that sounds great and is happening on July 11th and 12th in Santa Fe. Cecil Touchon is an artist you could probably a lot from.
Paper Trumpets Spotlight: Matthew Rose
Matthew Rose is a guy who gets shit done. An American artist who has lived in France for over twenty years now, his work has appeared in various magazines, books, and galleries all over the world. He even spent many years writing for places such as the Wall Street Journal and ArtReview Magazine. His style goes in many directions using a vast array of resources and material, with work that is sometimes playful and absurd or serious and complex. It was a thrill to learn more about him through this interview.
The Rumpus: How did you initially become interested in collage?
Matthew Rose: I snuck my way into a painting course at Brown University where I was studying linguistics and writing and semiotics, and one of the first assignments was to use wallpaper as an element in a painting. I loved the wallpaper and produced a very large Fernand Léger-looking piece—three figures. I was hooked. After that I continued to paint in a vaguely naive surrealist style but also began to collect images and magazines featuring certain flavor—1940s and 1950s magazines and books that were either soft porn, quasi-Disney or mechanical science. I forced my self to be less literal and use parts to construct something different, oftentimes abstract compositions. Reveling in the fast building of ideas, I soon found that working out of books was the most satisfying way to think with my hands, to spell with scissors. Then I read about and met others who further opened my mind up to the process, notably Ray Johnson, but also a range of artists dead and alive who worked in collage from Ernst and Cornell to Rauschenberg, Johns, and many of the Europeans—Mimi Rotella, Raymond Hains, Jacques Villeglé. The medium continues to intrigue me as I try to reinvent my own way of seeing. Collage has become, for me, a way of writing about and describing the world.
Rumpus: Tell me more about your book project, Weekend Plans.
Rose: I found a pile of untouched and pristine 1960s notebooks in our trash recently and nothing gets me going as 120 virginal pages. I’d recently picked up a half dozen French soft-core porn magazines that presented the women in black and white or a duotone rose-colored or powder blue-colored scenes. The quality was quite low but when I selected bits—legs, arms, feet, hands, faces—and combined them with other elements like candles and cigarettes and shower heads, or water falls, cherries, outboard motor silhouettes or scenes from the Old American West, I was able to compose psychological narratives that interested me, that allowed me to look a bit inside my own head. I created a book of some 88 works that I wanted to read—and that was curious! The title comes from an artist friend in the US who sends e-mails Friday and Saturday nights with the subject line: Weekend Plans. He’s kind of a genius—and I told him I was stealing his line for my project. I guess I owe him a copy of the book once it’s published.
Rumpus: Your recent show of the Self-Improvement Alphabet and the way you sometimes use text displays the influence of semiotics and dada in your work.
Rose: The Self-Improvement Alphabet was born in a trashcan in 1993 when I discovered the hand-made calligraphy—ink on a kind of parchment paper—in a Paris suburb. The entire alphabet. I hadn’t used it for nearly 20 years until I decided to do an exhibition with my gallery in Williamsport, Pennsylvania—Converge Gallery. I called the exhibition The Letters, and spent the three months leading up to the exhibition producing 333 works all mailed to the gallery. There were letter fragment collages, post cards, letters of course, anonymous love letters sent to the gallery, pencils that we gave away, fragments of words that were almost sculptural, envelopes stitched together with drawings on them and this alphabet. The work was an ABC of a kind meant for adults—J is for Jealousy; K is for Kidnapped; U is for Unconscious; D is for Dirty Work, etc. The images and text were married in a very fast way—I didn’t try to filter it very much, allowing my mind and hands to channel whatever juice was flowing that day (or night). This was a project I basically did at three in the morning, all at once, collapsing at 6 a.m. It’s curious; not sure if anyone can really learn English from it, but the Cornell Museum in Delray Beach, Florida featured it across a great wall and it was a huge hit.
Rumpus: What are you trying to show or say in these pieces?
Rose: I’ve always been interested in language acquisition, perception, projection, sound (music) as well as advertising (signage, neon, print, typography) and the street with its mishmash of detritus. If I could recompose these visually hot (for me) elements to produce an unbound book (novel, fairy tale, bible, porn digest), I could scratch an itch that is perhaps equivalent to architects’ building houses or fire stations, musicians improvising in a cloud of sound, writers of all flavors accurately portraying a complex situation. I’m “writing” about the world; these are in some ways essays, sometimes philosophical, sometimes whimsical, sometimes religious, and blasphemous… occasionally scientific. These works are about love, sex, death, politics, money, and perhaps above all about consciousness, making connections between words and images.
Rumpus: How has living in France affected your growth as an artist? I assume you speak the language. Did you ever feel like a fish out of water?
Rose: It’s hard to say, other than the material here is qualitatively different than what I’ve found in the streets and junk shops in the US. Language interests me so speaking French is useful in so many ways, but with a smattering of German and Italian and whatever else is around, my mind perks up; I’m constantly reminded of the differing rivers of sound all sorts of people use to get things done, soothe their anxieties, teach their children, remind themselves of something. I don’t know if I could have absorbed that in America. I love the architectures here, too. How things are made, puzzled and pieced together; I find France and Europe in general visually exciting. I’m quite comfortable in this somewhat foreign place, although my last show here in Paris was called “Lost For Words”…
Rumpus: I hear you work very long days. What makes a usual workday for you? Is there a “usual workday” for you?
Rose: Not really. I am always scribbling something, playing music, writing music, and making something whether out of a book or on paper or canvas. I like working on a project that totally consumes me through the night and after a flurry of activity look out my window at the street below and hear nothing but the birds chirping in the Montparnasse cemetery nearby. I’m always working; thank goodness.
Rumpus: What do you have coming up, show-wise, book-wise?
Rose: I’m going to publish Weekend Plans in a small limited quantity to show some dealers in New York and London, as well as another collection of larger collage works on paper, Suicide Specials. The idea is to get these works in front of some new people who might not have seen what I’ve been up to these past few years, and then go from there, prepare to make a bigger splash.
Follow Matthew Rose on Instagram to see more of his work.
Book cover for Weekend Plans and collage image © Matthew Rose 2015.