Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Elephant No. 87: Torn Paper Collage

For today's elephant, I thought I'd try something from a long-ago art class. I dimly remember that we were told to reproduce a masterpiece with bits of torn construction paper, but I don't remember why. It may have had something to do with learning to see tones and shades.

I chose something from Gauguin's Tahitian period, although I no longer recall which painting it was. I probably thought something with bright colours would make the exercise easier. I don't think it did, however, because I distinctly remember not finishing the thing. To keep me at it today, I'll make sure to create something small.

The word "collage" comes from the French coller, "to glue", and was coined by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque at the beginning of the twentieth century. The term is taken to describe any work of art that involves the gluing of paper and other materials on top of one another to create an image, whether abstract or representational.

Historically, collage was first used around 200 B.C., coinciding with the invention of paper in China. The use of the technique remained quite limited, however, until tenth-century Japan, when calligraphers glued paper to their work. In Europe, collage appeared in the thirteenth century, with the gluing of gold leaf and gemstones to religious icons, coats of arms and similar pieces. By the nineteenth century, collage was used by many ordinary people for scrapbooks, albums and other forms of memorabilia, as well as small decorative items such as firescreens, fans and boxes.

Collage as an artistic medium originates with Cubist painter Georges Braque, who took a roll of oak-textured paper and cut it into pieces, which he then arranged on canvas. Pablo Picasso picked up the technique soon after, and collage has been recognized as an art form ever since. 

I couldn't find anything on the origins of torn-paper collage, although it seems to have found its earliest artistic expression in the works of Dada artist Jean Arp, continued through to the present day in the works of well-known modern artists such as Damien Hirst. I love pieces like the one below, but doubt very much that I'll be making anything this elaborate today. Or ever.

Detail from Tina's Toad "Quispehuaman"by artist Terri Welch.

For today's elephant, I decided to use a pad of inexpensive construction paper that I picked up a few years back to use for tags or something. I thought about using my stack of much-loathed origami paper (I loathe the activity, not the paper); however, although origami paper is nice and bright, when you rip it you get white edges, which wasn't really what I wanted.

For glue, I thought about using a glue stick, then decided that white glue would be better.

For this technique, I figured it would be a good idea to work from a photograph; otherwise, I'd be a bit lost with all the tones and highlights. I chose this profile photo, which in retrospect wasn't the best choice, since it's way too finely detailed for torn paper.

Iringa the elephant, at the Toronto Zoo.
Photo: Sandy Nicholson

I had decided that I was only going to use the colours in the pad of construction paper. This presented problems right away, since there was no white, no grey and no black. Instead I chose a pale beige for the white, dark eggplant-brown for the darkest areas, and a pale blue and a canary yellow for mid-tones. Not ideal, but I wasn't going for high art here, anyway.

Using a small piece of canvas board measuring 15 x 23 cm (6 x 9 inches), I started by putting in the brightest highlights with beige paper.

Next, I put in some of the darkest shadows with the eggplant-brown.

I had by now resigned myself to this looking nothing like the original photograph, and nothing like my original vision. Instead, it became an exercise in seeing tones of colour, without any regard for the actual colours of the photograph.

Another thing I had forgotten was that paper has a distinct grain. This means that, while it is easy to tear a straight line if you go with the grain, it's virtually impossible to tear sensibly across the grain. That's why many of the edges look as though they've been nibbled by mice.

When I was as done as I was going to be with this, I added some brighter colours for grass and a sun. It's not completely horrible, but it would have been better if I'd had a bunch of shades of grey. Just for fun, I changed the image to greyscale to see what it looked like in terms of its tonal values.

This wasn't a technique I loved, since it's a bit tedious and fiddly, but I did like the challenge of picking out the highlights and lowlights, and trying to tear bits of paper to fit. It did take me nearly three hours, however, so it's not high on my list of things to try again.

Elephant Lore of the Day
The Year of the Elephant (ˤĀmu l-Fīl in Arabic) is the name given in the Islamic calendar to the year 570 A.D.: the year that Muhammad was born.

According to Islamic tradition, this is the year in which a notable event occurred at Mecca, in modern-day Saudi Arabia. Abraha, the Ethiopian governor of Sheba in Yemen—also on the Arabian peninsula—had ordered people to worship at a Christian cathedral he had built at Sana'a. The people refused, preferring to revere the Kaaba in Mecca instead. Incensed, Abraha marched on Mecca and the Kaaba with an army numbering some 40,000 men. A white elephant called Mahmud led the way, along with as many as seven other elephants. Abraha's intention was to raze the Kaaba and, although several Arab tribes fought him along the way, Abraha defeated them all.

Reaching the outskirts of Mecca, Mahmud the elephant suddenly stopped and refused to enter. He could neither be beaten nor cajoled into moving forward. If he was turned away from Mecca, he was happy to move, but if turned towards Mecca, he is said to have fallen to his knees as though in reverence.

Abraha sent an envoy into Mecca to tell them that Abraha wished only to destroy the Kaaba, and that he would not harm the rest of the city unless its people resisted. Thinking he had made himself clear, Abraha planned to enter Mecca the next day. 

According to the Qur'an, a thick cloud of small birds appeared the following morning, just as Abraha and his army were preparing their assault. The birds carried small rocks in their beaks and pelted Abraha's forces, who fled. Abraha was also seriously wounded. He retreated towards Yemen, but died of his wounds on the way.

The year accordingly became known as the Year of the Elephant, and was used for reckoning dates throughout the Arabian Peninsula until it was replaced by the official Islamic calendar some twenty years later.

To Support Elephant Welfare
World Wildlife Fund  
World Society for the Protection of Animals
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information on a number of sanctuaries around the world) 

No comments:

Post a Comment