What is the collage technique?

Collage (derived from the French word “coller” meaning “stuck together”) is a technique of artistic creation applied mainly in the visual arts. It involves forming works from a diverse set of components and materials. These can include clippings from newspaper or magazine pages, tape, colored or handmade paper, excerpts from books, photographs, or any other object. All of these components are pasted onto the same sheet of paper or canvas.

Collage technique

The collage technique originated centuries ago in the Orient, but it gained official recognition in the early 20th century, thanks to the renowned cubism artists, Jorge Brasque and Pablo Picasso. Since then, collage has held a special place in the development of modern art and has strongly influenced subsequent postmodern art.

The Formation and Development of the Collage Technique

The technique of sizing, which involved using pieces of paper glued together to create impressions of calligraphic works, was first used in China around 200 BC. It gained popularity during the 10th century with the help of Japanese craftsmen. In European medieval art, collage began to appear as a special type of technique in the 13th century. Gothic cathedrals featured panels with intricate details, including gold leaf and precious stones.

Katakana calligraphy
The katakana calligraphy “Ise Shu” from the 12th century

Collage techniques became especially popular in the 19th century with collectors creating their own collection albums and unique book designs. It was during this time that Victorian collage photographers revived this type of creativity in European art. Collage not only served as a jewel of the Victorian era, but it also represented a new generation of artists with a completely different approach to art, highlighting the challenge of authenticity in photography.

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Collage and Modernism in Painting

While similar techniques appeared before the 20th century, collage truly emerged as a distinctive artistic method after 1900, coinciding with the advent of modernism. Artists like Braque and Picasso started incorporating pieces of paper detached from the outside world into their original drawings. This technique provided them with unprecedented freedom of expression and encouraged further experimentation with new materials.

Braque began his exploration of the collage technique by incorporating pieces of oak paste wallpaper into his charcoal drawings. Picasso, on the other hand, experimented with attaching a piece of oilcloth to one of his oil paintings, which was hung on a wicker chair frame.

Picasso's first collage-style work
“Still Life with Caning Chair” – Picasso’s first unique collage-style work shook the art world.

The addition of new elements to their canvases created a new perspective where these pieces interacted with the original surface of the works. This redefined the relationship between painting and sculpture, resulting in a surprisingly complementary combination. The collage technique became a reflection of the conflicts and transformations that characterized the 20th century.

Other Forms of Collage

Collage techniques extend beyond paper materials and encompass other artistic forms. Collage with wood, pioneered by Kurt Schwitters in the 1920s, involves creating works by synthesizing objects of various three-dimensional shapes. Louise Nevelson, a leading collage artist in the field of sculpture, made significant contributions to this technique.

Collage with wood
‘Merz Picture with Candle’ by Kurt Schwitters: the first milestone for the principle of collage with finished wood.

Decoupage, another form of collage, involves putting images on objects for decorative purposes. It originated in experiments with abstract art forms in the early 20th century. Artists such as Picasso and Matisse created complete decoupage works, with Picasso’s famous Blue Nude II being one of the earliest examples.

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Decoupage-style decor
Decoupage-style decor gives this design dramatic accents.

Photomontage is a collage technique that involves creating compositions from multiple photographs. Artists cut and stitch together photos from different sources to form a unified image. With the development of digital technology and image editing software, photomontage has evolved into an important aspect of modern photography and graphic design.

Photomontage work
The work “Waste of money” presents artistic satire with collage techniques in image processing.

The collage technique has also found its way into the digital realm, with the advancement of image editing software. It continues to inspire the design industry in the 21st century, serving as a versatile binder for mixed media works in various fields, such as painting, photography, and graphics.

Collage as a Boundless Source of Inspiration

The development and wide application of the collage technique have not been without challenges, particularly concerning intellectual property and copyright protection. However, one thing is certain: collage has always been and will continue to be an inexhaustible source of inspiration for modern art in all its forms.