Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Collage Art of Hope Kroll

Curated by Cecil Touchon

Catalog edited by Cecil Touchon

Copyright Standard Copyright License
Edition private collector edition
Publisher Ontological Museum Publications
Published January 30, 2011
Language English
Pages 100

Binding Perfect-bound Paperback
Interior Ink Full color
Dimensions (inches) 8.5 wide × 11.0 tall


(exhibition during the month of February 2011 at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center)

Introduction from the Catalog by Cecil Touchon

The genesis of this exhibition centers around Hope Kroll’s contribution to the Museum’s Fluxcase Micro Museum project which is a series of very small cases (8x10x2 inches) that each contain 50 tiny boxes commemorating the 50 year anniversary of Fluxus. Hope had contributed a number of boxes for one of these cases and I suggested that perhaps she would like to fill an entire case and in exchange I would arrange an exhibition. Once the case was finished we decided to round out the exhibition with a number of Kroll’s collages. These additional works sent especially for this exhibit from the artist’s studio will be on view along with Kroll’s works in the permanent collection.

When contemplating the work of Hope Kroll a saying comes to mind by the early 20th Century Indian classical musician and Sufi mystic Hazrat Inayat Khan; The mind is the surface of the heart, and the heart is the depth of the mind. Kroll’s work explores the nature of the heart and mind in a way that is playful and yet insightful calling up tenderness as well as terror and equal parts of rapture and repulsion.

Kroll’s work tirelessly seeks out the honey of wisdom through the masterful arrangement of images from old encyclopedias, medical texts, children’s books, popular science, technical manuals, paper dolls and antique photographs. Her use of a 3-D technique gives her paper constructions a surprising presence. A fusion of poetic Surrealism and scientific paraphernalia , many of Kroll’s miniature works have intricately cut out illustrations all the way down to the individual hairs and blood vessels. The shear amount of time and attention Kroll spends in her elaborate cuttings and assemblings is worthy of attention in and of itself. She could well be called a paper surgeon; a title Kroll would no doubt embrace considering her obvious love for medical apparatuses and scientific illustrations. Kroll’s use of original antique materials lends a palpable richness and feeling of historical continuity to her work that suggests an exploration of the collective unconscious of humanity as found in the depths of her own being. As Kroll states: “Each piece becomes its own frozen drama or illustration for a story meant to reflect a visual manifestation of psychological, emotional or spiritual states.”

One of the great charms of Kroll’s work is her uninhibited embrace of the childhood feelings and memories that shaped her artistic life. Her extreme attention to detail recalls Marcel Proust’s À LA RECHERCHE DU TEMPS PERDU (Remembrance of Things Past) only instead of weaving delicate, complex sentences Kroll achieves a similar Proustian effect with her minute and intricate cuttings that are all the more elaborate by constructing the images so that they float in space and cast shadows. Her sensibility also reflects a romantic sense of nostalgia typified by the constructed box assemblages of Joseph Cornell.

Kroll’s collages at once serve a complex web of purposes that gives her work a satisfying depth and openness.

As a visual diary the collages appear to call up or commemorate personal experiences and record insights. Kroll’s method is revelatory rather than expository in nature. The purpose of her unbound diary would seem to be an attempt to reveal what is hidden rather than to explain what is obvious. For this reason the process of creating collages is designed to be a theatrical surrogate of the world that is ambiguous and open to the viewer’s own interpretations. These multiple interpretations that can be inferred in any of the works affords Kroll the opportunity to hide her own personally meaningful messages in plain view. This allows the works to be shared publicly while remaining enshrouded in a multiplicity of potential meanings in much the same way that a dozen witnesses can experience the same event and each sees something unique to himself and his point of view.

As cultural commentary Kroll’s careful juxtapositions explore the poetic content of popular culture including cartoon characters (Goofy in Nirvana), odd ball medical inventions that were the technological cutting edge of their day and the ever shifting demands of feminine identity often set against a primordial backdrop of nature or at the other end, enmeshed in gadgetry suggesting a continual preoccupation with intervention and alteration. This calls to mind the childhood rhymes;

What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice,
And everything nice,
That's what little girls are made of.

What are little boys made of?
Snippets and snails,
And puppy dog tails,
That's what little boys are made of.

Accompanying images to these rhymes often show boys playing with bugs in the mud while the girls are clean and dainty and perhaps serving tea to their dolls. Surveying Kroll’s iconography we would have to conclude that girls are as much made of snippets and snails as sugar and spice. More poignantly, one could conclude that the seemingly innocuous lines of these rhymes have yielded a more sinister result of infecting the minds and imaginations of innocent children with social limitations and expectations that in adulthood grow unchecked into all manner emotional anxiety and the proliferation of both psychological and physical prosthetic devises in an attempt to correct perceived abnormalities or replace things that seem to be lost or missing.

As an encyclopedic exploration of visual language, one discovers a rich and subtle range of meanings in Kroll’s work. As an example, let us take the recurring images of birds. Kroll admits that the images of birds in her work represent ‘spiritual messengers’ and while this appears to be true, these beings in Kroll’s work often serve other purposes. Perhaps all bird images represent the spiritual dimension in Kroll’s work but a close reading will reveal that the birds lend a wide range of meaning to Kroll’s compositions. At times they are helpers as in the work (Feeding Elijah), at other times they are witnesses to a tragedy (Absent but Dear) , occasionally they seem to be serving a more malevolent or threatening purpose as in the works; (Scavengers) or (Infestation). In Kroll’s hands birds are creatures to be feared as much as admired and loved.

Still, the imaginal world presented by Kroll, while containing, on occasion, subjects and images that seem menacing or disturbing such as the work (Swarm) there remains an ambient feeling that the world is founded on harmony and order so long as one accepts that the world and its inhabitants are often strange, peculiar and abundant in abnormalities. Looking for evidence of the creator’s nature behind the scenes of Kroll’s world one always feels a sensitive hand, a discerning eye, a disciplined mind and an all pervading kind heartedness.

Kroll, like many collage artists in general is an avid collector who finds beauty, interest and resonance in things found or discovered. The love of found materials and their anthropologically interesting content incline collage artists to be masters of editing and arranging things. The art of the collage artist is often in composing and orchestrating collections of otherwise unrelated materials into a meaningful and cohesive composition. The best of such work has an internal integrity that gives the impression that the work fell out of the sky whole. This feeling of internal integrity seems always present in Kroll’s work.

The works by Hope Kroll in the permanent collection of the International Museum of Collage, Assemblage and Construction shall long be cherished as some of the finest examples in the genre of collage art. See her website at:

Cecil Touchon, Director

The International Museum of Collage, Assemblage and Construction

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The New Beautiful

For nearly one hundred years artists, designers, architects and engineers have been working on a huge joint project. All of this work goes on behind the scenes and now a days without even too much hoopla if mentioned at all. It is a conspiracy of epic proportion that has seeped into every facet of our everyday lives. Whether it be in the clothes that we wear, the products that we buy, the media that we watch, listen to or use, the buildings we live and work in, even the very patterns of how we structure our daily lives, and how we think, have all been conceived, designed and produced by this cabal of which I speak.

Who are these people and what do they stand for? They are cultural providers, product designers, politicians, theorists, city planners, corporate leaders, and people in thousands of other positions we have never heard of whose names and faces we shall never know. They all believe in a better world, a world well designed, where every detail has been thought out and made to work in harmony with a myriad of other items that form the fabric of modern life.

They believe in things like ‘Less is More’ and ‘Form Follows Function’, where each object is build from the ground up as a total object, whole and integral in its purpose. Clean, elegant, sleek.

When we think of Totalitarianism we usually think of Nazi Germany’s Hitler or Russia’s Stalin. However, Totalitarianism from a design point of view is what has been encouraged for decades. This has to do with setting national and international standards for everything from book design to highway systems and automobiles and their parts, to construction materials for buildings. This is to aide in creating a seamless world where costs of manufacture are kept relatively affordable for all and the designer has predictable systems of manufacture to design with. Previously, say 100 years ago, everything was hand made and custom built. There were no two things the same. Totalitarian design has changed how we do everything.

The business end of this same group of people however, invented things like planned obsolescence and the forever new and improved version of almost everything. This is good in that it creates constant demand and allows for change. The down side is change merely for the sake of change and the intentionally designed-in self destruction of products leads to huge profits and unbelievable waste.

However, for the consumer with the money to spend, there seems to be no complaint about the rather short expiration date on the objects we buy. Many are happy to move on to a new style every 6 months. I would suggest however that our insistence on newness, while certainly accepted and embraced by the world of fashion, is not appropriate for the world of fine art. The fine arts as I see them deal with the larger and longer cycles of culture where decades and centuries are the proper increments to measure by rather than the changing of seasons. Attempting to constantly strive after making something continuously new represents more of a social dysfunction that has been creeping into the American dream for quite a long time now like a mouth full of cavities after years of constantly eating refined sugar.

Never the less, the point I wish to focus on is the idea that aesthetics have change so significantly over the last 75 years that we can now say, what was modern and once strange and radical and painfully isolated in a world built over previous centuries, has now become the New Beautiful and this new beautiful is a world where abstract painting, minimalist furnishings and never before seen colors integrate with science and technology to create an environment that wider and wider circles of people can appreciate and enjoy.

I do not mean to say that the urban world will become an empty, sterile environment where only a machine could feel at home. There is no doubt that humanity is sentimental and has a love of history and it artifacts. We love to surround ourselves with things of every period and collect artifacts from cultures all over the world. But still, there is an ever growing sensibility that prefers what is fresh, forward looking and cleanly organized.

It is in the context of this modern world that my work fits and it is this New Beautiful that my work is intended to be a part of. There are a lot of things on the contemporary scene masquerading as art but are more properly expressions of politics, sociology, psychology, sexual identity and the exploration of ethnicity. Perhaps they are areas of human interest belonging to a theatrical venue, the halls of congress or a psychologist’s chaise lounge, but are not necessarily suited to a visual art gallery setting.

Art galleries by and large are for the exhibition of works of visual art. Visual art is art that is made for the eye, for being looked at, studied, examined and enjoyed with the eye. A visual work of art has only its sensuality to speak for it because a truly visual work of art has no other subject that it is about. It is about seeing and what can be grasped by observation.

If one is to remove and strip away everything that prevents seeing a painting as anything other than itself then we are left with a non-objective or abstract painting. This is a wholly modern invention. Such paintings depend completely on the elements of composition, color, shape, process and surface to provide interest and as such are a kind of visual music that is gradually taken in by the constantly moving focal point of the viewer. How and what the viewer assimilates or acquires of the image through thousands of movements of the focal point is the work of the painter who is not unlike a composer of music. The enjoyment of such visual art is very much in the same category as the enjoyment of a symphony or chamber music.

As a visual object, a work of art by its very nature has something to do with aesthetics which are matters of artistic beauty and artistic sensibility. That sensibility, like all things modern needs to reflect the ideals of this total world that is being jointly created by those previously mentioned conspirators. Painters have had, from the beginning, an honored position in proposing the New Beautiful as it was painters who first proposed the designs of this new world we now live in. Imagine the excitement and anxiety of those early pioneers of visual design and how difficult the process of understanding must have been for them!

In the process however, the idea of Newness came into vogue. “Out with the old, in with the new!” became a major battle cry of the avant garde. Now, many years later, perhaps the idea of continual newness and the urgency and anxiety and perplexity associated with it is no longer that important. Perhaps, now that the whole world is new we can relax a bit and go back and look over the path of newness and see if there are not some things that need to be rethought, redesigned, or remodeled. Maybe New today should be more about Renew and about reinvigorating the best of what has thus far happened. Perhaps some editing is in order. Perhaps we need to reexamine how we have gotten here and where it is we are headed to besides the next new thing.

Many have given up or forgotten or even have never known the ideas and ideals that have gotten us to where we are today. I propose that there is a New Beautiful and it is all around us and that we need to take a fresh look at where our forefathers have taken us and decide for ourselves to join in the conversation and to articulate our ideals and take up our part to reshape the future into a place we all want and are able to live in.

What are these ideals? They have to do with harmony and the nurturing of human dignity and the protection of human rights. They have to do with an embrace of diversity as well as a quest for unity, a respect for nature and the natural. And there is the need for style and beauty. We should not be embarrassed to use the word beautiful as many artists today seem to be. The New Beautiful is strong and light and free. It is experimental and tentative yet elegant, simple and idealistic. What was at first naïve, in time and with practice, culminates not in pessimism but in wisdom.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Stamping Fluxus Posters for Fluxfest Texas (Keith Buchholz and Cecil Touchon)

Keith Buchholz flew in for Fluxfest Texas yesterday. We spent some time having Kieth's poster printed and then back to my studio to stamp the posters. Stamps included Keith's Fluxus Saint Louis stamp, Tested by Fluxus Laboratories, Approved by the International Post Dogmatist Group and a lovely Fluxus 'Chop' custome made in China by my daughter Brittany Touchon when she was in China a few months ago.

Photos by Noor-un-nisa Touchon

Futurist Paintings in Motion 2

Photographs taken at the MOMA in NYC of Futurist paintings while moving the camera.