“Collage is a collection of ideas that can, in combination, create infinite ideas and conversations,” says New Orleans born, Brooklyn and Oakland-based artist, Rashaad Newsome, one of 108 artists included in a new Phaidon book, Vitamin C+ Collage in Contemporary Art.
In his work Newsome pulls from the world of advertising, the internet, Art History, Black and Queer culture to produce art that walks the tightrope between social practice, abstraction, and intersectionality.
For him, collage acts as a conceptual method to construct a new cultural framework of power that does not find the oppression of others necessary. His work celebrates Black contributions to the art canon and creates innovative and inclusive forms of culture and media.
Across his work, Newsome mixes and matches a range of practices including performance, sculpture, film, software enginering and community organizing, as well more conventional collage on paper.
The artist describes the bodies that appear in his collages as ‘cyborgian figures’. ‘My hope is that they’re somehow trying to break free of the frame, break free of what is projected onto us,’ he has said.
The opulent Baroque frames he uses to display his paper collages are varnished using black candy paint – a high-gloss type of paint usually applied to cars – in a reference to African American car culture in New Orleans. ‘It functions as my version of gilt,’ Newsome says.
He’s one of 108 artists featued in Vitamin C+ Collage in Contemporary Art which showcases living artists who employ collage as a central part of their visual-art practice, as selected by 69 leading experts, including museum directors, curators, critics, and collectors. It features an engaging and informative introduction by Yuval Etgar, an internationally renowned expert in the area.
We asked Rashaad Newsome about what draws him to collage, the collagists from art history who turned him on to the medium, and why the first cut is not necessarily the deepest.
What draws you to collage, what are the properties that excite or intrigue you? I’m drawn to the immediacy and accessibility of it, but more importantly, how connected it is to the Black American experience. Within the space of art and commerce, I see collage as a creative modality and a form of resistance.
When Black people came to America, we were divorced from our original culture and identity and, out of necessity, had to create our identity and, subsequently, our culture in real time. There is a montaged aspect to Black being that I see as resistance within an anti-Black structure, and I use collage in many forms in my work to visualize that recombinant existence. From mixing various forms of music to create Hip hop, to the cut-and-paste processes of Black youth on social media platforms, they all demonstrate the vibrant possibility intrinsic to the Black experience.
To the outsider, collage seems like the most freeing of mediums to work in, but is it? It can be, but I have recently merged my work in 3D animation with collage rustling and an image-making process that I am very excited about. At this point, it is almost unfair to call them collages as they exist in a queer space between collage, sculpture, painting, performance, and photography.
Rashaad Newsome – Beware, 2022 multimedia collage on paper
Which artists made you realize collage is ‘a thing’? Artists like Romare Bearden and Hannah Höch and movements like the Dadaists were early discoveries that inspired me. I was drawn to how they used a fragmented way of making art to comment on the fragmented state of the world. Like the artists of the Dada movement, I feel this has to do with extensive problematic social structures and corrupt politics; however, unlike Dada artists, I don’t consider the aesthetic of my work secondary to the ideas. Like the Dadaists, I embrace and critique popular culture and incorporate technology and advertisements that define contemporary life into my work.
What do most people miss or misunderstand when they attempt to ‘assess’ collage? That it is, at its core, about a collection of ideas that can, in combination, create infinite ideas and conversations. The etymological root of the word comes from the French verb coller, meaning ‘to glue’. When I think about that, it signals for me that all these images, conversations, artists, and ideas are joined because interconnectedness is the true nature of all beings.
How improvisatory a medium is collage? It is quite improvisational, but improvisation can generate results that can appear planned or rehearsed. I think the act of improvising is deeply connected to the Black experience, from how we have navigated centuries of systemic racial inequality, to how we engage in our social dance forms and music forms such as Jazz.
When I’m working with my material, I’m interested in a process where you set up a set of propositions, execute them, and see if you can make them work effectively. Often the particular result I am looking for is more likely to happen than not.
Is the first cut the deepest? It differs. I have loads of catalogued material that my studio assistants and I have cut over the years. Sometimes that material will inspire an image, or I will start by collaging various 3D models I’ve created, that later get printed and collaged with other materials. The process always has to be fun and exploratory.
Rashaad Newsome – PUNKS, 2020 Fujicolor multimedia collage with Swarovski crystals in custom mahogany and resin artist frame with automotive paint
For most of us the our first encounter with collage is in childhood, can you remember your first attempt? Around 1999-2000 I was experimenting with collage in a way that was heavily inspired by the paper collages created by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1912 and 1913. Making that work at that time felt accessible and instructive. In some ways, it was the beginning of my understanding of how to represent space within a two-dimensional picture, which much later proved very useful in creating a body of work in video animation, using compositing and 2D VFX (visual effects).
What’s next for you and what do you think is next for collage? Feature-length films. The ultimate collage.
You can see more of Rashaad Newsome’s works on Artspace and at rashaadnewsome.com. Meanwhile, Vitamin C+ Collage in Contemporary Art, featuring over 100 artists including: Njideka Akunyili Crosby; Ellen Gallagher; Peter Kennard; Linder, Christian Marclay; Wangechi Mutu; Deborah Roberts; Martha Rosler; and Mickalene Thomas is available now in the store. We’ll be running more interviews with artists featured in the book in the coming weeks.