A Breakthrough — Murals, Collages, and My Art

“Murals are nothing more than Big Collages with a bit of history/story tossed in.” That’s what entered my brain this afternoon.

That’s my insight for the day (week, month, year?).

Hence, Thomas Hart Benton:

Thomas Hart Benton, City Activities with Subway, 1930, from his  mural at the New School for Social Research, now in the lobby of the AXA building at 1290 Sixth Ave in NYC  (from Terminartors.com and from Wikipedia.)

I have actually done this kind of “collaging/mural) in a textile landscape:

JOU, Goose Rock Composite, 22 x 29″, printed silk, machine stitched, 2007

Goose Rock is a landmark in the John Day Fossil Beds area, rising along the John Day River. The collage was painted and printed from photos which present a variety of perspectives. The history here is geological rather than cultural, but I intended for the “story” to be present in my presentation.

“Circling”, the oil painting in the last post, is also a collage with a story of an in-between street, neither residential nor commercial, a street in which vehicle traffic ignores everything but itself.

Neither of these is a Big Collage, but the principles of composition are the same. Benton has a highly sophisticated understanding of the “mural” process — how it works to achieve a sense of representation and complication, while containing the materials in a unified composition. I’ve been taking notes from his autobiographies over the last few days and woke this afternoon with the insight that started this post.

Forgive my excitement, but this feels like a breakthrough insight for my own working processes. It might give me the insight into the elements of the art that I like making as well as how to achieve some things I’ve previously achieved mostly by accident. It may strike some of you as a “duh” moment (“I always knew that”) but for me, it’s definitely a breakthrough.

I suppose I could call this a “mash-up” and really feel like I’ve reinvented the wheel!


5 thoughts on “A Breakthrough — Murals, Collages, and My Art

  1. Most beautiful piece–that Goose Rock one! I am here trailing behind you, five years later…I have been studying the Mexican muralists for several years (mostly in books, but also with a couple visits to Mexico with Byron). I really really admire them–and Thomas Hart Benton–for their composition.

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  4. You’re on!! When shall we go?

    I have seen a lot of images of Rivera paintings but never the real thing — thought of your posts, in fact, but hadn’t yet gotten around to to finding them again — thanks for the link. I’m eager to see what the Rivera murals have to teach me about use of story and history in collage formats. Canadian friends of ours are as ecstatic about Rivera as you.

    Oh, and Benton was friends with Clemente Orozco, worked beside him on New School murals, and was positively ecstatic about the Mexican social realism paintings. He thought Rivera was a bit too political, I think, but he really believed the Mexican artists got it right as American artists went off the track, trying to imitate European abstract modes!

    Orozco and company made (Benton says) “a profound and much-needed redirection of art towards its ancient humanistic functions. The Mexican concern with publicly significant meanings and with the pageant of Mexican national life corresponded perfectly with what I [Benton] had in mind for art in the United States. I also looked with envy on the opportunities given Mexican painters for public mural work.”

    Benton became distrustful of the Communists he knew and ran with early on in the US when they criticized him for not being idealistic enough about the worker class (he showed drunks and whores as well as bankers and bosses) but he [Benton] says “Mexican history, like that of Russia, had been largely a history of dictatorships and authoritarian religious institutions” and so “it was understandable that Mexicans like Orozco, Siqueiros and Rivera would think in the terms of an authoritative social theory like Marxism…. Mexican forms… actually represented Mexican cultural conditions [and] were not transferable to other cultural conditions….”

    When Benton says “forms” he’s speaking of the verbal messages the paintings produced, not “forms” as it’s commonly used in art talk today.

    So I will now have to spend time (and money) checking out those Mexican muralists, eh? Oh dear, what a terrible thing –snort–

    And let me know what I need to pack for Mexico — besides my camera, I mean.

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