Collage with wood

The wood collage is a type that emerged somewhat later than paper collage. Kurt Schwitters began experimenting with wood collages in the 1920s after already having given up painting for paper collages. The principle of wood collage is clearly established at least as early as his 'Merz Picture with Candle', dating from the mid to late 1920s. It is also interesting to note that wood collage in a sense made its debut, indirectly, at the same time as paper collage, since (according to the Guggenheim online), Georges Braque initiated use of paper collage by cutting out pieces of simulated oak-grain wallpaper and attaching them to his own charcoal drawings. Thus, the idea of gluing wood to a picture was implicitly there from the start, since the paper used in the very first paper collages was a commercial product manufactured to look like wood. It was during a fifteen-year period of intense experimentation beginning in the mid 1940s that Louise Nevelson evolved her sculptural wood collages, assembled from found scraps, including parts of furniture, pieces of wooden crates or barrels, and architectural remnants like stair railings or moldings. Generally rectangular, very large, and painted black, they resemble gigantic paintings. Concerning Nevelson's Sky Cathedral (1958), the Museum of Modern Art catalogue states, "As a rectangular plane to be viewed from the front, Sky Cathedral has the pictorial quality of a painting..." Yet such pieces also present themselves as massive walls or monoliths, which can sometimes be viewed from either side, or even looked through. Much wood collage art is considerably smaller in scale, framed and hung as a painting would be. It usually features pieces of wood, wood shavings, or scraps, assembled on a canvas (if t

ere is painting involved), or on a wooden board. Such framed, picture-like, wood-relief collages offer the artist an opportunity to explore the qualities of depth, natural color, and textural variety inherent in the material, while drawing on and taking advantage of the language, conventions, and historical resonances that arise from the tradition of creating pictures to hang on walls. The technique of wood collage is also sometimes combined with painting and other media in a single work of art. Frequently, what is called "wood collage art" uses only natural wood - such as driftwood, or parts of found and unaltered logs, branches, sticks, or bark. This raises the question of whether such artwork is collage (in the original sense) at all (see Collage and modernism). This is because the early, paper collages were generally made from bits of text or pictures - things originally made by people, and functioning or signifying in some cultural context. The collage brings these still-recognizable "signifiers" (or fragments of signifiers) together, in a kind of semiotic collision. A truncated wooden chair or staircase newel used in a Nevelson work can also be considered a potential element of collage in the same sense: it had some original, culturally determined context. Unaltered, natural wood, such as one might find on a forest floor, arguably has no such context; therefore, the characteristic contextual disruptions associated with the collage idea, as it originated with Braque and Picasso, cannot really take place. (Driftwood is of course sometimes ambiguous: while a piece of driftwood may once have been a piece of worked wood - for example, part of a ship - it may be so weathered by salt and sea that its past functional identity is nearly or completely obscured.)