Cecil Touchon has been working on his Suprematist Non-Objective Collage Poetry series for a good long while now (for a sprawling conversation about the applicability of the term "suprematist", see the thread that begins on February 15th, 2007 on the spidertangle Yahoo! group) and the results continue to hold my interest. By using nothing but the figure/ground relationships of letters, engaging and powerful pieces are built up through a process that is less reminiscent of collage than it is of burnishing, worrying, plying, or even kneading. The shapes that emerge are without question letteral, though they are operating in a space where it is impossible to read them in a literal way. These pieces are looking at the material of language as a thing that can be cut apart and re-arranged, and while they cannot be read, the part of our vision that is involved in reading is actively engaged in the process of viewing them.
In this way these red images are read images, as well.
Cecil Touchon's Artist Statement:
Collage artists often work according to certain ideas that have to do with exploiting found material. The vast glut of paper materials generated over the last 100 years not only provide a glimpse into the history of the recent past but the ephemera collected often reveals a uniquely private history whose authenticity and genuineness is highly prized. The subtle patinas gathered over the years by these surfaces add a great deal to the sensual quality of the collage works generated from them.
The hunt for materials is a big part of a collage artist’s activity and these materials, to a great degree, determine the nature of the artist’s work and in my case, I welcome the stimulus that becomes the starting point for new methods of construction and new compositions. Most often, in years past, I have focused on book sized papers found in second hand shops, flea markets and antique stores from Paris, Texas to Paris France.
Recently, however, I have taken an interest in street posters and roadside billboards and the large typographic shapes that they contain in a quest to move from the small, intimate scale I have been accustomed to, toward a comparatively larger scale of work that might allow me to work on canvas and panel supports without losing the attention to detail. I think of these works as a sort of nonobjective, visual or concrete poetry whose interest is of a purely visual nature not tied to literary meaning or commercial utility.
Kazimir Malevich said in his manifesto of Suprematism;
“‘Practical life’, like a homeless vagabond, forces its way into every artistic form and believes itself to be the genesis and reason for the existence of this form. But the vagabond does not tarry long in one place and once he is gone (when the utilitarian usefulness has passed) the full artistic value of the work remains.”
The Non-Objective World based on a 1959 translation from German - Paul Theobald and Company
Similarly, I see these works of mine as liberating the forms of language from the practical utility of being carriers of some commercially driven corporate message, allowing them to exist purely for their own sake as shapes, curves, rhythms and colors.
My interest in this idea was first engendered in 1998 as I entered Mexico City in the middle of the night after a long drive through the northern desert. Towering above the highway at the scale of the large urban architecture were brightly lit billboard advertisements seemingly by the hundreds. Some of these billboards had completely abstract designs on them created by the billboard owner having had the advertiser’s message scrambled by rearranging the sign panels and thus destroying the advertiser’s message but leaving all of the elements in an unreadable condition.
I had never seen this idea before and immediately thought; ‘from now on, whenever there is a sign like that, it is a Touchon, as ink splatters might seem to resemble a Motherwell. And so, soon after I began to experiment with the idea and to pay attention to such signs for ideas for my own work. Some signs, my favorites, were just lettering that had been shifted around to create abstract shapes. These eventually became a central focus of my own compositions.
A lot of my collage art depends a great deal on serendipitous discovery. This allows a certain amount of chance and randomness to find its way into my work which in turn makes possible an interactive dynamic between my own inner life and the influence of the surrounding environment.
The main problem was, until I returned to the United States, I didn’t seem to be able to come across the large billboard material in Mexico and so I satisfied myself with the ready and renewable materials around me which happened to be the street posters many of which were for wrestling matches. But in order to get the effects that I was looking for, I had to stick to a fairly small scale of collage. This was fine because I was already working at a small scale.
On my return to Texas in the summer of 2005 I started to wonder how the move back to the States was going to affect my art and I started keeping my eyes open for a new motif and when we passed through Nuevo Laredo, Mexico I saw several billboards that caught my eye and I photographed them.
Once in Texas I began to notice that many of the secondary smaller billboards were still covered with paper signs (as opposed to the new vinyl materials being used) and that, when it rained for 2 or 3 days at a time, the paper would begin to peal and fall from the backing. Soon I had a garage full of these wayward papers where I soak and separate them and cut them to manageable sizes for storage and have been adjusting my collage techniques to fit this new exciting material.
My current working process tends to be very meditative sitting in front of a canvas or large piece of paper for hours at a time carefully cutting and fitting together the many parts that end up being my current work. Some of them I then use as studies for larger paintings on canvas. In my paintings I use a lot of subtle trompe l'oeil effects in order to simulate the surfaces of my collage studies. So in a way my paintings are realistic, but the subject is non-objective.
Cecil Touchon is the founding director of the International Museum of Collage, Assemblage and Construction http://collagemuseum.com and the International Society of Assemblage and Collage Artists http://collagists.com . He also founded the Yahoo email group “Collage” and the Yahoo email group “CollagePoetry” in association with his website http://collagepoetry.com
Touchon is represented in New York City by Sears Peyton Gallery http://searspeyton.com