There are viral fads that come and go, and then there are those that linger, even changing the scene entirely. If you’ve been one of the 81 million viewers of the spectacle that is Coldplay’s recent Up&Up music video, then you’ve borne witness to a photomontage in motion. Whereas photomontage has been a surrealist technique that gained popularity a century ago, today the process continues to evolve digitally.
Digital collage art has been attracting audiences on social media, and some of its artists have unprecedentedly been working in the comfort of homes and cafes right here in Metro Manila. The movement has cozied up with millennials with a depth that reaches beyond the surface of quirky imageries. The contemporary mode of collage art is really more than meets the eye as it arouses something other than a short, passing curiosity.
A brief history of collage
It’s rather telling the way an artwork begins from a starburst of colors that may resonate with the consciousness. There’s a clue in the way that digital collage art has become neither more than just a trend nor a contemporary version of previous centuries’ movements. Like most art, digital collage is a glimpse into the lives of the artists themselves, whose beginnings are quite as colorful and spontaneous as the pieces they make.
“One hot summer day, I was binge-watching a documentary [on] the history of ice cream,” begins Sein Eidder, the 16-year-old behind The Peculiar Boy. Entranced by early 20th century scenes of people eating merrily in old American ice cream parlors, Sean went on to recreate his own imagined ice cream heaven on the computer.
Similar to the creator of The Mad Muse and Open Art School, Sofia Cope, discovered the wonders of digital collage after “tinkering around with Photoshop” on her uncle’s hand-me-down computer back in high school. “The rest is history,” she says.
While history can make it easy to confuse surrealism with collage art, the two are actually incomparable. The former was an avant-garde movement meant to express unconscious thought. It’s uncanny and elusive to define with images commonly characterized by peculiarity and dream-like bizarreness.
The latter saw its beginnings during the Dada Movement that came about as a socio-political, nonconformist reaction to the First World War through diverse concept art. One of which was collage as artists of this era aimed to use everyday objects.
Today, digital collage art borrows the century-old technique to create a new image on screen through editing softwares. “It’s an assemblage of sorts [from] scanned books, magazine pages, vernacular photos, ephemera, and other thingamabobs,” Sean lists.
Meanwhile, Young STAR art director Maine Manalansan (BS MGT, 2013) clarifies, “A collage can be surreal, but not all the time.”
Cut and paste
Masters and masterpieces don’t just appear out of thin air. “It’s not as simple as people think,” Maine says to clarify a common notion about digital collage. “The first step to making an art piece is to think of the story you want to tell,” she begins talking us through her process.
After an hour or two of browsing through stock images and photographs that may ideally go into the piece, she spends another hour moving and cropping images around Photoshop to experiment on layouts. For post processing, many artists take to Lightroom and VSCO or Snapseed for their social media content.
This is just some of the work that goes into Maine’s thoroughly curated Instagram grid—a large artwork on its own as it doubles as a gallery of puzzle pieces. Her minimalist works are marked with solid background colors that set the tone and focus on images which somehow interlock, making her feed an intriguing scroll.
Current advertising arts student Clarisse Provido particularly muses over her love of flowers, fungi, and nature. This translates delicately into her bohemian style as she manipulates a mix of typography and imagery on screen “without the glue,” she remarks. Clarisse admits to being heavily inspired by stories about human connections. “Nurturing the soul through art and knowledge is a big thing for me,” she explains.
Many digital collage artists share feminism and gender equality as a common theme, often portraying women in non-conventional standards. The movement is understandably contemporary with the freedom to empower a trimmed photograph of a lady from the 1950s, sitting atop an airplane with a galaxy behind her wind-blown hair. The fun elements: Popcorn, daisies, and famous landmarks are laced around her—telling of how women can be and do anything.
On the other hand, ladies themselves like Maine and Sofia gravitate towards themes surrounding youth culture, self-discovery, and creative confidence. “Immortalizing those experiences are important to me,” says Maine.
Thanks to the unexpectedness and extreme imaginativeness that surrealism allows, Sofia feels limitless about what she can produce and continue to explore. “I plan to experiment on other tools and methods for creating. I want to learn CGI honestly, and make my artworks move,” she excitingly confesses.
However, like many in the creative industry, these individuals face challenges with critiques targeted at the medium and the products. “Some people belittle artists as if their work is useless,” laments Eidder. “And I think this is where the negative impression of parents on their children becoming artists, comes from.”
In a niche riddled with doubt and statements such as “art is not a real job” and the idea that art is an impractical choice, it is a common misconception that to choose a life as an artist is to settle for a life without luxury.”
An issue particular to the field of digital collage has much to do with the backward belief that art isn’t worth paying for. Clients and companies that commission artists aren’t always eager to spend on stock images to fund more organic pieces.
Consequently, artists have to hunt down free stock images in a short amount of time to meet deadlines; thus, it’s advised they have a collection in a hard drive for future use and editing.
“There’s a need for “assurance that the free source image is open for commercial use or personal use only. [We’re] wary that this can lead to plagiarism and we don’t want that obviously,” explains Clarisse.
This balanced anchoring on the peculiar and whimsical has given rise to its popularity. Digital collage is quickly becoming a choice style for many because it’s flexible. Publications both in print and digital are now relying on this art form that is inarguably more than a trend.
The digital collage art in the urban scene both locally and internationally is no doubt thriving. Pau Tiu’s Copy/Paste and Reese Lansangan’s The Gathering Season have been just some of the exhibits featuring Filipino digital collage in the past year and the movement is circulating with every new discovery from a creative or an audience equally breathing life into the field.
In a culture that often seems content to skirt the surface of what is appealing, digital collage art is one that delves and explores far-out themes ever so playfully. It unapologetically treads beyond the archetypal standards and commits itself to hours of detail and precision craftsmanship.
If the growing demand for digital collage art in magazines and publications is any indication, its ascent as a rapidly growing culture is enough to prove the naysayers wrong. Every piece is a bold gesture fraught with professional risk in a culture wherein the mainstream is expected to sneer at the newest digital entrant. Traditional, after all, is safe and digital collage art is anything but.