MAKERS: ADRIENNE SLANE, COLLAGE ARTIST
Adrienne Slane’s studio in Geauga County is perfectly situated in a copse of tall trees, surrounded by marshes and shadowy forests. It’s the kind of fairy tale location entirely appropriate for the creation of her enchanting cut-paper collages.
Clearly a collector at heart, every available surface in Slane’s studio is covered with her coveted items – seashells, postage stamps, buttons, scissors, Victorian taxidermy, her Grandfather’s tools, thimbles, photographs, ephemera, you name it – she’s got it. And she’s probably got at least twenty. Much like a cabinet of curiosity, Slane takes inspiration from the objects that surround her.
A graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Art (2010), Slane makes collages using tiny scraps of paper, mostly illustrations culled from old books, periodicals, engravings, etc. And yes, they are mostly originals. Slane only occasionally uses anything digital (usually to scan things that are just too precious to cut) – her most important tool is a pair of small scissors that she uses to fastidiously cut each and every piece.
These scraps are everywhere, held in large metal trays, arranged by subject matter: seashells, flowers, leaves, birds, etc.
But the actual cutting of her materials is only part of the process, as she recently explained:
“My process involves continually hunting for source material for my collages. I spend time at library book sales, used book stores, antique shops, and scouring eBay for old books and engravings from the 1500s to mid-1900s. The most time-consuming part of my process involves meticulously cutting out the images from my source material or from scans. I try to use as much of the books as possible, incorporating the decorative or hand-inscribed endpapers into my work, for example. Next, the imagery is categorized by subject into a library of tens of thousands of collage elements organized in trays. I create my compositions by spreading out images and mixing and matching them until I find a combination that I find both intriguing and aesthetically pleasing. Finally, I glue the imagery to my paper using a paint brush or needle.”
And for those of you cringing at the idea of her cutting up antique books, she really does use the entire book, endpapers and all, some of which led to a series of work combining those “unwanted” materials into collages – delicate hand-writing and inscriptions can be seen on many of these cuttings.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Slane draws inspiration from many traditional techniques:
“My work is, in part, inspired by traditional women’s craft such as folk quilts, scrapbooks, and paper silhouettes. My process honors a history of craft practiced by women who were largely denied the opportunity to seriously pursue the recognized fine arts. These women cut and gathered scraps of fabric and paper to create images that reflected their daily lives, their environment, and their folk histories.”
I will admit that I was originally drawn to Slane’s work because it resembled collage albums made Victorian aristocratic women. I wrote my Master’s Thesis on one-such album made by Kate Gough in the late nineteenth-century, now in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
Like Gough, Slane’s imagery can be whimsical – sometimes downright fun. Taking in one of her pieces involves quite a bit of close looking, carefully gazing at tiny details, some so small they could fit on the head of a pin. This kind of viewing reminds me of holding an album, an object meant to be seen closely and leisurely.
But I like that Slane’s collages also operate from “a-far”. The arrangement and patterns she creates read well from a distance, and the relatively large size of her works allow the viewer to step back, and take the entire design in as a unit – much like the folk quilts she admires (that are often displayed in museums on the wall these days, as two dimensional works of art).
When I saw Slane’s newer work in a recent show at 2731 Prospect Gallery I thought, “Oh wow, I guess she’s working digitally now”, as I walked toward one of her large framed collages. But upon further, much closer inspection, I realized that these were not digital, but actual scraps of paper, physically glued to the paper. I sighed with relief. There’s such a preciousness to her process, and quite a bit of bravado. It takes a lot of guts to cut up a Victorian illustration – what if you make a mistake? “Oh, I have a tray of accidents,” she said. I wonder what she’ll make with those someday.
You can see more of Slane’s work on her website, adrienneslane.com.