Master poet and fictionist Lewis Warsh has turned his eye and hand to the mysterious and generative collage, creating dizzying landscapes of words, intricate logopoeia scenarios, high intensity wires of complex story. I can stare at and puzzle these works a long time.
Stormy Weather #2
Black is the Color
Calle de Ribera (for Greg & Evann)
Crying on the Outside
Ghosts in the City
One Track Mind
Show of Hands
This Means You
I made my first collages in 1996. They were image-based, like most collages, cut-outs from magazines. I did a series of 24 4x6 collages on poster boards. I always wanted to do collages and artist books so I decided to do it. In the early 90s I'd begun a series of poems where I collaged and then arranged often a hundred or more lines, with a space between each line. Each poem consisted up 3-4 pages of these lines, mostly lines from poems that I'd discarded. There was no obvious connection between each of the lines but I tried to arrange them so they created a hidden narrative. 17 of these poems were collected in the book, The Origin of the World (Creative Arts, 2001), named after Courbet's famous painting. (I didn't realize that it was famous until afterwards.)
I then realized I could make color xeroxes of all the small collages and create a series of artist's book. For the first group of 24 I created an edition of 4. I made 4 copies of each collage and pasted them in books which I bought in art supply stores. So I figured that I could make collages and then books as well and that all this connected to my poetry. I was also writing non-collage poems at the time along with novels and stories.
I continued doing image-based collages until 2006 when I started using letters. I cut letters from magazines--white letters on black backgrounds, black letters on white backgrounds, and letters of various colors. I covered poster boards--8x10, 11x14, 16x20--with letters. I became aware of the shapes of letters, and then the sizes of the letters I was cutting out, but most of my decisions (where to put the letters) were intuitive and in the moment. I didn't attempt to spell any words with the letters, not at first. I became involved in clustering letters--a lot of A's, for instance, in one corner. Often the letters overlapped one another, but not by much. Mostly I used art magazines--someone gave me about 100 back issues of Art Forum. I learned a lot going through these magazines and reading the articles.
I began to see that variations were possible. I did one collage just using the lettter "E"--both capital and lower case, a kind of homage to Georges Perec who wrote a novel, La Disparition, without the letter "e". In another series of collages, I spelled out the words "Hysteria" "Obsession" and "Paranoia." The possibilities were endless. I did a series of SOS collages. I did about 5 very large collages, approx. 30x40 inches.
Then I realized I could do image-based collages and cover them (partially) with letters, so that the image showed through as well. I've been doing these for the last year, though I've also returned to the all-over format (just letters). I like doing collages in series, so if I do one in a particular style I often do several in the same style.
I've begun covering cigar boxes with letters with a little artist's book inside the box.
I've also made numerous series of artist's books, using images, texts and letters.
I also work with grids--dividing a poster board into 5 parts, for instance, and doing something different in each part. One part might contain the letter S, one part might contain just red letters.
Lewis Warsh is the author of numerous books of poetry, fiction and autobiography, most recently A Place In The Sun (2010), Inseparable: Poems 1995-2005 (2008), Ted's Favorite Skirt (2002), Debtor's Prison, in collaboration with Julie Harrison (2002), The Origin of the World (2001), Touch of the Whip (2001) and Money Under the Table (1998). He is editor and publisher of United Artists Books and director of the MFA program in creative writing at Long Island University, Brooklyn. Mimeo Mimeo #7 (summer 2012) features his poems, stories and collages.