Five collage artists

  • 15 January 2014

Five pioneers of cut and paste, including Hannah Höch, Pablo Picasso and Peter Blake.

Taken from the term coller, meaning 'to glue', the term collage was first coined by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso at the beginning of the 20th century when it became a distinctive part of modern art. Although similar techniques were used in ancient China and Japan, crucially modern artists used it as a means by which to comment on current events and societal values. 

Here are five collage artists to see this spring.

1. Hannah Höch at Whitechapel Gallery, London  

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Hannah Höch was an important member of the Berlin Dada movement and a pioneer in collage. Splicing together images from popular magazines, illustrated journals and fashion publications, her satirical assemblages chronicle the intense social change that characterised the early 1900s. For example, Hochfinanz (High Finance) sees notable figures collaged together with emblems of industry; a humorous critique of the relationship between financiers and the military at the height of the economic crisis in Europe. This exhibition at Whitechapel spans the full six decades of Höch's career, combing over 100 examples of collages, photomontages, watercolours and woodcuts drawn from prominent international collections (until 23 March).

2. Henri Matisse at Tate Modern, London

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When ill health prevented Henri Matisse from painting he turned his hand to cut-outs, using collage to create whole images or compositions. He spoke favourably of how the paper cut-out allowed him 'to draw in the colour' rather than having to add colour into a drawing or outline. Notable works in the exhibition include The Snail, shown alongside its sister works Memory of Oceania and Large Composition with Masks. A photograph of Matisse's studio reveals the trio was initially conceived of as a unified whole, and here they are reunited for the first time since they were made. The show also includes the largest number of Matisse's Blue Nudes ever exhibited together, including the most significant of the group, Blue Nude I (from 17 April).

3. Pablo Picasso at Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh

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One of the original collage artists, Pablo Picasso was the first to paste media onto oil paintings, starting in 1912 when he affixed a real Italian postage stamp onto a picture of a letter. He went on to make many papiers collés (stuck papers) in the following years, often using cuttings from the newspaper Le Journal in order to introduce everyday events into the artwork. Tête (Head) is among the artist's most celebrated collages and indeed his most abstract. The half-circle drawn in charcoal can be read as the profile of a head, while the pasted-on elements represent the face, hair and neck. This work is on permanent display at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, acquired with Art Fund support in 1995. The piece was sold to the gallery from the estate of Roland Penrose, who had bought it directly from the leader of the Surrealist group, André Breton.

4. Peter Blake at National Museum Cardiff

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Although a sketcher, painter and printmaker, Peter Blake is perhaps best known for his collages referencing popular culture, particularly the cover of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, designed in collaboration with Jann Howarth. It is a medium he has returned to throughout his career, even producing a collage to promote his beloved Chelsea FC's home kit in 2010. For the exhibition in Cardiff, we learn of Blake's adoration of Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood, which he has listened to 'at least twice a week for the past 25 years'. Here he uses collage to depict narratives and locations in the play, shown in honour of the centenary of Thomas's birth (until 23 March).

5. Richard Hamilton at Tate Modern, London

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Working in collage, Richard Hamilton helped to found the Pop Art movement. His 1956 assemblage, Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?, incorporates advertisements from mass-circulation newspapers and magazines​ and is often cited as one of the earliest pieces of that identified the movement's key values, which Hamilton saw as 'popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business'. The show at Tate provides the first comprehensive retrospective of his 60-year career and includes the installation Fun House, which combines images from film posters, magazines and art history (from 13 February).

Tags: Museums and galleriesExhibitions