In our “Art Appreciation for Everyone” series, we look at techniques to look more closely at artworks that we may not completely get at first. We are not art historians, but we are longstanding art enthusiasts who have spent many years dealing with art on a personal and professional level. In our last chapter, we reviewed Jared Boechler’s Soft Sounds and investigated the underlying complexity and layers of mystery in seemingly “obvious” artworks. Today, we’d like to look at a collage that was part of a set of collages done by artist Kathy Bruce during the epidemic.
Before we begin, as usual, contemplate Kathy Bruce’s Conquering the Darkness, a Visual Art Finalist in the 2020 Engage Art Contest.
Pose some introductory inquiries, such as:
How did this come to be?
What does it make me think of?
How does she use colour? Why?
Is this work more concerned with thinking or with feeling?
What does it cause me to think or feel?
Is there a narrative, a question, or a concept in this artwork?
Conquering the Darkness is an apparent collage made from magazine clippings. The central picture is a mystery human form made out of numerous clips. The figure emerges from a field of stars to walk on water. His upper body is twisted and deformed, with his head back, eyes closed, and hands raised in submission, terror, or warning. His shadow emerges against a dramatic slash of red in an otherwise subdued colour palette, standing upright yet flailing against the black backdrop. The setting seems off-kilter, the trees are twisted, as if we’re watching a movie scenario and the director wants us to grasp that something is amiss here.
In this essay, we will examine Conquering the Darkness via the following lenses:
Personal Context: Covid-19 and working alone
Collage, symbolism, colour theory, and composition are the art genres and styles mentioned.
COVID-19 Pandemic is a current event.
Conquering Darkness, according to Kathy Bruce’s artist statement, “is about HOPE and the human spirit overcoming the isolation, dread, and alienation we are all dealing with as a consequence of the COVID-19 epidemic.” The COVID-19 epidemic has spread to every corner of the globe. We can all recall the unparalleled “isolation, dread, and alienation” that began to colour our world in the second quarter of 2020 and has been there in varying degrees ever since. Kathy, on the other hand, is seizing a once-in-a-lifetime worldwide universal experience, embracing the obstacles it entails, and recasting the event as a chance for “human spirit resilience.” So, first and foremost, congratulations, and thank you for sharing your positivity with the rest of us!
Kathy’s Conquering Darkness places her clearly in the group of artists who use politically and socially involved art to react to the reality of their times. This sort of art is often developed in partnership with the public, or it is intended to influence behaviour or legislation. Instead, it seems that this piece is attempting to express a personal experience—of being off balance and out of sorts—that is also a rather widespread emotion at this moment. The overarching feature of this art form is that it can only be comprehended if the context in which it was made is also understood.
Isolation at Work
To comprehend this work, we must analyse the importance of solitude. Kathy works in the United States, where many non-essential companies have been shuttered for months and individuals have been strongly discouraged from leaving their homes. We’ve all undoubtedly felt some level of unnatural solitude in the recent past. We are all aware that the COVID-19 epidemic has also caused a period of tremendous instability, including employment insecurity, food insecurity, and a lack of easily accessible commodities. Kathy has been working in collage, among other mediums, for decades, but I’m curious whether the uncertainty of what would happen next, what could be financed, or what would be accessible affected her decision to utilise collage so extensively at this time? In any event, collage is a great illustration of how to construct superb art out of whatever resources you have on hand.