Since the 1980s, Jim Jarmusch has made a reputation as a brilliant indie film director, screenwriter, actor, producer, editor, musician and composer. His films include such cult masterpieces as Stranger Than Paradise (1984), Down by Law (1986), Mystery Train (1989), Dead Man (1995), Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999), Coffee and Cigarettes (2003), Broken Flowers (2005), Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), Paterson (2016) and The Dead Don’t Die (2019). This week Jarmusch celebrates another artistic passion with the publication of the monograph Some Collages, with foreword by Luc Sante and essay by Randy Kennedy (Anthology Editions).
Jarmusch has created hundreds of collages using newspaper clippings layered on cardstock. These notecard-sized pieces pay homage to the venerable genre and serve as a reminder of how the mundane can be transformed into unique, witty and mysterious expressionisms.
Here he talks about three aspects of his intimate relationship to the collage.
“I remember as a kid, I received a microscope for my birthday. The first thing I examined through its lenses was a tiny scrap of torn newspaper. I was astounded. Instead of a single, solid sheet-like material, it was in fact a tangled mass of threadlike fibers, a chaotic jungle of microscopic pulp. Fascinated, I then checked other types of papers, and some fabrics, which were also interesting and even unexpected—but nothing was quite like the texture of newsprint. Ever since, the fragility and inherently temporary nature of this particular (and now nearly obsolete) material has attracted me. Even when watching an old movie and I see the big ‘presses rolling,’ my newsprint neurons fire up immediately.”
“For years now I’ve been constructing these small, very minimal collages. I use only newsprint for their sources, and most involve only the removal and/or replacement of heads—possibly the most minimal way of reorganizing visual information. Faces and heads become masks for me, and I can change or switch identities, details and even species. The reproduction on newsprint of a drawn or painted head can replace a photographic one, or vice-versa. Sometimes I decide to just remove a head or face completely, leaving only a blank background. Or I replace it with a typeface—always with a text that accompanied or pertained to the original image. I never use sharp cutting tools, like scissors or X-Acto knives, always preferring rougher, partially torn edges. This preserves that particular texture I first observed through my little microscope. And I am very particular about background materials—usually off-color or black card stock, rough brown paper or distressed cardboard. I construct my collages when alone, calm, my mind just drifting, music playing. I try very hard never to ‘think’ too much about what I’m doing.”
CUT AND PASTE
“The word collage comes from the French verb coller, meaning to paste or glue things together, and appears to have been coined by Braque and Picasso in the very early 20th century. Anyone can make them—some of the most striking are made by children, or those referred to as self-taught. But many of the most innovative artists have used this form for well over a century, including the cubists, Dadaists, Surrealists, Expressionists, Pop artists, minimalists, punk artists, street artists, etc., etc. My own loose definition of collages also includes assemblage, decoupage and excavations of the affichistes. A little more abstractly, the techniques and concepts of collage have often crossed into other forms, including the cut-up process in writing used by Burroughs and Gysin, the experiments of Tristan Tzara, the works of the Oulipo group, innumerable films by the likes of Harry Smith, Antony Balch, Man Ray, Dziga Vertov, René Clair, Luis Buñuel, Stan Brakhage, Fernand Léger, Bruce Conner, Chuck Statler, etc. … musical creations by John Cage, Brian Eno, Jamaican Dub artists, and practically all of the music in Hip Hop. … Now, of course, we also all are familiar with the cut and paste functions we employ daily on our digital devices.”