When it comes to filmmaking, Jim Jarmusch has been a sui generis force who has helped to define modern independent cinema with a storied back catalogue of movies celebrating the full gestalt of pop culture in a broad brushstroke. This has led him into every corner the modern renaissance has offered since the dawn of Elvis Presley’s fateful hip shake. While he has wrought much of this passion out on screen, a side project has also swelled over the years in the background.
As a man with his finger to the pulse of the narrative of art, Jarmusch understood that the humble newspaper contains it all. Thus, he began snipping away at it for aeons and now, he has amassed a tome of collage art that he is ready to foist upon fans. As the outline for his work reads: “Doppelgänger Andy Warhols are posed in a vast tunnel not unlike the depths of the Large Hadron Collider, Patty Hearst’s mugshots drift across Edwardian portraits, and a man’s identity is disguised with a coyote’s head: maybe he was a celebrity, politician, perp, or all three.”
So where did the inspiration for this snip-happy art collection come from? Well as Jarmusch explains: “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 fibres, a chaotic jungle of microscopic pulp.”
He goes on to remark: “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.”
With that a passion for the printed media was formed, and with a natural artistic eye to go along with it, and a Magpie-like mind to boot, the snipping started and never stopped. “For years now, I’ve been constructing these small very minimal collages,” Jarmusch explains. “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.”
Adding: “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 typeface – always with a text that accompanied or pertained to the original image.”
While the method behind the collage is clearly formed, he takes a more rustic approach when it comes to the execution. “I never use sharp cutting tools, like scissors or X-Acto knives, always preferring rougher, partially torn edges,” he explains. “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.”
This rather more primitive approach is, however, in keeping with the art form in general, and not only does it produce an expressional allure in Jarmusch’s offbeat works, as he explains, but it’s also all part of the fun which is, in turn, the point of the process. “The word ‘collage’ comes from the French verb ‘coller,’ meaning to paste or glue things together and appears to have been coined by [Georges] Braque and [Pablo] Picasso in the very early 20th century,” Jarmusch says.
Adding: “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, Dadaist, 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.”
This notion of literally disembodying art to see what knew Frankenstein the constituents can form is not purely limited to collages either. It has influenced Jarmusch in many ways, just as it did David Bowie and a whole host of other artists with a penchant for a shake-up. As Jarmusch explains: “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 [William S.] Burroughs and [Brion] 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..”
And as passionate as Jarmusch is about all forms of creativity, it simply wouldn’t be befitting if he didn’t trail off his list by entering the realm of collage-like music. He continues: “…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 dev.” Sorry, I must have cut the end off there.
Beyond the art itself, however, one of the beauties that Some Collages offers up, is the simple magnetism of an insight into a singular passion. After a while, the inherent playfulness of rearranging the stuffy factual print of the press into a transfigured world of your own design reveals the grinning godly creator behind it and that sense of fun suddenly becomes yours to share in.
The collection, Some Collages by Jim Jarmusch, is set for release on September 28th, 2021, published by Anthology Editions. You can find out more about the project and how to secure a copy by clicking here.