For collage artist Anna Bu Kliewer the world consists of a series of images waiting to be dissected, juxtaposed and reconstructed. Her collages play with space and identity, mashing it up, erasing and reconfiguring. In this surreal analogue space, playful humour evokes bizarre and fragmented narratives. Anna publishes her works to her Tumblr, Paper on Toast. We spoke to her about ordering this chaos, the interplay between less and more, and many other things.
When did you first start making collages, and what drew you to this medium?
Collage first came up as a kid, when it was time to make cheesy gifts for friends, but as an actual art form when I was in grade 11 and my art teacher forced us to make collages for two months. I enjoyed it, but forgot about it until I was 20. That was when collage started stalking me, showing up in random situations and countries, creeping into every creative project. Once I accepted it always being around, we became quite good friends.
I like it because it is playful and imaginative. I can almost create any image that I imagine, the possibilities are endless. In our digital age we already spend enough time on our phones and computers, I like the idea of something analog, being made by hand and not by using a digital application. It almost feels nostalgic to use such simple tools as scissors, glue and paper.
Has your style changed over the years? How so?
Once I started seeing collage as a separate medium and not just as a part of a creative process for another medium, I became more aware, spending more time rearranging pieces of paper, as well as sourcing for images.
I think the style changes constantly because the imagery varies. Although the idea of the negative space or adding onto an image remains. But if I find a black+white book on wrestling, my style will differ from working with a colour book on cats.
Another change of style occurred when I got my first cutting knife about 6 months ago – before that I would only use scissors. Now I am able to cut out the tiniest pieces, which is very exciting! (for a collage nerd like me).
Please tell us how you create your collages: where do you source images from, how do you sort and arrange them; where do you start and how do you know when you’re finished, etc.?
All my material is from thrift shops and flea markets. In Cape Town I go to Mowbray and Bergvliet. The next step is the ritual of cutting for hours or days. Sorting and organizing everything afterwards is very important (I’m German), I sort by object, colour and size, it goes into a collection of about 10.000 pieces that I already cut out. There is no actual routine, beginning or end. Sometimes it starts with a background, sometimes with a tiny image of a plant that draws my attention, or I see a photograph that ‘needs’ negative space in it. What is left in the picture is as important as the negative space. There is no right or wrong, it is just about personal decision-making and intuition: deconstructing and constructing intuitively until a composition or story evolves.
How do you strike a balance between less is more vs. more is more?
It is an intuitive process, I just feel, know, maybe voices in my head whisper to me that it is finished. Once it makes sense to me, I stop. If it feels unfinished, I put the image on the side and continue working on it another day, or maybe even throw it away because it is complete ‘nonsense’.
Tell us about your interest in the surreal potential of collage.
Maybe it is approaching the mundane, transforming the familiar into a new, uncanny image. Filling the vanished spaces and identities. Stitching them together with a new meaning or story is exciting. Dreams, fantasies, social and cultural issues can be confronted in an imaginative manner, I can form an abstract reality where time seems to stand still or is flattened. It stays somewhat open in meaning. It suggests, but doesn’t completely clarify, so each viewer can see different stories, symbols, illusions or nothing – due to their own experiences.
How does humour figure in your work?
If it makes me giggle at the end, that’s great. I don’t take my darker collages too seriously either. I think most of my collages have a humorous connotation to them.
Are there any recurring themes that you explore in your work?
Colour influences me. Although it is an unconscious process, if I make multiple collages in one day, I can see similarities in their colour schemes afterwards. Recurring are faces and spaces, the loss of identity. Faceless, mutilated humans merge with nature into hybrids.
What inspires and influences you?
As I don’t know what I am making at the beginning of my process, there cannot be a real inspiration. There is a motivation to create something that has a story, but for me chance is the most important aspect of this medium. There is research, a vague plan, and narration when I work in drawing or painting. But collage gives me the opportunity to approach an image in a random, unknowing way, which is liberating. My mood or things I see in daily life influence me in terms of colour, but again, that is a subconscious outcome.
Do you see the world around you as a series of images to be broken up and rearranged?
Ha, yes! If I had a whole day of cutting pieces, faces, etc. and I go for a drink with a friend later, I DO start seeing faces disappear, being replaced by something abstract. Those are just milliseconds though where I see quick imagery rushing by. Living in town, but not owning a car makes me walk to most places, then I often imagine different montages of my surroundings. Sauntering gives you time, it is a great way to let your eyes and mind wander.
When you’re not making art, what are likely to spend your time doing?
I like books. A lot. The ones without images, just words. I am currently reading Tom Robbins’ Tibetan peach pie. Tom’s books are nice. And friends. Those I like more than books. Eat pizza, drink whiskey and dance to hip hop? Those things I also like.
What are you currently working on and what can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?
I want to start making large scale works, so I am sourcing for big imagery at the moment as well as doing test-prints. In March I will be back in London – there I’ll definitely do another week of paste-ups all over the east. There will be a collage project starting in May in Cape Town, which I am very excited about. My first solo-show is in the beginning stages, but I am a scared chicken, so I might give it a bit more time and thought. Or just jump in. Who knows. Time. Oki, bye. Thank you for reading this.