From The Dordogne
Collages, 2003-2004
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In September 2003 I traveled to Europe, my first trip there in six years. After a week in London and a week in Paris, I headed south by train to the Dordogne. My friend Janet Kerr and her companion Patrick Howe, were in the process of renovating a recently purchased country farmhouse. I had never been to the Dordogne before, and, even though the house was almost totally in construction, they took time off, treating my visit like a vacation for them too. They gave me a whirlwind, but quite extensive, three day tour.

Their farmhouse is a two story structure, exquisitely proportioned, and made of the beautiful sienna colored stone of the region. Many of the rooms had been wallpapered, probably in the 1940's and 50's. The paper had amazing patterns, grotesque, but also intriguing in a dated way. One room was covered in a repeat pattern of a palm or bamboo branch, bent to appear somewhat windswept. The size of each branch was so large and out of proportion to the room, it caused a kind of disconnect and surreal effect. It was as if a much larger room had been cut down to create this smaller one, without an adjustment of scale from the larger space to the smaller. The bathroom had a paper with a water lily design, cloying in its pastel sweetness, a Muzak version of Monet. Another room had a “modern” look, a deco pattern in shades of brown and tan. Yet a fourth had an embossed design, complex and ornate, an elegant and “regal” effect. They were all pretty hideous but, when taken on their own terms, intriguing in that they represented another era, a bit of history, taste and attitude from an earlier time. It was a bit like being in an archeological dig. They were stained and peeling and in the process of being removed.

From the Dordogne Detail

I had been using the patterned insides of envelopes for my collages almost exclusively. These wallpapers, however, with their dated designs, seemed worth exploring as a take-off point and element in new work. My friends were more than happy to take some down, (many areas were literally draping away from the wall) and I returned to my studio with a roll of musty lengths of these papers

My first savable collages utilizing this material were pieces with the embossed patterned paper, combining it with drawing and India ink surfaces. They were reminiscent of The Valenciana Suite , using similar collage, ink, and pencil combinations, but with the addition of a “Dordogne” reference. In later pieces I tried to indicate the kind of disconnect I felt with some of the papers and the spaces they had occupied. For example, in # 5 and # 6, I wanted to indicate that the pattern was too large for its environment and overwhelmed it in scale. Only a fragment of pattern is used, so the complete image must be implied from the visual information given.

I then began combining the papers more freely and washing them with gouache and watercolor. I added other collage material and both ink and pencil drawing. #'s 13 and 14, the most elaborate pieces, are almost a retrospective and summing up of the various strategies and techniques I have been working with for some years. I have produced fourteen pieces at this date in this ongoing series.

James Zver

Los Angeles, April 2005
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