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Jackknife: Recent Collage by Michael Oatman

June 12 - September 5, 2004

I grew up on Warner Bros cartoons, crazy landscapes where bird and rabbits ran amuck, dropping anvils on big-headed humans. The image that inspired these collages was also from childhood—a nineteenth-century German storybook entitled Struwwelpeter. In one story, a rabbit dons the glasses of a sleeping hunter, steals his blunderbuss, and staggers through town, shooting everyone he encounters. It is a tale of nature crossed with human lunacy, a world out of balance. - Michael Oatman

Derived from the French word coller, "to paste," collage is the process of assembling disparate visual elements to create a new image. It was an essential working process for such Cubists as Picasso and Braque, and throughout the 20th century has come to be associated with a number of artists, Kurt Schwitters, Joseph Cornell, Robert Rauschenberg, and David Hockney among them. Michael Oatman is one of the foremost collage artists working today.

As a dowser searching for water, Oatman dowses through the cultural artifacts of more than a century of printed material, Oatman mines images from cartoons, encyclopedias, and magazines. His clever and sophisticated assemblages find resonance between such disparate sources as ammunitions manuals and field guides. Retaining the traditional "cut and paste' method, hundreds of images may be carefully cut and placed. For example, in Blanket, more than 200 images of airplanes are transformed into snowflakes of varying sizes and complexity. Of this work he says:

Blanket travels into September 11th and its aftermath, but for me that journey stars in the early 70's, when I can still remember classroom talk of nuclear conflict. So the blanket referred to in Blanket is the security of the armed forces, and at the same time its radioactive fallout, nuclear winter.

  • Funded in part by the National Advisory Board of the UW Art Museum.


Left: Michael Oatman, Study for "The Birds" I, collage on paper, 29 x 23 inches, 2001, courtesy of the artist

Center: Michael Oatman, Study for "The Birds" III, collage on paper, 27 x 21 inches, 2003, courtesy of the artist

Right: Michael Oatman, Blanket, collage and spray paint on paper, 200+ components, 100 x 100 inches, 2002, courtesy of the artist

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