Based in her studio in Edinburgh’s Summerhall, a vibrant spot not too far from the city’s centre and perched right on the precipice of the Meadows, another vibrant location where locals meet in droves during the warmer months, Rhed Fawell creates her intricate collage works.
Combining found objects with cut and paste photography, the artist evokes times gone by through collage, a technique that has gradually fallen out of fashion, despite momentary peaks along the way. In the way that William Burroughs built on the work of Dadaism, so too does Fawell build on their foundation, making works that are undoubtedly feminine in their subtlety and softness.
Having taught Graphics in Middlesex, her experience with composition is perfectly encapsulated by the paradoxical confined freedom offered by collage-creating. Mixing drawing, printmaking and photography in her collages, she can explore the context of the individual components through the juxtapositions and tonal shifts of the other complimentary and/or contradictory components.
This is one of the strengths of collage, the ability to explore. For Fawell, it’s to “explore the deconstruction and reconstruction of images.” It is on this premise, the promotion and subversion generated through the interplay of several layers - both physical and layers of meaning - that the earliest forms of collage were developed.
The Dada photomontages allowed the immediacy and objectivity of photographs to create a ‘realness’, something that stood in opposition to their absurdity. Although suffused with a sense of absurdity, Fawell’s works are gentler. They’re whispering voices, not bold proclamations bawled through a microphone.
Dreamlike and almost hazy, the images create a poetic visual language that is cause for interpretation. This fragile balance between what seems real and possible with what is outside the realm of the imaginable and awake seems liable to shatter at any point, just as a dream teeters on the edge of disruption at any point. This fragility is a part of the process of creation, where anything can happen in the image, but also in its creation.
Fawell describes it thusly, “The pictures create their own stories, as I develop the pieces they take on a life of their own, forming narratives that are completed in the viewer’s imagination.” That said, despite the deeply personal nature of her images, she has also played a crucial role in building an interactive and spirited community around collage.
Despite it being a medium that hasn’t been in vogue for a long-time, Fawell uses this not as weakness, but strength, generating an exciting and engaging new feeling around how collage can be created, exploring new avenues through her Edinburgh Collage Collective that constructs interesting new projects through user-generated materials, such as a recent project using cassette tapes built-up through the #eccplayandrecord2021 hashtag.
Small movements like this show that Fawell aims to bring collage to a wider audience, whilst also challenging the limits and preconceptions of the form. Doubtless, projects like these will not only develop a culture around collage, but will also help push Fawell’s own work. It is this duality of growth that will surely reap the most rewards for what could be a re-emergent form of art.
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