Mesuli Mamba, “Rolfe’s Environment”
Mesuli Mamba is prison warden and collage artist in Swaziland, South Africa. That’s where he grew up. Mamba first learned about art from his father’s collection of Reader’s Digest — which he still mines for collage materials, along with drawings, poetry texts, and glossy magazines (which can be hard to get).
The 34-year-old says: ” “Being a prison warden is tough. Real tough. But once you get used to it, you get to know the people in your community—we’re supposed to call them inmates but they’re just my machita [guys]. They don’t know about my collages yet.”
Richard Meier & Partners, U.S. Embassy in London
Architecture is inevitably collage. A building is “pasted” into an existing mix—a streetscape in the city or natural landscape in the country. The architect considers how the new “piece” will fit the rest of the composition. So it’s not surprising that lots of architects have made collages.
Mies van der Rohe “Ink and Photo Collage with Glass” 1960-3
Courtesy of MOMA
Yes, the iconic minimalist architect made collages. You can see some of them in the current MOMA show Cut ‘n’ Paste. Drawings of his spare building designs are collaged with cut-out art pasted in front, like a Maillot nude.
To me it looked like Mies trying to “sex up” his architecture because minimalism isn’t sexy. A lean, stripped figure lying on the ground? Well, okay, maybe some people would find this sexy. In a Shades of Grey kind of way. Maybe my initial reaction was too hasty. I decided to do a Google exploring the question.
Picasso, Homme á la Pipe (Le Fumeur), 1914
Picasso did it with swagger (and of course glue). Around 1912 he stole the pasted-paper idea from Braque. “After having made the papier collés, I felt a great shock,” said Braque, “and it was an even greater shock to Picasso when I showed it to him.”
But where the other cubist had used art-ready cut papers, Picasso scavenged. Sheet music, newspaper scraps, the label from a packet of tobacco, cloth. The contrast of the real stuff with the painted forms was new. For the collage above, Homme á la Pipe (Le Fumeur), 1914, he ripped a piece of the old wallpaper off his studio wall and stuck it on the canvas. Warch a short MOMA video about the materials in Picasso’s early collages here.
“Stuck on you.” At the time, in France, collage was slang for “living in sin.” In his excellent Collage; The Making of Modern Art, Brandon Taylor says that Picasso’s early collages provoked a “frisson of excitement at the sight of a coupling…illicit…at the very limits of aesthetic decency.”