torn paper collages



Torn paper collage is invariably a process of addition and accretion. It recycles newsprint, shards from advertising hoardings and photomontage elements from magazines and is often urban, though it entertains natural and organic processes such as weathering and environmental damage. It lends itself to speed of execution and exploits the chance or accident as an aesthetic, even moral virtue. Its cultural marginality is paradoxically underscored by its social immediacy and ‘democratic’ imagery. Collage is something anyone can do-be it child or visual illiterate-and can also be, both a noble aesthetic and one of scavenging or theft on the social edge.

One of its leading British proponents, the Cornish-born but London-based artist Gwyther Irwin was a ‘Situation’ group exhibitor in the early 1960’s and shared with colleagues like Robyn Denny and Gillian Ayres an urban orientation and antithesis to St Ives pastoralism. In a later, more pluralistic period Osborne transcends the urban/rustic divide to reach his own post-modern synthesis.

Following Picasso’s precept of art as a series of creative destructions, Osborne constructs affiches laceres using the random tears of fly posters and torn materials. Shepherd’s Bush, for example, uses the jagged papers of a fairground poster taken from Shepherd’s Bush Green in his native West London.  Osborne taps into the ethos of art on the edge where the media of fly posting, graffiti and other fugitive but direct and public means of communication come into their own. The slapstick quality of the advertising workman randomly pasting large sheets to public hoardings also appealed to a basic proletarian instinct in which a man in dungarees unwittingly becomes a collage artist and a Situationist drifter.

The lettering in Shepherd’s Bush confirms that often in collage the visual and the literary exist in expressive counterpoint. This dichotomy is central in early Robyn Denny and is also apparent in Osborne’s box constructions, which range from a Victorian narrative symbolism, literary in nature, to a more plastic and abstract manner where the intrinsic qualities of materials, namely their colours and forms, speak for themselves. As an early 1970’s literature student at UEA, Norwich-with Essex University one of the two most radical campuses of the time-Osborne was aware of the Structuralist ideas of French thinkers such as Claude Levi-Strauss and other post-Sartrean philosophers. Such an intellectual climate encouraged Osborne’s subsequent experiments with the interface between visual and literary meaning. The affichistes of the French Nouveau Realiste movement, notably Jacques Villeglé, made pictures from torn advertising and political posters that in terms of their jagged randomness and asymmetric colour planes took collage into a realm directly and historically compatible with the Automatist painting movements like Abstract Expressionism (e.g. Clyfford Still) in the United States and tachisme in France. 

Across the River and into the Trees, a literary title taken from an Ernest Hemingway novel represents this more abstract, visual approach, in which imagery still emerges courtesy of vertical corrugated card ‘tree trunks’ set against a dark ‘sky’, with a truncated orange semi-circle standing for a sun partially eclipsed by the tree.



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