Famous Collage Artists

Famous Collage Artists – A Look at Celebrated Collage Art and Artists

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Collage, a term coined by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, is a medium with its roots in the Dada era. The medium sprung to life out of a need to respond to the flood of media and propaganda of the First World War, and allowed artists to engage directly with newspaper articles, magazines, advertisements, and photographs. Collage was a way for artists to critique the images that society was being flooded with, while still creating something with a lot of the artist’s own hand in it. The medium can be both very serious, as well as extremely playful. We will be looking at some of the most famous collage artists in history, as well as some contemporary collage artists.

 

 

What is a Collage?

As we mentioned above, the term collage was coined by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, when the two artists started sending each other letters which they called papiers collé. Cutting and tearing up images they found, the two artists made compositions out of anything they could find – magazines, advertisements, and even packaging!

These compositions were then glued together, and so the term collage, or the French coller, translates directly to “gluing”.

What is a CollageUntitled (Hamburg Elevated Train) (1929) by Kurt Schwitters, collage on paper on board; Kurt Schwitters, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Famous Collage Artists in History and the 21st Century

The following artists are some of the most important artists who have worked with collage artworks. Their artwork shows a great variety of ways that the idea of a collage can be utilized to broaden both an artist’s work and practice.

The artists listed here are diverse in both style and era, starting with the Cubists and Surrealists like Hannah Höch’s paper collages, to contemporary sculpture and assemblages. We will explore the variety that collage can offer as an art form, from Hannah Höch collages to the assemblages by Kurt Schwitters, and even contemporary works like Wangechi Mutu’s power figures.

 

Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973)

ArtistPablo Picasso
When the Artist Lived1881 – 1973
Nationality of the ArtistSpanish
Where the Artist LivedParis, Barcelona
Associated Art MovementsCubism and Surrealism

Pablo Picasso was one of the most influential artists of recent history, living most of his life in France and inventing many new techniques and movements. His work is often classified into several periods, due to the different phases he seems to have gone through during his long career. Most notably he had a Rose Period, a Blue Period, and a Cubist Period. Despite his amazing artworks, Picasso had a chaotic personal life and was known for the way he mistreated women.

Inspired by Braque, Picasso explored the medium of collage throughout his career, but only for a short period between 1912 and 1915.

Collage ArtworkPhotograph of Pablo Picasso, taken in January 1962; Argentina. Revista Vea y Lea, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The artist explored mixtures of many different materials, and this can be seen in many of his artworks. Starting in the Cubist era, Picasso’s collages were a contrast to his paintings, because of the way that gluing real things overcame the flatness of the paintings. Using objects from the non-pictorial world gave the artworks a sense of being grounded in the real world away from the world of illusion.

The artwork Still-Life with Chair Caning was created in 1912 and was one of his earliest collages. This piece contains several objects depicted from multiple angles at the same time, such as a wine glass, seen from many different sides, almost in the center of the work. There is also a knife’s hilt on the right side, and the knife is slicing a fruit that seems to be a lemon. The word “Jou” is painted on the left.

This word translates to “play” in French, but it is also the first three letters of the word journal, which means “newspaper” in French. This is an actual piece of a newspaper pasted onto the artwork and painted over. The painted aspects of this collage are glued onto a piece of chair caning, a found object, and the entire piece is framed with rope.

This artwork contains multiple pieces of materials all put together, and it is still one of the most notable collage pieces ever produced!

Some of Picasso’s other famous artworks include:

  • Guitar, Sheet Music, And Glass (1912)
  • Head of a Man with Hat (1912)
  • Still Life with the Advertisement (1913)
  • Guitar (1913)
  • Violon (1915)

 

Georges Braque (1882 – 1963)

Artist Georges Braque
When the Artist Lived1882 – 1963
Nationality of the ArtistFrench
Where the Artist LivedParis, Le Havre, and Antwerp
Associated Art MovementsFauvism and Cubism

Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso were traveling together in Sorgues when Braque took some wallpaper he had bought earlier and started gluing other pieces of artworks to it. The wallpaper was a type of paper that mimicked the characteristics of wood. The artist then took the pasted materials and drew over them with charcoal. This culminated in the 1912 artwork Fruit Dish and Glass.

Braque was a painter who worked with the idea of the trompe-l’oeil (optical illusions) and this false wooden texture, printed on a smooth paper, likely amused the artist.

Collage Art ArtistPhotograph of Georges Braque (1903), published in the May 1910 publication of Architectural RecordPhotographer non-identified, anonymous, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Within the completed artwork, the wooden texture confuses the eye and makes it seem simultaneously like a foreground and a background. This type of artwork is seen as a visual pun, playing with the viewer’s sense of space.

The contents of the collage such as grapes and pears are halfway recognizable, but otherwise serve as a metaphor.

The artist was very interested in Cubism, and this can be seen in the contents of the collage. The subject matter is still life, with grapes and pears, in what appears to be a bowl, a dish, and a wine glass. These objects are halfway recognizable, stylized, and flattened with some texture added by the charcoal. Both Braque and Picasso were Cubist artists. The textures of the wallpaper included in this drawing added another layer of stylization and visual experimentation to the artwork.

This artwork inspired Picasso to make collages too, and this style soon became popular among other Parisian artists.

Some of Braque’s other famous artworks include:

  • Houses at l’Estaque (1908)
  • Violin and Candlestick (1910)
  • Bottle and Fishes (1910 – 1912)
  • The Bowl of Grapes (1926)
  • Balustre et Crane (1938)

 

Kurt Schwitters (1887 – 1948)

Artist Kurt Schwitters
When the Artist Lived1887 – 1948
Nationality of the ArtistGerman
Where the Artist LivedGermany and in exile in Norway and England
Associated Art MovementsMerz, Dada and Surrealism

Kurt Schwitters was famous for creating his own collage style, which he called the Merz Pictures (Merz was a nonsense word made up by the artist). The artist lived in Germany during World War I, and this affected him very deeply. He created the Merz artworks as a result of what he saw as the fragmentation of society that happened during the war. Life as he knew it was ripped apart.

He used the idea of these fragments by using literal fragments of papers, photos, and other materials to remake the world with what was left of those pieces. These works, such as Picture with Light Center (1919) are hopeful in the wake of the destruction of the war.

Paper Collage ArtMerz Drawing 47 (1920) by Kurt Schwitters, collage on board; Kurt Schwitters, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Schwitters’ most famous collage artwork is probably the Merzbau (1923 – 1937). This was a three-dimensional collage, or what came to be known as an assemblage, where the artist altered the interior of his family house by gluing found objects directly into the structure of a building.

By the end, there were six altered rooms in the house, and it became a living artwork.

Some of Schwitter’s other famous artworks include:

  • Merzbild 1A (The Psychiatrist) (1919)
  • Aphorism (1923)
  • (Difficult) (1943)
  • Relief in Relief (1945)
  • For Kate (1947)

 

Hannah Höch (1889 – 1978)

Artist Hannah Höch
When the Artist Lived1889 – 1978
Nationality of the ArtistGerman
Where the Artist LivedBerlin
Associated Art MovementsDada

One of the more significant artists of the collage medium was Hannah Höch. Another German artist, Höch was known for critiquing the Weimar German government with her collages and photomontages. Photomontages are collages made specifically by putting together two or more photographs, using either glue or working on them in the darkroom before they are in their final format on photo paper (this technique was used especially by Dora Maar, who we will be discussing later!).

Hannah Höch used images in popular media and focused particularly on gender issues. She is known as a feminist pioneer. Her famous collage, Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany (1919), is a prime example of her critique of the government and women’s depiction in media.

Hannah Höch CollagePhotograph of Hannah Höch, taken in 1974; Dietmar Bührer (Wikipedia), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

She used newspaper clippings and critiqued the racist and sexist values of the Weimar government. The artwork is separated into two sections – the lower-left section representing the Dada way of living, and the upper right displaying the anti-Dada attitudes that she was criticizing.

Near the middle is an image of Kaiser Wilhelm II, and around him is imagery of women skating and dancing while men are standing at attention, doing violent acts. Between the human figures are machinery, buildings, and word fragments. Höch challenged the foundations that the Weimar Republic was built on.

Höch was considered a degenerate artist by the Nazis and she lived a quiet life in Berlin towards the end of her life, suffering censorship and struggling to show her work.

Another well-known work of hers Das Schone Madchen (1920) explored the feminist issues of women’s representation by the beauty industry. Throughout her life, Höch challenged the marginalization of women in Germany and used the materials of this marginalization against itself. The fashion magazines that forced a Westernized ideal of beauty onto German women were used to distort those very images.

Some of Höch’s other famous artworks include::

  • Dada-Review (1919)
  • Bourgeois Wedding Couple (Quarrel) (1919)
  • Equilibre (1925)
  • Die Joernalisten (1925)
  • Die Braut (Pandora) (1924 – 1927)

 

Man Ray (1890 – 1976)

Artist Man Ray
When the Artist Lived1890 – 1976
Nationality of the ArtistAmerican
Where the Artist LivedParis
Associated Art MovementsSurrealism and Dada

Man Ray was an American artist known for his Surrealist and Dada artworks. He is well-known for his black and white photography. His work is marked by themes of chance and spontaneity and was a large part of the avant-garde movement. Man Ray famously said that he didn’t work with paint but rather with the medium of light itself. He used images and objects and attempted to abstract them and created surreal compositions.

Man Ray created what he called rayographs, a pun combination of his own name and the word “photograph”.

The rayographs included creating images exposing photosensitive paper to objects and body parts directly. This meant that these were photographs created without a camera, but almost with the same mindset that was used to create collages with glue.

This process was more automatic, which suited the artist who had a deep interest in chance.

The rayographs include many artworks, such as Rayograph 033 (1923), wherein the objects used in the photograph become so obscure that the final image ends up quite abstract. Other rayographs include more obvious objects or faces, such as Rayograph with Gun and Stencil Letters (1924).

Some of Ray’s other famous artworks include:

  • Rayograph (The Kiss) (1922)
  • Object to be Destroyed (1923)
  • Le Violon d’Ingres (1924)
  • Noire et Blance (1926)
  • Observatory Time: The Lovers (1936)

 

Eileen Agar (1899 – 1991)

Artist Eileen Agar
When the Artist Lived1899 – 1991
Nationality of the ArtistBritish-Argentinian
Where the Artist LivedBritain
Associated Art MovementsSurrealism

Known for her Surrealist paintings, collages and ceremonial hats, Eileen Agar is another female Surrealist artist. Agar, as well as other female Surrealists, used symbolism to take back their artistic power from their male counterparts who often only saw female Surrealists as muses for their artworks. This did not sit well with Agar, and she began to use imagery such as Mother Earth, alchemy, and magic to take back her agency.

Agar used symbolism, such as shells and the sea, in her own work. The sea was said to represent her own feminine power. In her collage artwork, Erotic Landscape (1942), Agar combined imagery of the ocean, including a shoreline, seaweed, and some fish, with erotic imagery of a nude woman. Combined with abstract shapes, the composition is a busy and lively metaphor for the artist’s own power and desire.

The artist is also known for making ceremonial hats. These were more like wearable collages or assemblages. The Ceremonial Hat for Eating Bouillabaisse (1937) is an oddly-shaped hat that is covered in textures and objects from the sea. This hat changed shape throughout the years, and sometimes it was large and towering, and other times it remained quite flat. There are several photos of the artist wearing her hat throughout the years, where its different shapes can be seen.

This functional art object added a level of ceremony and silliness whenever she wore it, and marked her a true Surrealist at heart.

Some of Agar’s other famous artworks include:

  • Precious Stones (1936)
  • Double Take (1936)
  • Angel of Anarchy (1936–40)
  • Fish Basket (1965)
  • Bride of the Sea (1979)

 

Dora Maar (1907 – 1997)

ArtistDora Maar
When the Artist Lived1907 – 1997
Nationality of the ArtistFrench
Where the Artist LivedParis
Associated Art MovementsSurrealism

Dora Maar was a photographer, painter, and poet. She is known as one of Picasso’s lovers, but the young French woman was much more than that. She is known for the photomontages that made her a prominent member of the Surrealist movement.

Maar’s photomontages were often used in fashion magazines and for other commercial endeavors. Her photographs challenged women’s depictions in the media, with works such as Untitled (Fashion Photograph) (1935) wherein the artist superimposed the image of a woman in a beautiful dress and added some stars, covering the model’s face and creating a surreal composition.

Her collages and photomontages were inspired by Surrealist themes of dreams and the erotic. Artworks such as The Years Lie in Wait for You (1935) depict an image of a woman holding her face, with a spider web around her. This was made by using two exposures of film on one piece of photosensitive paper in the darkroom. The artwork can be seen as a comment on the idea of youth and beauty, but can also be interpreted in other ways – such as with Greek mythology, where Arachne made Aphrodite so jealous that Aphrodite turned her into a spider.

Maar also drew into some of her photographs, including Woman Sitting in Profile (unknown) and The Bust Dressed in A Blouse Made of Tattoo Patterns Drawn on The Photograph (1930), where there are patterns of the artist’s own hand added into the photograph.

Some of Maar’s other famous artworks include:

  • Untitled (Hand-Shell) (1934)
  • Sans Titre (1935)
  • The Simulator (1936)
  • A Unique Object (1936)
  • Double Portrait with Hat (1936 – 1937)

 

Nancy Spero (1926 – 2009)

Artist Nancy Spero
When the Artist Lived1926 – 2009
Nationality of the ArtistAmerican
Where the Artist LivedNew York City, USA
Associated Art MovementsContemporary Art

Moving on to the contemporary art era, we find ourselves among famous paper collage artists such as Nancy Spero. Spero confronted oppression with her work. She used an aesthetic that challenged the norm of her peers, focusing on drawing and collages on a massive scale.

Her source of inspiration was the representation of women throughout history, and many of her images are reminiscent of historical depictions of women. Spero used printmaking and drawing to make her final collages, which she pinned straight onto the walls of galleries.

One notable example of her work includes Notes in Time (1979), a 200-foot-long artwork wherein the artist cut and pasted many images and also drew and painted over the artwork with pencil and gouache paint. The artwork has a scroll-like feeling that makes it feel like there must be a narrative, but ultimately the story gets lost or warped, as do most tales in history.

Another of the artist’s most famous artworks is the 2007 work Maypole: Take no Prisoners. This is a large-scale collage sculpture. This work represents “victimage”, a word coined by the artist to describe the movement from victim to protagonist, which is a constant in history.

The work displays 200 decapitated heads hanging on chains and ribbons, all connected to a maypole – an object used in folk celebrations to mark the passing of time. The violence in the decapitated faces is a reference to the Vietnam War, where prisoners of war were often decapitated. Spero uses collage to confront the brutality of war and how it was used to oppress.

Some of Spero’s other famous artworks include:

  • Lovers (1962)
  • The War Series (1966 – 1970)
  • Codex Artaud XXIII (1972)
  • Hours of the Night (1974)
  • Licit Exp (1974)

 

Annegret Soltau (1946 – Present)

Artist Annegret Soltau
When the Artist Lived1946 – Present
Nationality of the ArtistGerman
Where the Artist LivedGermany
Associated Art MovementsContemporary Art

German-born Annegret Soltau is known for her collaged portraits. The often-disturbing images she creates aren’t put together with glue but rather stitched. In the artwork Selbst (1975), the artist used thread to tie up her own face, covering herself almost entirely with thread and took photographs of this. This becomes a self-portrait wherein the artist harms herself. The thread becomes a metaphor for being bound, inhibited, or forced to be silent. The artist also used finished portrait photographs and went into them with thread, creating geometric lines across her face.

However, her most famous works are her collages, wherein the artist splices portraits and puts them back together, mixing up features with cats, animals, and other people. She then combined these with thick thread that seem like large ugly stitches.

Another of her most important paper collage artworks is the Generativ series (1995-2005). The artist used inter-generational women, sometimes of her own family’s women, and recombined their bodies as a comment on aging. In this series, aging is a generative thing – it is present and cyclical. These artworks can be seen as the artist attempting to integrate the processes of life with the body and the soul – showing that everything is connected.

Her work explores identity and the interconnectedness of women.

Some of Soltau’s other famous artworks include:

  • Schwanger [Pregnant] (1977)
  • Ausgeliefert [Vulnerable] (1978)
  • Spider installation (1978)
  • Sich-fallen-lassen [Let yourself fall] (1978 – 1986)
  • Ich überstochen [Myself punctured] (1991)

 

Mark Bradford (1961- Present)

Artist Mark Bradford
When the Artist Lived1961 – Present
Nationality of the ArtistAmerican
Where the Artist LivedLos Angeles, USA
Associated Art MovementsContemporary Art

Mark Bradford is a Los Angeles-based artist. Bradford creates large abstract paintings of collaged paper. The work is very layered, both with the actual material as well as the topics the artist explores. Both his art and his life are devoted to social engagement and he addresses issues of marginalized communities. He often leads initiatives to create social action, such as Art+Practice, which is a non-profit educational platform.

Recently, Bradford’s collages were seen in the work Pickett’s Charge (2021), where the artist created a site-specific collage installation consisting of eight large panels.

The artist uses posters, pigmented papers, and other material and collages them together, and then goes back to work on the artworks with tearing and sanding. For Pickett’s Charge, the monumental collages fill the space of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, a response to the Gettysburg Cyclorama, a painting by Paul Dominique Philippoteaux. The work is a humorous reaction to the history of the site.

Bradford also represented the United States in the 2017 Venice Biennale with the body of work Tomorrow is Another Day. This consisted of five rooms filled with artworks, including Spoiled Foot. This collaged installation is a massive hanging creation in the center of the room.

Viewers have to pass along it by squeezing against the wall of the gallery space to get to the next room. This artwork is a metaphor for the marginalized, who have to move against the narrow passage while those with power take up all the space.

Some of Bradford’s other famous artworks include:

  • Los Moscos (2004)
  • Crack Between the Floorboards (2014)
  • Amendment #8 (2014)
  • Killing the Goodbye (2015)
  • Duck Walk (2016)

 

Wangechi Mutu (1972 – Present)

ArtistWangechi Mutu
When the Artist Lived1972 – Present
Nationality of the ArtistKenyan-American
Where the Artist LivedNew York City, USA
Associated Art MovementsContemporary Art

Wangechi Mutu is a Kenyan-born artist who has lived and worked for 20 years in New York City. Her work crosses many boundaries of medium, where she uses collage as one facet of her work. Her other work includes sculpture, video, and performance.

The main theme of her work is dealing with the way Black women live in contemporary society – how they are represented and the violence of their existence. Her work is also centered on depicting femininity.

Mutu uses the imagery of disease and gruesome injuries alongside stereotypical feminine images to create gruesome and entrancing commentaries on these themes. Her work Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors (2005) depicts female figures warped and put back together in disturbing combinations. The materials used include imagery from medical illustrations, as well as glitter and fur. This work references one of our other artists listed above, Hannah Höch, who made a series of collages entitled From an Ethnographic Museum between 1924 and 1930.

Both these series by these artists refer to the way women are depicted and the violence caused by these depictions. Mutu refers to collage as a way of depicting the brokenness of the world, but also as an attempt to put it back together again. She also has a love for different materials, and sculpture and collage are both ways for her to make interesting combinations.

Some of Mutu’s other famous artworks include:

  • The Bourgeois is Banging on My Head (2004)
  • Forensic Forms (2004)
  • The Ark Collection (2006)
  • Love’s a Witch (2006)
  • Homeward Bound (2010)

 

Vanessa German (1976 – Present)

Artist Vanessa German
When the Artist Lived1976 – Present
Nationality of the ArtistAmerican
Where the Artist LivedPennsylvania, USA
Associated Art MovementsContemporary Art

Vanessa German is an American Contemporary artist who works mainly with collage and assemblage of sculptures. Her most famous sculptures include what she calls the power figures or tar babies. These female figures are assemblages of many odd materials that the artist finds where she lives. They are modeled on Nkisi sculptures from the Congo and convey themes of mysticism, feminism, spirituality, and Black power.

The list of materials of these artworks often mention not only the real objects used, but also become poetic and metaphoric, including things such as “tears” and “the names of all the dead boys that I know”.

The artist describes the creation of her power figures as an act of self-love, of creating something from a community where gun violence and trauma are extremely prevalent. In Considering the End (2014), two of these power figures stand together. One stands under the weight of a can of Flying Dutchman polish and a toy ship, while the other wears a headdress made up of a wooden zebra and a globe.

On top of these are two small bird figurines, giving hope that these birds might fly away, taking the heavy objects from the figures’ heads.

Some of German’s other famous artworks include:

  • White American Cheese (2014)
  • Forgiveness (2014)
  • We.Cannot.Be.With.Our.Bodies (2017)
  • The Blood & the Animals, the Mirror & the Sky; An ode to the un-language-able truth of is-ness. (2017)
  • MOTHER, MOTHER (2020)

 

Collage art is not only limited to paper collage but has been shown to be a medium that crosses the boundaries of material and inspires many artists from all over the world to create beautiful and meaningful artworks. This list of 12 famous collage artists shows exactly the variations in the medium, and how different people can respond to the same idea.

 

 

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

What is a Collage?

A collage is an artwork that is made up by gluing or putting together various images from different sources. These are usually paper-based, such as newspapers, photographs, advertisements, and other sources.

 

What is the Difference Between a Collage and an Assemblage?

A collage is usually a two-dimensional work on paper or backing, while an assemblage is often more three-dimensional and sculptural. The line between the two often blurs, when artists add very three-dimensional elements to a collage.

 

Is Collage an Art or a Craft?

While collage is a fun hobby that anyone can practice, collage is also a serious art form that many famous collage artists have used, and continue to use, in their artistic practices.

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