Collage Art

Collage Art

Introduction to Collage Art:  

The definition of traditional art was challenged throughout the 20th century when artists and began to explore the practice of collage art. Many movement and mediums and styles began to be explored; it was the innovative, inventive and refreshing approach of collage art that drew artists towards it. Collage art had a unique, one of a kind aesthetic, and could be pieced together however the artist desired and was open to interpretation.   

From the start of the modernist period collage art made its way into the contemporary art world, and in those years, it underwent various changes, as more and more artists began to explore and play around. Here we shall review the journey collage art has taken over the centuries.   

File:James Grant (artist) Collage.jpg

James Grant (artist) Collage art

What is Collage Painting?  

The term collage comes from the French word “coller” meaning to glue or stick together. It is a method of creating art, by an assemblage of different forms thereby creating a completely new byproduct. Collage art is most popularly used in visual arts, however, can be used in music too. It is the process of cutting something up and pasting it together.   

A collage may include any material the artist desires, but most commonly one may use newspaper clippings, magazines, paints, texts, photographs, ribbons, other handmade objects or artworks and glue them all together on a paper or canvas. The technique of collaging has existed for centuries however it only made a popular reentry into the art scene in the early 20th century as an art form of novelty.   

History of Collage Art:   

The first known records of collaging can be traced back to the time when the paper was itself invented in China, around 200 BC, however, it was not widespread until the 10th or 12th century. By the 12th century, both the Chinese and Japanese began exploring collaging as an art routinely, where they would glue bright coloured pieces of paper to objects and apply a layer of lacquer to seal the surface, thus giving it a permanent finish.   

This trend spread to medieval Europe, where people began exploring more creative ways to collage with the help of materials like shells, gemstones, gold foil, etc. Gold leaves along with gemstones and other precious materials were pasted with religious images and were put up in Gothic churches.   

By the 18th century collaging has become a popular way of passing time for the aristocrats and was practised by the likes of Marie Antoinette, Madame de Pompadour and Beau Brummell. A popular collage artwork of the 18th century can be found in the works of Mary Delany.   

Delany was famous for her artwork that depicted flower specimens; she would study a particular flower in detail and then cut up hundreds of pieces of paper and recreate that flower to form a lifelike composition. Her work made her a favourite in the British court.   

Using paper clippings to create a variety of innovative and inventive artwork became a dominant culture trend by the Victorian era; however, it still was not recognized as a legitimate art form by prestigious art academies. Nevertheless, decoupage artists grew by the number. In the 19th century, collage art techniques were used by many to create memorabilia and books.   

Though decoupage and collage art had a long pre-existing history in the Western world as decorative arts and crafts, it was not until the 20th century that Collage art got the name it has today. It was only due to the experiments of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso that collage entered the lexicon of fine art. The artists met in the year 1907 and worked closely to develop what would come to be known as “Cubism”. Therefore, they are the ones who coined the term “collage” and went on to work together to create various mediums and make avant-garde assemblages starting from 1910. They were known to experiment with still lives and landscapes that broke the composition into intricate multi-layered perspectives.  

In 1912, Braque and Picasso were interested in exploring flat compositional aspects of the pictorial plane and thus started to create three-dimensional assemblages. Picassos painting “Still Life with Chair Caning” (1912) that used oilcloth strip and rope on an oval canvas is what pushed collage into the fine art space and began the new phase of cubism. Braque and Picasso went on to create many compositions together like the “Fruit Dish and Glass Sorgues” over the next two year, however, their paths eventually diverged post World War 1.   

Various Trends in Collage Art:   

Their style of work remained alive despite them not working together as their discoveries were adopted by other artists like Juan Gris who was extremely fascinated by the Synthetic Cubism’s use of paper collaging. Gris went on to push the envelopes of collage art in 1914 and incorporated paper with wood grain, wallpapers, newspaper, etc. He was known to create surfaces that played with textures and materials to bring depth into a rather flat canvas. He believed his art was a synthesis of architecture, math and abstract, and he has attempted to always humanize it. Other artists who played around with collage art include Francis Picabia, Kurt Schwitters, etc.   


Though cubism is commonly associated with paintings, the founding fathers Braque and Picasso created collages in this style. Cubism is defined by its broken-down form or deconstruction of the subject matter. Thus, the artists felt that Cubism and collage approach work beautifully together as it enabled one to piece together one picture using dissimilar components.   

Braque and Picasso found appeal in the collage art style as it never looked flat, the two constantly strived to evoke a sense of multi-dimensionality into their artwork. Cubists often used cut-outs, newspaper prints and patterned papers in their work.   


Dada art is inspired deeply form the works of Picasso and Braque and began in the 1920s. Unlike Cubism, that dealt with still life images, Dadaists created collages that included a wide array of iconography from reinterpreted portraits to figures that were based on fantasy. They also incorporated more variety of materials.   

Dada members were renowned for using worthless or unimaginable items like tickets, candy wrappers, newspapers, 3D items or other overlooked items in an innovative manner. Dadaists challenged the traditional notions of art by transforming ephemera into sophisticated artworks.   


Surrealists adopted the cut and paste method and pushed the envelope further than Dadaists. They saw collage art as an automatic approach to painting and relied on assemblages of photos, illustrations, coloured paper and paints. They created bizarre subject matters that seemed to arise from pieces suggestive of a dream. It was used to create an art piece that was cohesive yet entirely made up, as seen in the works of Joseph Cornell and Andre Breton.   


Abstract expressionists’ collages showcase prominence on colour, composition and sentiment. They used easy silhouettes, blocks of cut and pasted colour, and liberally created painted lined that added layers of dimension. Abstract artists too challenged conventional art; they created avant-garde works but further pushed the playing field by rejecting figurative subject matter.